You’ve likely heard a lot about how body imbalances can hold you back in the gym and lead to injuries (and certainly if you read my articles). But how do you diagnose what imbalances you have?
Look no further than the overhead squat. The overhead squat is probably the best way to quickly assess your movement. Where you feel or don’t feel your muscles engage helps tell you what’s working and what’s not working efficiently in your body. For example, if you don't feel your glutes, lats, and/or abdominals working when you squat then they aren’t engaging when they should be. If you primarily feel your quads then that is what we call quad dominant, and it’s a sign that your tight hip flexors are pulling you forward and limiting your ability to engage your abdominals and lengthen your posterior chain. These inefficiencies prohibit your movement.
So, get in front of a mirror, and perform an overhead squat — raise your arms straight above your head, push your hips back and squat as low as you can. Here are a few common issues that can indicate you have a body imbalance:
- You’re unable to squat lower than parallel.
- Your knees cave in.
- Your heels lift.
- Your shoulders round forward.
- Your back arches.
If you notice any of these issues, don’t worry — you can combat them. Start by opening up your anterior chain (hip flexors, quads, pecs). These muscles are typically tight because we so often put our bodies in a forward-posture position (think rounded shoulders and forward head). These five exercises will address that tightness to help you balance out, and move more efficiently.
Hip Flexor Release
- For this release, use two lacrosse balls taped together.
- Lay on your stomach and place the double lacrosse ball just below your hip bone.
- Lean a tolerable amount of weight onto the lacrosse balls.
- Bend the knee on the side of the release back to a 90-degree angle. Swing that leg side to side in a tolerable range of motion.
- Perform for 30 seconds on each side three times.
Hip Flexor Stretch
- Begin in split kneeling position (back knee down, front knee up) with the back knee on a soft pad.
- Forward knee should be directly above ankle with a 90-degree bend in knee.
- To begin stretch, shift weight forward into a lunge while keeping your torso tall and pelvis tucked under. The stretch should come from your pelvis and you should feel it in the front of the hip. Don't lean forward with your torso.
- To get a deeper stretch, bring the arm on the same side as your back leg up over your head, then side bend and twist your torso away from the leg being stretched.
- Hold for 30 second and perform three times on each side.
- Stand facing the wall and place a lacrosse ball two inches below the collarbone and toward your armpit. Lean your body into the ball.
- Move the ball right and left until you find a tender area. Next, move your arm and shoulder forward and back, then up and down.
- Do these movements for 45 seconds or until the tension resolves.
- Stand facing a wall with one arm raised to shoulder height, straight out and perpendicular to the body with the forearm flush against the wall.
- Rotate your torso away from your raised arm and the wall, until you feel a stretch in your pectoral muscle, in the front of your chest and shoulder.
- Bend sideways at the hip away from the raised arm. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other arm.
Inner-Thigh Squat Progression
- Stand with feet hip-distance apart, toes and hips turned out 45 degrees. Squat with your weight in your heels.
- While squatting, try to move your knees out. Go as low as you can, then push back up through your heels. Repeat for three sets of 12 reps.
- Loop a resistance band around an anchor in front of you, it should be mid-torso height.
- Hold both ends of the band with elbows pulled into to your sides and bent at 90 degrees. Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down. You should feel light resistance.
- Turn your feet in to a 30-degree angle and squat, trying to move your knees out. Go as low as you can, then push back up through your heels. Repeat for three sets of 12 reps.
- Place a resistance band around your knees, just below the knees.
- Squat, pushing your knees out. Go as low as you can, then push back up through your heels. Repeat for three sets of 12 reps.