Healthy Living

Your Guide To Building Muscle: How To Prevent A Muscle Imbalance In Your Fitness Routine

Man working out
Avoid a muscle imbalance in your exercise routine, using this guide to building muscle. United States Marine Corps

For many, a fitness routine aims to build the body to look aesthetically pleasing, and many resort to quick ways to achieve this. Body part splits — dividing what body parts you want to train during the week — is very popular among those who want to build muscle fast, says Men's Health. Building muscle is a primary focus of bodybuilders who rely on isolation exercises to increase the size of a targeted area. However, if you want to build muscle fast, the best way to do so is doing a full body workout to prevent a muscle imbalance.

"Approximately 65 percent of injuries - both athletic and lifestyle-related come from overuse, which is repetitive use of joints that are rendered dysfunctional by muscular imbalances," said Mark Verstegan, president and founder of Athletes' Performance and Core Performance on CorePerformance.com. Maintaining a muscle balance when training the body is vital to prevent injuries, poor posture, and a decrease in your performance capabilities. Art De Vany, author of Evolutionary Fitness, talks in his book about "The X-Look" — a symmetrical balance of mass in the shoulder girdle, upper chest and back, the calves, and lower quads. This symmetrical balance is thrown off course when gym goers focus on one core muscle group rather than others. The inequality of muscle length or strength is due to altered movement patterns that can cause abnormal adaptations and wear and tear, says Indiana State University Department of Applied Medicine and Rehabilitation. The body and joints are held together by opposing muscle groups to control body movement. Strengthening or tightening one muscle group — more than the normal amount — will cause the opposite muscle to overwork itself — an issue people deal with as they progress through their training.

In an article published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, researchers described the role of muscle imbalance in subacromial impingement, which is when tendons of the rotator cuff muscles become irritated and inflamed as they go through the subacromial space. Swimmers and baseball players are prone to this condition due to the overutilization of the shoulder muscle in these sports. Like athletes, gym goers are at risk when they participate in "leg day", for example. Muscle builders who primarily focus on their quads while they do an extensive amount of squats — not exercising their glutes or hamstring — can fall victim to lordosis, which is an abnormal inward curve of the spine, says Healthline.

Choosing exercises that strengthen opposing muscle groups is one of the best preventions for muscle imbalance. For example, if gym goers want to focus on their chest, they can first bench press and then do seated rows for their back. The opposing muscles and muscle groups are supposed to be in sync and work together. They have to achieve a balance in strength, flexibility, and posture to work effectively. Solely focusing on chest exercises will weaken the back muscles and can lead to serious chronic muscle imbalances in the body.

Whether a muscle imbalance in the body is brought on by a sport, an occupation issue, or by a fitness routine, it is essential to prevent this imbalance.

To reduce muscle imbalances in your training be sure to add:

More Volume For Size Difference

If the muscle imbalance is visible — one muscle looks bigger than the other — increasing the volume on the smaller side is beneficial. The smaller side needs to recover, so it is suggested to not overload it with so much weight. BodyBuilder.com suggests to perform one to two sets of your usual lift routine while focusing on the smaller side, followed by a couple of sets of isolation size for the muscle group.

More Weight For Strength Difference

Single-side exercises incorporated into a workout regimen can allow you to focus on the desired key parts of the body, effectively using all of your muscles, says BodyBuilding.com. While doing single-side exercises, avoid losing proper form to ensure that all of the key muscles are functioning properly.

Time To Assess Your Fitness Routine

Single-side exercises are effective but shouldn't be your only solution to reduce your muscle imbalance. If you have a weaker side — whether it's due to size or strength difference — you should perform more exercises as often as you can for that side. Remember to not overload the side, allow it to recover and gradually increase the side's productivity to ensure you have "The X-Look."

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