How do I correct muscle imbalance?

October 12, 2013

Q: I have been lifting about a year and have made great gains. However, I just can’t seem to get bigger hamstrings. My quads are fine. They are big and strong. In fact, probably better than average, but my hamstrings are a different story. They are weak and much smaller than my quads. They’re just not proportionate to the front of my legs. I have tried everything but they just don’t seem to respond. Do you have any suggestions that will help me correct this problem?

A: You have what I like to call a muscle imbalance. There are four major things I believe you must do when trying to correct muscle imbalance. Try adding some of these tricks to your training program and I’ll bet you’ll have more success.

Prioritize problem areas

If you already have good arms and you work them at the beginning of the week when you are fresh and full of energy and you save your hamstrings for Friday when you can’t wait to get home and relax, guess what? You’ll continue to have weak hamstrings.

It makes much more sense to work your legs on Monday when you can focus better and get a good workout. This will give you a chance to concentrate on the weak area and make it grow. The same principal applies to training splits. If you’re working more than one muscle group a day start with the muscle that needs the most help. Save the strong muscles for last. You’ll get much better results.

Don’t overwork strengths

We’ve all seen the guy in the gym doing 12 sets of bench presses for his chest and two sets of cable rows for his back, big mistake. Opposing body parts such as chest and back should be worked evenly. Whatever you do to the front you should do to the back. If you’re trying to correct an imbalance, you may even want to reduce the amount of sets for the stronger body part until the weak muscles begin to catch up.

Take your time adding weight

Getting stronger takes time. You can’t expect to fix the problem in a month. Increasing the weight too soon will only cause injury or a false sense of strength gain. Just because you’re lifting the weight doesn’t mean you’re using the right muscles. Take it slow and be sure you can feel the muscle you’re trying to work. When you can do two to three extra reps add five to 10 pounds. Eventually you will make progress.

Use proper form

Some muscles are very difficult to isolate. You may think you’re working them but you’re actually putting the pressure on the wrong area. A good example of this is abs. I can’t tell you how many people tell me that they can do a hundred crunches until I show them how to do the exercise correctly. All the sudden they have trouble doing 20.

Remember correcting muscle imbalance takes time. Be patient and apply the above techniques and you will be well on your way to correcting your problem.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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