Recently, I’ve been getting a few questions about muscle imbalances and whether it’s possible to fix them without having to go through surgery or extensive physiotherapy. While there ARE cases that may be beyond your control, there are ALWAYS ways that you can counteract any muscle imbalances through some simple changes to your current fitness and self-care routine.
Muscle imbalances are caused by opposing muscle groups being either too tight (overworked) or too loose (underworked). For example: a hunched back is typically a result of putting too much pressure/stress on the chest and shoulders and having too little strength in your back.
One of the best ways to counteract muscle imbalances would be to STRETCH out those muscles that are too tight and build strength in the muscles that are too weak. (In this case, using chest openers to loosen up those tight muscles, while using weight training to build up strength in your back.)
TIP: Try incorporating some slow stretching into your daily routine at least 1-2 times per day, making sure you are opening up the muscles that have become too tight. Pay extra attention to that side in particular and make sure you're not hyperextending/over-stretching the opposing muscles in an attempt to balance them out again.
Here are some stretches to work on for some common imbalances:
Doorway Chest Stretch
Palms Clasped Behind Back
Upper Body Windmills
Standing Toe Touch
Bird Dog Pose
Hip Flexor Stretch
If your muscle imbalances are causing you to feel constant or continued pain, or you are working with smaller muscle groups (like your hip abductors/adductors, knee joints, etc), then bodyweight or banded work is definitely the best way to start strengthening and rehabilitating those weak muscles.
This is because weight training may put too much added stress on your body right off the bat. It’s a good idea to start with these, and then progress to the isolated weighted exercises when you feel strong enough.
Here are some bodyweight/banded exercises to work on for some common imbalances:
Bird Dog Pose
Single Leg Plank
Banded Lateral Squats
Glute Bridge March
Banded Fire Hydrants
Banded Knee Raise
Knee Flexion & Extension
Banded Knee Extension
If your muscle imbalances aren’t currently causing any pain, or you’re working with larger muscle groups like your arms, legs or back/core, the best way to fix these imbalances are through exercises that focus on single-leg, single-arm, back & oblique training (depending on where the imbalances are).
Keep in mind, you should be using BOTH the weaker and stronger side when performing these exercises. (Let’s say, for example, we’re training a weak and a strong leg.) In this case, it's super important to continue to train the stronger muscle throughout the rehabilitation process. Just make sure you're doing the SAME amount of reps and using the same weight for both legs.
TIP: Use your weaker leg's capabilities to determine how many reps/how much weight you should be using. That way, you'll slowly be able to increase strength in the weaker leg, while still maintaining strength in your stronger leg.
Here are some isolated exercises to work on for some common imbalances:
Single Arm Bicep Curl
Single Arm Row (either with cables or a dumbbell)
Single Arm Shoulder Press
Elevated Split Squat
Single Leg Deadlift
Pistol Squats (assisted if necessary!)
Single Leg Cable Kickbacks
Single Leg Lateral Cable Kicks
Single Leg Hip Thrusts
Side Plank Hold
Side Plank w/ Hip Dips (or "Pulse")
Standing Dumbbell Side Bend
PS - Make sure it's challenging enough for that weaker leg! Even if it's super easy on that stronger leg, it's still a good idea to perform the same amount of reps/weight per leg. This will also help you track your progress over time. Slowly increase that weight (or increase the reps) as your leg gets stronger until you are feeling challenged on BOTH legs. That's the best way to truly know that you're making progress!