Muscle imbalances occur when one set of muscles—for example, the pectorals—are of unequal strength or size compared to an opposing group of muscles—for example, the lats. These differences in muscle function can derail your hard work in the gym and create serious injuries. When one muscle is weak and the other is overactive, it pulls your body into bad posture—like rounded shoulders or an excessively arched lower back—which also limits mobility at your joints and makes certain muscles stiff.
Typically, muscle imbalances occur around areas of your body that are supposed to be mobile—hips, shoulders, thoracic spine—but they can happen almost anywhere. What does it look like when you have a muscle imbalance and how do you know if you have them? Read on for the four most common muscle imbalances, a quick test to see where you’re at, and exactly how to fix them.
Symptom: Rounded shoulders
Look at a shirtless picture of yourself in a side pose—if you can see any part of your upper-back, you have rounded shoulders. The problem is we spend too much time on the computer and isolating our chest at the gym that our pecs get tight and pull our shoulders forward.
Start strengthening your back muscles and stretching your chest. Do only one chest exercise per week for a month while focusing on the following exercises.
Chest-supported dumbbell row
Set an adjustable bench to a short incline and lie face down with a dumbbell in each hand. Start the movement by pulling your shoulder blades together and row. Don’t let your elbows pull past your ribcage.
Wide-grip inverted row
By gripping it wider, your arms will do less work while your neglected mid-back muscles will do more. Set a barbell on a power rack or Smith Machine and, from underneath, pull yourself up and touch your chest to the bar. Pin your shoulder blades together and keep your body straight like a plank.
Doorway pec stretch
Stand at a doorway with your hands above your head, make a 90° angle with your elbows, and keep your forearms on the doorjam. Lean forward and stretch your pec muscles.
Symptom: Sway back
If you have rounded shoulders, you probably have a hunchback, too. This requires a different set of corrective exercises than rounded shoulders. In addition to the previous exercises, you need to work to regain the flexibility and mobility at your thoracic spine. Use these stretches before your next workout.
Get into an all-fours position with your knees directly under your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders. Now, push your mid-back as low as you can to make an arch like a cat. This is a kneeling cobra yoga pose. Then, reach your back to the sky making it look like a camel’s hump.
Segmental T/S extension
Lay a foam roller across your mid-back. Place your hands behind your head, keep your butt on the ground, and pull your body backward on the foam roller while maintaining a neutral neck.
Symptom: Anterior pelvic tilt
Anterior pelvic tilt occurs when your pelvis tilts forward causing an overly hollowed-out back and rounded shoulders.
When you wear a belt that fits snug, where is your buckle pointing? If it’s pointing down towards the ground rather than straight ahead, you have APT.
If you’re hamstrings are always tight compared to your quads before, during, and after exercise, you likely have APT.
With APT, your hamstrings are tight because they’re always working to prevent your pelvis from tilting farther forward. This causes lower back problems and even hamstring pulls. Instead, bring your pelvis back into a neutral alignment and you’ll let those hamstrings relax, those glutes to work properly, and that lower back to calm down.
Hip flexor/RF stretch
Get on one knee with your feet inline and place your rear foot on top of a bench behind you. You’ll feel a deep stretch through the front of your hips and quads. Squeeze the glute of your rear leg and hold that stretch for 30 seconds. Switch sides.
Lie on your back with your hands and knees in the air. Keep your butt off the ground, but your lower back flush on the ground. Reach with opposite arms and legs while maintaining your starting posture. Alternate sides.
Symptom: Forward neck
When you walk through a doorway, what passes through first: your head or chest? If it’s your head, then your head and chin might be hanging low in conjunction will your neck sticking forward.
Having a head that sticks forward causes neck issues: For every inch your head moves forward, you add an extra 10lbs that your neck must support. Instead, strengthen the neglected muscles deep within your neck with this simple drill.
Quadruped chin tucks
Get on all fours and pull your head down. Now, from the bottom, pull your neck up by keeping your head position the same. Imagine lifting your head and neck up by making a double-chin.