If you’ve been lifting for a period of time, you may experience muscle imbalances in your legs, shoulders, chest, arms or back.
What exactly is a muscle imbalance? I’m glad you asked.
A muscle imbalance is when one side is a little bigger or stronger or more flexible than the other. It’s actually quite common to form a muscle imbalance since you tend to naturally use one side over the other.
As a simple example, I am right handed. My right arm is more flexible than my left arm. This is because for all of my life, I have used my right arm more than my left arm.
Therefore, my left arm is tighter and less flexible. It’s not smaller or anything like that; it’s just tight. This has also resulted in me getting some serious chronic trigger points in the left side of my back.
Preventing muscle imbalances is a task that times time. You need to be consciously aware of this. Stretches, dumbbells, fascia work and more will help balance things out.
I’m going to go over several things you can do in the gym to start to balance out your muscles whether it’s strength, size or anything else!
1. You Need More Pull Movements
One of the most common form of a muscle imbalance is when you’re performing too many push movements.
This occurs because most lifters want to build a huge chest. Therefore, they do a strength and size chest workout twice per week lifting as heavy as possible. They want that size and strength.
I can’t really blame you for wanting this since a big chest helps fill out your shirts. However, one of the most important rules ever is this:
For every push movement you perform, you must *also* do a Pull movement.
Pull movements use the muscles in your back for the most part. Push movements are hitting the front of your body, mainly the chest and shoulders.
If you continue to push more and more weight while neglecting the back, you’ll end up with the rolled-shoulders imbalance.
This is a terrible imbalance because several muscles in your body are being “pulled” forward. You end up with muscles that are constantly elongated. This causes tightness, soreness, knots, and other pain that can become long-term.
The solution is to focus on building up your back. Go through my bigger back workout twice per week. You could even have a day where you do chest and back.
The chest/back split is for intermediate/advanced lifters, but it’s very effective at correcting upper body muscle imbalances.
Be consciously aware of your body posture at all times. Consciously “pull” your shoulder blades back when you are sitting at your desk. Take deep breaths when you can, roll your arms and shoulders, stretch your body every hour.
Imagine you’re trying to bring your shoulder blades together in the middle of your back. This is the position you want to bring your shoulders into as you sit and type at the office.
Here’s a video that shows you how to pull your shoulders back with a workout band. You’ll get a feel for where your shoulders should be naturally. Then, you can replicate this feeling on your own whenever you want:
2. Less Barbell Exercises, More Dumbbells
If you have a strength imbalance in your muscles, such as the legs for example, then dumbbells are the solution.
For example, let’s say your right hamstring is stronger than your left. Instead of doing RDL’s with a barbell, you would want to do one-legged RDL’s with a dumbbell (check out my fat burning leg workout for this exercise in detail).
While barbells have their place, they can cause strength imbalances if you only use barbells in your workouts. This is why I like to have both barbells and dumbbells in my workout routines.
Another good example is the barbell military press. If you only hit your shoulders with the barbell, you’ll probably develop an imbalance with one of your shoulders being stronger than the other.
The solution is to also incorporate dumbbells into your shoulder work. Or, rotate between military presses and dumbbell shoulder presses every week (check out my bigger shoulders workout for more details).
Barbells definitely have their place in the gym. But, dumbbells are just as effective for building muscle. This is why you want to use both.
If your right side is stronger than your left side, dumbbells help balance this out. You don’t want to increase the weight until both of your arms are able to lift the same amount of reps.
This will help the weaker side to “catch up” to the stronger side. So start using dumbbells over the barbells and machines. You’ll fix muscle imbalances quickly.
3. Fixing Anterior Pelvic Tilt
One of the chronic, long-term issues you run into with imbalances is anterior pelvic tilt. It’s really common these days and it’s how all those instagram models show off their huge asses.
The reality is that they all are “tilting” in their photos. This gives off a thicc ass. While it might look great in pictures, it’s terrible to walk around in this position every single day.
But, if you are working in an office shove seated for hours and hours, you will develop anterior tilt. It’s crucial that you fix this problem as soon as possible.
It isn’t a quick fix. It’s important to know this. Hitting more pull movements will help align your shoulders and spine. But how do you fix your hips so they straighten out as well?
The key is to stretch out your hip flexors and work your posterior chain. Make a conscious effort to perform this hip flexor stretch every single day in the gym before you begin lifting:
Give each side a solid 45 seconds. It’s a great stretch that will open up your hips and fix your anterior tilt over time.
The toughest part to fixing your tilt will be psychological. You’ll forget to perform these stretches, and before you know it a whole week has flown by.
Therefore, make it a conscious effort to remember to stretch. Put it at the top of your workout journal so you remember. It will take less than 5 minutes of your time to do this.
Anterior pelvic tilt is also caused by weak hamstrings, abs and glutes. Therefore, it’s critical that you hit your abs at least 3 times per week.
The one-legged RDL that I mentioned above with dumbbells will give you the strength you’re looking for. This is one of the best exercises for the posterior chain.
Your glutes will gain strength from any sort of squat movement. I personally like leg presses and bulgarian split squats which use dumbbells.
4. Always Focus On The Weakest Chain
Think of your body as a chain. You are only as strong as your weakest link. When you start to neglect parts of the chain, you begin to throw your body off.
An example are your wrists. If you naturally have small, weak wrists, then your form will take a hit. Bad form creates imbalances. It can also cause injury.
So, time should be spent strengthening the wrists through grip exercises. A great one is to simply grab two 5-pound plates and pinch them together with your fingers for as long as you can.
Body weight exercises are another way to strengthen the weakest links in your chain aka your body. I’m a big fan of body weight training. You’ll notice that a lot of my workout routines have at least one body weight exercise. This is to help strengthen the weakest links in your body.
So, whenever you are starting any workout routine, make sure you have at least one or two body weight exercises for that particular muscle group you’re hitting.
Your body will naturally develop muscle imbalances simply because you’re born dominant on one side. Even people who can throw left and right handed are more dominant on one side. It’s just the way it is.
The methods I’ve mentioned above will help you fix most, if not all, of your imbalances. Working on your weakest links is required. You must spend time to identify which parts of your body are the weakest and go to work on them.
Again, body weight exercises are great for not only strengthening the weak muscles, but also making you more flexible.
If you’re only lifting with gym equipment, you’re going to have an incredibly tight body. This actually opens you up to more injury and chronic pain.
However, save most of your stretching for after your workout. If you stretch too much before lifting, you can actually injure yourself because you’re too “loose.”
You could also see a specialist if you’re experiencing some serious chronic pain. I’ve had massage therapists work on trigger points in my back before.
But, this won’t fix the underlying problem. The methods I’ve described above will help you fix the root cause of your muscle imbalance.
It isn’t easy to fix as it takes time. But, just be consciously aware of your posture at all times. Put in the extra minutes per day to hit these weakened, tight muscles and you’ll soon see results.