How do I fix muscle imbalance?

March 21, 2015

Q: I have been weight training for a while, but I seem to have developed an imbalance where my left bicep is bigger and stronger than my right bicep. And over the years the imbalance has gotten worse. I've tried to correct it in many ways by dong more sets and repetitions on the weak side, but it still has not grown. The imbalance is still there and is very noticeable. I would just like to know if you could give me any tips from your knowledge in correcting my imbalance?

A: Having a muscle imbalance or weakness in any part of your body can be dangerous and can cause serious injury; therefore, you have to have a plan of action if it’s ever going to get better. Here are a few things to think about as you begin your quest to balance out your biceps.


Drop the weight

You’ll have to swallow your ego for a while and lift lighter weights that the weak arm or limb can handle. In fact, I’d suggest starting with a weight that’s very light to give the muscles on both sides a chance to work together evenly. When the weak arm starts to catch up add weight gradually. Adding weight too soon will only make the problem worse, as the strong side of the body will be forced to pick up the slack for the weak arm, possibly resulting in an entirely different injury.


Prioritize the weakness

Work the weak muscles in the first part of the workout at the beginning of the week when you’re fresh and focused. Don’t wait until you’re tired out from doing other body parts or you won’t be able to concentrate on the area that needs the most attention.

Other supporting muscles will take over, and you won’t make progress. Mondays are usually the first day of most routines; this is an excellent time to begin working on troubled areas that might get lost in the shuffle.


Include multilateral movements

Multilateral movements are exercises that make both limbs work independently, like walking lunges or alternating dumbbell bicep curls. Create a program using dumbbells, cables, bands or machines that require each arm to balance and function on its own. Stay away from barbells for a while, as they’ll only allow the strong arm to dominate the movement, and progress will be slow.


Use static contractions

Be sure to use slow, deliberate movements that squeeze the muscle hard at the peak contraction and lower the weight under control, feeling the exercise in the targeted muscle during the entire movement. Focus on activating the weak limb or muscle first and only add weight when the problem area catches up with the rest of the body. Be sure to minimize momentum for best results.


Adjust handgrip or foot position

Most people with imbalances will also have an uneven handgrip or foot stance. Lifting weights takes a lot more than just grabbing the bar and hoisting the weight. Take the time to make sure your hands are evenly placed on the bar or that your feet are lined up evenly and you’re not favoring one side or muscle group. If you have trouble, drop the weight until you can do it right, even if it means lifting the bar for a couple of weeks without weights.


Treat the problem

Treat the problem, not the symptom. Imbalances are caused by a variety of different reasons. Try to figure out what the root of the problem is and attack it at the source and you’ll fix it for good. I’ve witnessed countless people who just assume they have a bad arm or shoulder when a weak rear deltoid muscle was causing the problem in the first place.

The bottom line is, continuing to practice destructive behavior in the gym will ultimately turn a weakness into a chronic injury. Remember, as you get older, it’s not how tough you are but how smart you train that will keep you injury free and doing what you love, staying in shape.


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