We define a muscle imbalance as an asymmetry between muscle strength and/or length between opposing muscle groups around a joint or between both sides of the body. These need to be in balance for normal movement and function.
This is common for athletes who rely heavily on their dominant arm or leg, such as baseball pitchers, tennis players, or even swimmers. Even recreational athletes and gym-goers can have muscle imbalances.
It’s not uncommon to train some muscle groups more than others, but if you over-focus on some areas of the body while neglecting others, you may cause a muscle imbalance. These imbalances can lead to a number of physical issues. You can identify muscle imbalances in your body with these common symptoms:
It is common for athletes to have overly-strong quadriceps (front of thigh muscles) and weaker hamstrings (back of thigh muscles). Part of this comes from the fact that most training exercises tend to focus more heavily on the quads and most individuals tend to be more dominant with this muscle. This can place athletes at risk of potential hamstring injuries.
It is common to have tighter and/or stronger chest muscles vs back/shoulder blade muscles. One term for this is “upper cross syndrome,” which is often caused by poor posture. Which also perpetuates poor posture with your shoulders rounded forward which also pushes your head forward. This can increase your risk of neck pain, upper back pain, and possible headaches.
Most of us tend to have a dominant arm that will be slightly stronger, and this is normal! Yet sometimes, especially after an injury, that asymmetry between arms will become more significant. This can lead to overuse through the stronger side and underuse through the weaker side. Both of which can increase the risk of injury.
Whether you are trying to fix an imbalance in your arms or legs, it’s important to train one side at a time. While this might make your exercise session longer, it’ll ensure that each side must work at equal intensities. Once the “problem area” is identified, incorporate more exercises that focus on these areas to improve its strength and mobility.
If you start experiencing pain or movement limitations that interfere with your daily life seek the advice of a physical therapist. You should also consider working with a PT to help you diagnose and address any imbalances you may have.