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!
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.
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:
poor movement and training technique
Here I'll briefly explain each point and go through how muscular imbalances can cause these problems.
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.
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.
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.
Muscular imbalances can also sometimes cause injuries if you're not careful and are irresponsible with the physical activity you do.
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.
Other examples of unilateral exercises could include:
single leg Romanian deadlifts
single leg leg press
dumbbell shoulder press
single arm cable rows
single arm machine chest press
single leg hamstring curls
single leg quad extensions
single arm cable pushdowns.
One session certainly isn't going to get the job done, but the muscular imbalance should gradually even out as you continue to train.
Match, or Do More Reps With the Weaker Side
Another good strategy to sue when trying to even out muscular imbalances with unilateral exercises is to ensure that you se your weaker side first, and only match that number of reps with your strong side.
Even if you feel or know that your strong side is capable of doing more reps, resist this urge to keep going.
You want to even out the imbalance, and that means allowing your weaker side to catch up.
Or, if you're really serious about it you can even do more reps with your weaker side.
It's going to feel weird, and it's likely going to feel bad, but it's a good strategy to implement temporarily as you let your weaker side catch up.
For example, on a set of single arm cable curls you could do 12 reps with your weaker arm, and only 10 reps with your strong arm. This should gradually help to even out the imbalance as well.
Now that you know how to fix a bodily muscular imbalance, I'll show you what you can do to minimize a joint muscular imbalance.
Focus Your Attention on Weak Muscles
If you find that one muscle within an antagonistic pair is stronger, bigger or more mobile than the other, you're likely going to benefit from focusing more of your attention throughout the week to the weaker muscles.
For example, if you've got a stronger chest than back and you do an upper body workout, it might make sense for you to do around 8-10 total sets for your back, and a couple less (maybe around 6-8) for your chest.
This is going to allow you to accumulate more workout volume for your weaker side, and allow it to gradually catch up.
You can do this by adding an extra exercise, a couple extra sets, implementing some sort of training intensity technique, or anything else really.
You could even completely switch up your workouts/ workout split to make it more focused on your weaker muscle groups, such as a back-focused split or a posterior-chain-dominant leg workout.
And that's how you would go about fixing your muscular imbalances!
This is a process that's inevitably going to take time, and you not only need to ensure that you're taking the right approach to your workouts and training, but are also being patient enough to be realistic with your results and expectations!
More Training Tips for Preventing Muscular Imbalances
Preventing muscular imbalances isn't an easy task.
However, there are some training tips that you could implement to take another step closer towards this.
Try to Lift With the Same Form For Both Sides
One of the most important things that you can do would be to really focus on making each rep look the same from side to side.
The weight should feel just as challenging for your weak side as it does for your strong side.
If it doesn't, maybe it's time to lower it if your form is suffering with the weak side.
For example, take the dumbbell bicep curl.
Many people will find that their form is great with their strong arm on this exercise, but that they struggle to replicate that with their weak arm.
They may find that they have to do some additional swinging with the elbows, or flare them out to the side a little in order to get the weight up.
While you're still technically curling the weight up with your bicep, you're bringing in other muscles to help that side and that side only.
This means over time, your stronger arm is going to end up doing more work than your weak one and you might end up with a large muscular imbalance.
Instead, try to get the form looking consistent across both sides of your body, so that you don't end up developing any sort of unwanted muscular imbalances.
Make Sure All Your Muscles Are Getting Enough Attention
No muscle group should be favored over the other.
At least, not from the same antagonistic pairs if you can help it.
It's okay to train the muscles of the upper body twice a week and the legs only once a week, but it's not a good idea at all to train your chest 3 times a week and your back only once or twice a week.
This is likely to lead to some pretty large muscular imbalances, and can really come back to bite you if you're not careful.
Instead, try to make sure that the muscles in all your antagonistic pairs are getting the right amount of attention.
Do Everything Evenly, Even Outside the Gym
Another measure that you can take to minimize muscular imbalances would be to split your everyday tasks and jobs across both arms and legs.
For example, when opening doors, just take a moment to specifically think about using your weak arm every second time so that it can get a little bit of action as well!
Or maybe when you carry your groceries in a single bag, purposely try to use your left arm a little more to give it the attention it deserves!
This isn't going to fix or prevent muscular imbalances on its own, but is a step in the right direction and will definitely add up to have a pretty serious impact on the way your body develops as time goes on!
Muscular imbalances suck.
I think we can all agree on that.
However most of the time they're not that much of an issue, and should really only have your main attention if they're causing you serious discomfort, or are extremely pronounced and noticeable.
There are measures that you can take and changes to your training to ensure that you not only fix these muscular imbalances, but also prevent them from happening again in the future!
I hope you've found value in this post, and don't forget to share it with your friends if you did so that we can reach more people!
Do you currently have any muscular imbalances you need to deal with?
Let us know down in the comments section below!