Muscle imbalances are a product of daily living. Unless you’re ambidextrous, you probably favor one side of your body, especially if you play a one-sided sport like golf or baseball.
If you’ve endured any sort of injury—and who hasn’t?—without undergoing proper physical therapy, your body likely learned to compensate for the weakened area. That’s good, though unfortunately that compensation created muscle imbalances, which over time can lead to injury.
It’s important to incorporate movements into your training regimens to address muscle imbalances. Some trainers refer to such exercises as “pre-hab” since they help prevent the types of injuries that would require rehabilitation or rehab.
Here are five exercises to do just that.
Why: When your glutes stop firing from inactivity or sitting, you’re going to end up with tight hips, hamstrings, and ultimately a host of muscle imbalances. The glute bridge develops and improves the muscle recruitment patterns of the glutes.
How: Lie faceup on the floor with knees bent 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. Squeeze a pad or rolled-up towel between your knees. With belly button drawn in, bridge your hips to the ceiling by firing your glutes. Only the shoulders and heels remain on the ground. Hold for two seconds, then lower the hips toward the floor without touching it and then repeat. Remember to initiate the movement with the glutes.
Why: This addresses muscle imbalances by creating stability in the shoulders, core, and hips.
How: Lie facedown in a pushup position with forearms resting on the floor. Elbows are under the shoulders and bent 90 degrees. Push up off your elbows, supporting the weight on your elbows. Tuck the chin so your head is in line with the body, and pull your toes toward your shins. Keep your head in line with your spine. There should be a straight line from ears to heels. Start with a 30-second hold (or whatever you can do) and work your way up to two minutes.
Why: This addresses back pain and related muscle imbalances from too much sitting. It’s also an effective way to restore the spine’s natural “S” curve that is lost over time, again from too much sitting.
How: You’ll need a dowel rod (preferably) or broomstick approximately six feet in length. Get down on all fours with hands directly underneath the shoulders and elbows slightly bent. The knees should be underneath the hips at a 90-degree angle. Place the rod along the spine to hold perfect alignment. The space between the rod and lower back should be roughly the thickness of your hand and the rod should maintain contact with the head, middle back, and sacrum. Beginners might find holding this position for 1-2 minutes challenging enough. Or you can proceed to lift the left hand and right knee a half-inch off the ground. Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat with the right hand and left knee. Alternate limbs for two minutes. (Using a dowel rod also is an effective way to maintain proper push-up position. Even if you’ve been doing pushups for decades, you’ll find proper push-ups more challenging.)
Why: Popularized by physical therapist Pete Egoscue, this links the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles, thus creating balance throughout the body.
How: Sit against a wall with legs straight out. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold without elevating the shoulders. Tighten the thighs and flex the feet so that the toes are pointing back toward you. Keep the arms at your sides or relaxed atop the thighs. Hold for four to six minutes.
Why: Sort of a poor man’s massage, foam rolling uses deep compression to roll out muscle spasms and imbalances that develop over time. The compression causes the nerves to relax and also loosens muscle, gets the blood flowing, and helps the body recover from workouts and day-to-day living. Like a professional massage, there will be some uncomfortable moments with foam rolling.
How: Use the roller anywhere you feel tight and in need of a massage. The foam roll not only addresses muscle imbalances, it’s a great barometer of the quality of your muscle and connective tissue.
Pete Williams is a NASM certified personal trainer and the author or co-author of a number of books on performance and training.