top of page

8 Steps to Crushing Your First Gym Session

Subscribe to Gympulsive and get updates on all the latest blog articles, updates and industry news.

Free eBook Guide

Noticed Muscular Imbalances? Here's How to Fix Them Fast.

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

Wanting to fix that annoying muscular imbalance of yours? Here's how to do it in just a handful of easy steps!

Fit and athletic man with muscular imbalances doing barbell curl

Muscular imbalances can be extremely frustrating.

Whether you're trying to press a barbell up and can't keep it straight, or you're trying to pose in the mirror and can't help but notice the huge difference in arm size, muscular imbalances are never a good thing to have.

I've had them before, you've likely had them before, and they can have a pretty serious impact on your training if you're not careful.

In this article I'm going to break down the different types of muscular imbalances, the effect that they can have on you, how to fix them, and some training tips to prevent or minimize muscular imbalances in the future.

Let's get started.

What Are Muscular Imbalances?

A muscular imbalance is exactly what it sounds like.

It's a difference in size, strength or mobility between two muscles.

For example, many people often have bigger and stronger biceps on one arm than the other.

This is pretty common, since most people are used to using their strong arm for everyday tasks such as opening doors, carrying groceries and other things.

It may not seem like much to begin with, but all these tiny movements add up over the course of the days, weeks, months and years that you go through.

Over time, without proper training the muscular imbalances are likely to simply grow bigger and more apparent as you go.

Types of Muscular Imbalances

There are two main types of muscular imbalances, and many people will notice that both of these types apply to them.

Don't worry, both types of muscular imbalances can be fixed with the right training and knowledge.

Bodily Muscular Imbalances

This type of imbalance refers to a difference in muscle strength, size or mobility between two sides of the body.

For example, I'll use the arms again. Many people will notice that the biceps and triceps on their dominant arm are generally bigger and stronger than that of the other arm.

This type of imbalance can be caused by uneven use of your muscles both in everyday activities and training.

Like I mentioned above, everything from opening windows to taking the trash out can add up and have an impact on the muscular imbalances from side to side.

In training, uneven use of your muscles can also cause imbalances.

This is especially common when you train with barbells, and other forms of strength training that don't provide each side with a separate bit of resistance.

For example, it's common for people to do the barbell bench press with an uneven bar.

Lots of people will find that their dominant side presses the bar up first, and the weaker side follows suit.

Although you still technically lifted the weight with both arms, the dominant side did way more work. I was guilty of this as well.

Other examples could include regular lat pulldown machines and barbell curls, with people using their dominant arms to lift more and unevenly.

Over time, this is going to add up and cause some pretty big differences in muscle strength, size and mobility.

Joint Muscular Imbalances

This is the other type of muscular imbalance, and includes differences between muscle groups that attach to the same joint and generally have opposing functions.

For example, take the biceps and triceps. they're both responsible for movement at the elbow, with the biceps taking care of elbow flexion and the triceps taking care of elbow extension.

These two muscles are what is known as an 'antagonistic pair', which means as one of them contracts the other one lengthens.

Comparison between bicep and triceps exercises for joint muscular imbalances

Other examples of this would include the chest and back, or the abs and spinal erectors.

Most of the time, the muscles within antagonistic pairs should be about as strong and mobile as each other.

If one of the muscles on a joint becomes stronger, weaker or more or less mobile than the other, joint mobility and movement can become limited.

Joint muscular imbalances are generally caused by improper training volume or intensity.

For example some people will like to train the biceps more and simply favor them over the triceps when it comes to picking exercises to do.

You might do 4 sets for bicep on a given workout, and only 2 or 3 for triceps.

Or if I use the legs as an example for the first time this blog post, the quads and the hamstrings are a common place for joint muscular imbalances.

Lots of people like to fill their leg day workouts with exercises such as squats and leg presses.

Exercises like these are great for working the quads and glutes, but aren't going to do a whole lot for you when it comes to your hamstrings.

Your quads would quickly grow ahead of your hamstrings, and then continue to separate further and further away from your hamstrings as you continue to train like this.

This is fine for one workout, but it'll add up over time to cause big muscular imbalances.

What Effect Does a Muscular Imbalance Have on You?

Most of the time, muscular imbalances aren't actually that big of a problem.

You've probably got loads of imbalances on your body that you're not aware of, and have been living with for a very long time!

It's pretty normal, and shouldn't be causing you that much stress if you haven't got any real reasons for it.

Obviously it's not a good thing fi you've got muscular imbalances, but you don't really need to go out of your way to fix them either unless they're causing you extreme pain or are extremely pronounced and noticeable.

However, they can still sometimes cause some issues if you allow the imbalances to become too large.

These could include:

  • limited mobility

  • poor movement and training technique

  • uneven appearances

  • potential injuries.

Here I'll briefly explain each point and go through how muscular imbalances can cause these problems.

Limited Mobility

When you've got joint muscular imbalances, you run the risk of limiting your joint mobility.

When antagonistic pairs move together, one muscle group contracts while the other lengthens.

However if one muscle is more mobile than the other, or one is specifically tight for some reason, you're likely to find that you can't move all that freely at the joint.

When you try to stretch and protract either of the muscles within the antagonistic pair, you might find that you can't actually go very far due to one of the muscles being tight.

If one of the muscles is able to move quite far, but the other isn't anywhere close to that then you're going to experience some awkward and limited mobility at that joint.

This might then cause you some pain if you try to push it and go further than the tight muscle(s) are capable of going, which can continue to limit your mobility.

Or if both are tight, that's even worse. But that's not even a muscular imbalance anymore, so I won't go any further into that.

Man doing hamstring stretches to loosen muscles and prevent muscular imbalances

Poor Movement and Training Technique

If your muscular imbalance becomes large enough, there's a chance that your overall movement and training in the gym is going to be impacted.

On top of the limited joint mobility, there's also the chance of having uneven strength.

For example, if one side of your chest becomes too much stronger than the other, it's going to be extremely tough for you to do any form of bench pressing.

If you tried to bench press on a barbell, you might find it tough to press the weight up evenly, and trying to do so would simply make each rep that much harder for you to perform.

You'd likely have to drop down in weight to an amount that your weaker side can actually handle, and train at that for a while until your weaker side catches up.

Or if you tried to do dumbbell bench presses, you might find that one arm is capable of doing significantly more reps, but has to be held back in order to allow the weak side to catch up.

Uneven Appearance

This one should be pretty obvious, but muscular imbalances can cause your body and physique to look uneven.

Again, let's use the same example I've been using this whole article.

The most common places for people to notice muscular imbalances in terms of muscle size would likely be the biceps, triceps, lats and shoulders.

A difference in muscle size in any of these areas is not uncommon, and do have an impact on the way your physique is going to look.

Now if you're an athlete that literally doesn't care what your body looks like at all, then this should be fine. You probably won't run into any real problems.

However if you're a competitive or aspiring bodybuilding, or you just care heavily about the way your body looks then you're likely going to want to avoid something like this.

Uneven appearances are going to be something you'll want to fix.

Potential Injuries

Muscular imbalances can also sometimes cause injuries if you're not careful and are irresponsible with the physical activity you do.

Male athlete consulting physical therapist after suffering injury

For example, too large of a muscular imbalance between your quads and hamstrings can cause you to tear a hamstring if you try to squat weights that you hamstrings simply aren't strong enough to handle.

Although I said your hamstrings don't do all that much in a squat, they do still come under some stress.

And if you're squatting weights that far exceed the strength levels of your hamstrings, you might (although unlikely) run into injuries such as muscle strains and hamstring tears.

Or during repetitive motions such as rowing and running, trying to exert too much force can cause injuries if some of your muscles in antagonistic pairs are stronger and more powerful than others.

Now that you know the effects a muscular imbalance can have on you, I'll show you how you can work towards fixing these imbalances and reducing the impact of these effects if they're something that you're really worried about.

How to Fix Muscular Imbalances

Fixing muscular imbalances doesn't have to be something that takes up a huge chunk of your time in the gym or out of your day.

Some simple changes in the way you train and the way you approach your workout sessions is going to do the trick.

First, I'll show you how you can fix the first type of muscular imbalance; bodily muscular imbalances.

Just to remind you, this is the type where your muscles are different from side to side on your body.

Utilize More Unilateral Exercises

Fixing this type of imbalance simply comes to changing the form of resistance that you use, and incorporating more unilateral movements into your workouts.

This basically means to use exercises that provide each side with its own, separate resistance as opposed to both sides lifting the same piece of weight.

For example, incorporating dumbbell bench presses over barbell bench presses is going to be a good idea for fixing a muscular imbalance in your chest.

Each side of your chest is given its own piece of weight to handle, meaning your strong side isn't going to be able to contribute more and take away from the amount of work that your weaker side does.