What is your reason for exercising? Is it to lose weight? Improve athletic performance? “Tone up”? These 3 reasons are very popular ones. There is, however, another very important reason to exercise and that is to fix or correct something. Many of us are walking around with a muscle imbalance that should be and needs to be fixed, corrected or addressed. Muscle imbalances may cause us to have aches and pains, increase the risk of injury or even prevent us from participating in an activity that we like to do. So, what if we told you that muscle imbalances can be fixed with the proper exercise program?
Tell me about this muscle imbalance
First, let’s talk about what muscle imbalance is and how we become imbalanced. Every joint in the body is surrounded by muscles that produce and control movement. If the muscles on one side of a joint change it can cause an change to another muscle. For example, if your quadriceps become too tight or too powerful (quad dominant), and the hamstrings on the opposite side are too weak or too flexible this could result in an adverse result for your knee, an undue stress. This is called a muscle imbalance. Muscle imbalances can be a potential cause of injury because they can affect the position of the joint at rest and change its path of motion during movement.
How did I become imbalanced?
There are usually two recognized causes of muscle imbalance. The first is a biomechanical cause from repeated movements in one direction or sustained postures. Think of these as injuries from the workplace: standing in retail, sitting at a desk, using a mouse/keyboard, using a sledge hammer, etc. The second cause is a neuromuscular imbalance due to the predisposition of certain muscle groups to be either tight or weak. This basically means that you were born with a propensity toward a particular posture, hip tilt or walk/gait.
There are many things we do in our daily life that cause a muscle imbalance including:
- Sleeping on the same side every night
- Carrying our bags, children or groceries on the same side as well as using the same hand to hold things like your phone or toothbrush. To add to that, if you hold your phone at waist level you are constantly looking down causing neck strain
- When crossing your legs, always crossing the same one on top- ever notice that? Now you will
- Putting all your weight on one leg while standing or always leading with your dominant leg when going up and down the stairs
The above are all actions that we repeatedly do each day as part of our routine. As we overuse and underuse certain muscles, compensation patterns result. Muscles remember frequently used motor patterns and do them automatically. The overused muscles can become tight, inflamed and irritated, while underused muscles grow weak.
So, how do we fix these muscle imbalances?
First, take a look at the list above and pay attention to what you do from this list. Identifying common habits is the first way to change some patterns. There are some things that you can do on a regular basis to change patterns.
Second, participate in an exercise program that helps fix your imbalances. The body is designed to move through multiple planes of motion and in many directions. Many popular exercises are done in the same plane of motion and many mimic everyday movement. To reduce the risk of developing muscle imbalances your exercise program should include equal amounts of movements like pushing, pulling, rotating as well as moving sideways and in rotational directions.
Here’s what you can do on your own:
- Sleep on one side at the beginning of the night and then turn over in the middle of the night
- When carrying groceries, try to use the side you don’t typically use to hold them. Consider packing lighter bags and distributing the weight evenly between both sides.
- Hold your phone at eye level and pay attention to your posture. Better yet, give your phone a break!
- Shift your weight from side to side when standing.
As experts in functional movements and assessments, we are able to work with you to fix your imbalances and help you retrain the pattern of movements that led to the imbalance. For more information, contact us!