How to Test and Fix Muscle Imbalance
by Evelyn Valdez·
Muscle imbalances are a perfectly normal but often frustrating issue that active lifters face when they’re strength training for their goals. Whether it’s a major imbalance or a minor one, the best thing to do is to fix it as soon as possible so it doesn’t impact your workouts.
That said, no one is perfect, and just as we don’t have perfectly symmetrical bodies we also don’t have perfectly symmetrical muscles. Muscle imbalances are only an issue when you or someone else can notice them… That’s when you need to take action!
In this article, we’ll help you spot muscle imbalances and a few ways to fix those imbalances as soon as you notice them, so you can give your weaker side a proper workout to match the stronger one, allowing you to make progress more effectively.
How to test for muscle imbalances
Whether it’s your first time testing or you’ve done it before, here are a few tips to make spotting and testing a muscle imbalance easier for you so you can minimize the risk of injury in the future:
Make sure to use the correct form
This might sound obvious, but there’s a reason we’re starting with this one! Often, bad form can be confused with a muscle imbalance because you’re not getting in position correctly, which messes with your ability to perform the exercise properly.
Before you try testing for a muscle imbalance, you need to make sure your form and positioning are correct, and that you’re using a weight that’s appropriate for your fitness level. Not too heavy that you won’t be able to go through the full range of motion, but not so light that the workout feels like a breeze, making it more difficult to differentiate the weaker side from the stronger one.
Additionally, testing with an exercise that you’ve mastered will make things easier for you because you know how the exercise goes. You already know exactly how your body should be positioned on each step of the exercise, so if something feels odd or unbalanced, you’ll notice it more quickly.
Test both sides at the same time but separately
Barbells are undefeated when it comes to building muscle strength and growing bigger muscles, but if you’re testing for muscle imbalances, it’s better to stick with free weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells, or cable exercises that use two separate cable attachments.
This is because, when you use a barbell, a bar attachment, or anything that requires both sides of your body on the same piece of equipment, the stronger side will support the weaker one since they’re dealing with the same weight, making it harder to spot a muscle imbalance.
This is not to say that it’s impossible to spot one, but most barbell exercises can be replicated with a pair of dumbbells, so try to stick with those when testing to avoid overlooking any minor imbalances that you might miss otherwise!
Exercise in front of a mirror
Being able to visually check for muscle imbalances makes the job a lot easier for you. If you’re testing at the gym, chances are that the weight room has a few floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Those aren’t just for checking out how good you look while you work out… They’re there to help you!
Not only are they great for making sure you’re working out with proper form, but you can also use them to see how your body behaves during the exercise. For example, if you’re doing reverse flyes, you might notice an arm going up faster than the other, or you see one arm struggling more than the other during biceps curls. Those are muscular imbalances in your upper body!
Have a workout buddy check your form
Sometimes, simply feeling a muscle imbalance seems impossible or you’re performing an exercise in a position where you can’t look at yourself in the mirror. When this happens, having a workout buddy that checks your form can be a great way to spot muscle imbalances!
If you don’t have a workout buddy, you can ask someone at the gym to help you out – just make sure they’re not busy themselves! Or even better, you can ask a personal trainer because they’re specifically trained for that and can spot small details that another active trainer might overlook.
How to fix a muscle imbalance
When you’ve spotted a muscle imbalance, the next step is fixing it so you can make progress seamlessly without having to worry about your movements not being symmetrical. Here are a few ways you can fix a muscle imbalance:
Prioritize unilateral exercises
When it comes to fixing muscle imbalances, unilateral movements are great because they allow you to train each side at a time, allowing the weaker side to grow by itself instead of relying on the stronger side to compensate.
Because you’re only working with one side of your body at a time, you recruit fewer muscles during the exercise, allowing you to truly focus on the groups of muscles you’re targeting to fix the imbalance. You’ll not only be able to personalize a workout that works for both sides, but you can also pay more attention to the imbalance and work on it with more dedication.
As we said before, barbell exercises are not the best for spotting a muscle imbalance, and they’re also not the best at fixing them either! Stick with dumbbells, kettlebells, and other free weights that don’t require using both sides of your body at the same time.
Match the stronger side with the weaker one
…Not the other way around! What we mean is that, when choosing the weight for your workouts, you should aim to lift as much as you comfortably can with your weak side and let the opposite muscle match that weight, instead of forcing your weaker side to lift as much as the stronger one.
Doing this will allow your weaker muscles to grow while you slow down progress for your stronger muscles, essentially just maintaining muscle on that side, reducing the imbalance between the two. Plus, this way you can see more clearly your limitations on each side, helping you tackle that imbalance and avoid it in the future.
Give your weaker side a bigger challenge
To fix a muscle imbalance, you need to make your weaker muscles work harder so that they can grow and perform the same as the stronger side. But you need to be careful not to go too far! If you give additional work to your weaker side and end up overtraining it, you might just reverse the imbalance.
So, whether you add a few more reps or some more weight on your weaker side, make sure it’s in small increments. Go little by little so you can make progress on that side without taking it too far, and make sure to test your imbalance frequently to see how much progress you’ve made so far – or if you’re already there!
Start your workout routine with the weaker side
Your dominant side is probably your stronger one, and the one you always start your workouts with. If you’re trying to fix a muscle imbalance, try starting with your weaker side when doing unilateral exercises!
At the beginning of every workout, your body is full of energy and ready to tackle any exercise, so it’s the perfect time to focus on evening out your imbalances. Spend some time on your weaker side while you’re still fresh and extra-focused so you don’t struggle too much, and then work on your stronger side when exhaustion is starting to catch up with you.
Take care of your muscles for better gains
If you suspect having a muscle imbalance or you just want to test and make sure you’re not overlooking any small imbalances, the first step is paying close attention to your workouts. A good idea is to take a day specifically for testing so you can focus on your form and check if you noticed anything, and then work on fixing them little by little by following our tips!
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