Symmetrical muscular development & Correcting imbalances
Symmetry is a beautiful thing. Biologically speaking, it’s nature’s preferred state. For all intents and purposes, the two sides of the body are approximate mirror images of each other, with corresponding muscles and ligaments and tendons. Our anatomical symmetry is obviously a product of evolution, because a balanced body simply works better. Therefore symmetrical muscular development should be you’re top priority.
Compromising such an ideal state of balance can – in terms of human performance and physical development – lead to injury, poor performance and weakness. In this post you’ll find out few simple training strategies you can use to ensure symmetrical muscular development.
What is muscle symmetry?
Almost every major muscle in your body has a twin. Left pec, right pec; right quad, left quad; left triceps, right triceps; left lat, right lat; and so on. A muscle symmetry simply means that the strength or size of muscle on one side of the body is symmetrical to the other side. However, that’s not always the case. Humans are simply asymmetrical creatures. Almost everyone has strength imbalances and lifts unevenly (even if it’s not immediately apparent visually).
Are we all symmetrical?
No! As a matter of fact, we’re all asymmetrical. We all have side-to-side asymmetries. The question isn’t “do I have asymmetries,” but rather, “how big are those asymmetries, and are they problematic?”
What is muscle asymmetry (muscle imbalance)?
Thus, a muscle imbalance is a size and/or strength discrepancy between two matching muscle groups.
Sometimes you can see these imbalances in the mirror, and sometimes you can’t. However, you often notice them in your training (one limb is stronger than the other).
Examples of muscle imbalance
Here are some examples of muscle imbalance. For example, it’s common for guys to have one arm or pec that’s larger than the other. Having right arm or leg that is a little (or a lot) bigger or stronger than the left arm or leg (and vice versa) is actually a fairly common problem.
Some people notice one shoulder or one side of their chest is bigger than the other, or that the barbell moves unevenly because one side is stronger and therefore moving the weight slightly faster than the other.
What causes muscle imbalances?
Don’t despair if your body is not perfectly symmetrical; few are. The cause of this can be any number of issues that are occurring in the gym or just within your regular day-to-day life. Most of us were born symmetrical, but our habitual activities have undermined our balance. Carrying a handbag on one shoulder, always lowering the chin to the same side against a telephone receiver, swimming freestyle and always turning the head in the same direction for breathing, and countless other right-left preferences create habitual tension on one side of the body that eventually results in muscular and skeletal misalignments and distortions.
How to fix asymmetric muscle development?
There are a few simple strategies you can use to improve side-to-side muscular and strength balance if you want to achieve more balance for its own sake.
#1 Do more work with dumbbells
Because each dumbbell must be balanced individually (isolaterally), your muscles will have to do more work to keep the weights steady. With dumbbells, both sides have to pull their own weight. One advantage of using dumbbells over a barbell is that a stronger limb can’t compensate for a weaker arm or leg, promoting balance in both sides of the body. When using barbells, the strong side of your body can have a tendency to take over the movement and assist the weak side, limiting its development.
#2 More unilateral exercises
Simply replacing your bilateral exercises (where both sides are used simultaneously, like a barbell curl) with unilateral exercises (where both sides are used individually, like a dumbbell curl). That way you can even take much heavier dumbbell for you weaker arm. You also have an option to perform higher number of repetitions with your weaker arm. If only double-arm or double-leg, or bilateral, exercises are performed, the stronger limb can compensate for the weaker one, particularly in machine exercises. For example, the machine will move during a two-legged leg press even if one leg produces all the needed force.
#3 Always start with the weaker side
Whenever you do an exercise where you train each side individually, always start with your weaker side. The chances are that you instinctively train your stronger side first without thinking about it. This means when you are at your freshest you’re training your dominant side first when your weaker side would benefit much more from going first. It’s the side that actually deserves the special treatment.
#4 Let the weaker side set your workout volume
If you train your dominant side first when you’re at your freshest you’ll find that the weaker side struggles to keep up with the workload and ends up falling behind which only makes your imbalance worse. By starting on your weaker side, you can let it determine the amount of work your stronger side does which stops it from outworking the weaker side. For example, if you’re trying to do 3 sets of 8 reps on lunges and your weaker side can only do sets 8, then 6, then 5, guess what? That’s exactly what your stronger side will do too, even if you could do more with the stronger side, don’t. Doing this will give your weak side a chance to finally catch up to your strong side, at which point you can allow both sides to progress equally from that point on.
#5 Do additional work on the weaker (smaller side)
This would mean adding in an extra workout for the trouble body part or if that’s not possible then adding in a few extra exercises within your current workout setup. Another method of doing this is to increase the training load you use when working the “trouble” body part.
Closing thoughts about muscle imbalance
Although it is natural for one arm or leg to be stronger, the difference in strength between limbs ideally should be less than 10 percent. Proper exercise programming and use of unilateral exercises can reduce any drastic differences. Large strength differences between right and left limbs may increase the possibility of injury as it is the goal to keep differences between the right and left limbs as small as possible thereby promoting symmetrical muscular development. Although bilateral exercises are important, unilateral exercises should also be included in any program.