What causes muscle imbalances?
Muscle imbalances are caused due to several factors:
1) Genetics – Your genetics determine your body type.
You may have one or more muscles with different types of fibers. For example, if you have long arms and short legs, then these two muscles will look very different from each other because they were developed at different times in your life.
If you had them developed together, then they would look similar. However, if you had them developed separately, then they would look completely different.
2) Training – Some exercises can cause muscle imbalances and others cannot.
Exercises which can cause muscle imbalances include:
a) Weight lifting – weight training is one of the most common ways to develop strength and size in your body. It involves using weights to move heavy objects such as plates, bars, or machines.
b) Squats – squats involve using both legs to lift a barbell up off the ground. They are used for developing power and speed in sports like football, basketball, baseball and many others.
c) Bench Presses – bench press involves pressing a dumbbell (barbell) above your head while keeping it pressed against your chest. These exercises are commonly done for building upper body strength.
d) Deadlifts – deadlifts involve lifting a barbell from the floor to your waist. This exercise is very common in weight training and is one of the best all-round exercises you can do.
These types of exercises can cause muscle imbalances by focusing on either the front parts of the muscles groups or the back parts of the muscles groups. For example, exercises like deadlifts focus strongly on the back parts of your body, and this can cause your legs to become relatively weaker.
The same occurs with exercises like bench press, which shifts the focus more towards the chest muscles and causes the back to weaken a bit.
3) Repetitive motions – a lot of common activities that many people do every day can cause muscle imbalances in your body.
These activities are usually things you do repeatedly without changing too much. For example, many people drive to and from work and then sit at a desk all day long.
While this is not technically exercise, it can still cause a muscle imbalance between your chest muscles and your back muscles. Even if you don’t drive or have a desk job, you might be in a similar situation where you are doing the same motions over and over again throughout the day.
These are just 3 reasons why you may have muscle imbalances in your body. The key to fixing this is to first understand why the imbalances exist, and then to take steps to correct them.
For example, if you work at a desk all day, then you should incorporate some stretching and strength training into your day so that you can break up the monotony of just sitting all day.
How to fix muscle imbalances
There are several steps you can take to slowly work out any muscle imbalances in your body. The following are the most common steps you can take to get your muscles working more efficiently with each other:
1) Stretch your tight muscles and strengthen your weak muscles – the first thing you should do is go see a physical therapist who can assess your muscle imbalances.
Once they know where your problem areas are, they can prescribe specific exercises for you to do which will help correct these issues.
For example, if you have weak glutes and tight hip flexors, then your physical therapist can set you up with a series of hip flexor stretches and glute strengthening exercises. Doing these on a regular basis can help to loosen your hip flexors and strengthen your glutes so that your walking, running, and other activities feel more natural.
2) Do some functional training – another way to improve the strength of the muscles in your body is to do some functional training.
The goal of functional training is to mimic the movements your body makes when it engages in the activities you do every day. For example, if you play golf, then doing some golf-specific training can help strengthen your core muscles so they work better with your upper and lower body movements.
3) Get your posture checked – a lot of times bad posture can cause muscle imbalances throughout your body.
This is why it is important to get your posture checked by a physical therapist or your doctor. They can let you know if your posture is contributing to your muscle imbalances and what you can do to correct it.
4) Focus on balance training – when you have weak muscles in your body, your body will try to adapt by putting more weight on other muscles.
When one muscle group gets too much stronger than the rest, this is when muscle imbalances can occur.
To correct for this, you should focus on some balance and core training. This will help strengthen your core muscles so they are in better sync with the rest of your body.
5) Be mindful of what activities you participate in – as we talked about earlier, certain activities are going to put more emphasis on certain muscle groups.
This is why it is important to choose your activities based on your strengths and weaknesses. If you have strong legs, you may want to try basketball.
If you have weak core muscles, then you may want to focus on some swimming. Getting involved in sports and other physical activities is a great way to improve fitness without putting any extra stress on your body.
The take home message here is that correcting muscle imbalances is a gradual process. You can’t just do some quick stretches and strengthening exercises and think everything is going to be OK.
You need to be dedicated to the process and do your exercises and stretches on a regular basis if you want to make a permanent change.
If you are interested in learning more about correcting muscle imbalances, then feel free to contact us or schedule an appointment with one of our physical therapists.
Sources & references used in this article:
Shoulder pain in wheelchair athletes: the role of muscle imbalance by RS Burnham, L May, E Nelson… – … American journal of …, 1993 – journals.sagepub.com
Complications and predictive factors for the successful treatment of flatback deformity (fixed sagittal imbalance) by KC Booth, KH Bridwell, LG Lenke, CR Baldus… – Spine, 1999 – journals.lww.com
Groin pain in the soccer athlete: fact, fiction, and treatment by J Gilmore – Clinics in sports medicine, 1998 – Elsevier
Patellofemoral pain syndrome: a review on the associated neuromuscular deficits and current treatment options by V Fagan, E Delahunt – British journal of sports medicine, 2008 – bjsm.bmj.com