A muscle imbalance is when certain muscles in the body are stronger or more developed than others. This can happen as a result of an unbalanced exercise program, exercising with improper form, bad posture, inactivity, certain activities of daily life, or through natural development.
What are the Effects?
While strengthening muscles is generally beneficial, too much focus on some areas of the body, and neglecting others can lead to some potential problems. Muscle imbalances can lead to physical issues such as pain, limited mobility, unbalanced appearance. These imbalances lead to an increased risk of injury, due to a lack of stability. This instability can lead to an increased risk of damage to joints, muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and the surrounding connective tissue.
How does Imbalance Happen?
One type of muscle imbalance involves muscle partners, which are called antagonistic muscle pairs. Muscles usually come in twos: one is in charge of pushing and one in charge of pulling. While one muscle contracts (the agonist), the other muscle relaxes (the antagonist), in order to allow the body part to move in a full range of motion . You can see this easily in your arm as you flex it, bringing your wrist towards your shoulder. As you contract your biceps, the top muscle of your arm between your shoulder and your elbow, you relax the triceps, the muscle on the bottom of that same part of the arm. If one of the muscles in a pair is more developed than the other, it will contract more and tighten up, without a strong enough muscle to counteract it and easily pull it back all the way. Without this counteracting force, damage and injury are more likely to occur.
Other times, imbalances occur due to a focus on one body part over another. This usually happens due to a lack of knowledge about the body. We've all seen the meme (or the real guy) with huge arms and back but twiggy legs, or with one bulging bicep on the right arm and a shrimpy left one. Some folks focus on one or two muscles only, performing exercises in isolation rather than compound exercises and working towards full body fitness. Even though these imbalances occur in different muscle groups, they can still lead to potential issues. While Mr. Chicken Legs may have all of his muscle pairs in his upper body in balance, his legs are still weak and prone to injury.
How can I fix it?
The first step to remedying a muscle imbalance is to identify it. Taking photos from different angles than a mirror view, as you might while tracking your progress, can help you see where the body is symmetrical and where you may have some imbalances. Looking at things in this way can help change your perspective, and examine your body in a more analytical way. Another key point is to check your form as you're exercising. Check yourself out in the mirror, and make sure you're working your body in the right way. Just make sure to not obsess over little issues. This exercise is for injury prevention purposes, and to have a knowledge base of how to help yourself improve.
Comparing your body's position in these photos to ideal posture can help you identify areas of concern. Some common examples of muscle imbalances that can be better seen in this way are: head position, pelvic tilt, hunched shoulders, and leg rotation. Each of these may be caused by imbalances in muscle pairs, and can be improved through Corrective Exercise.
Just remember that the body works in unison. Everything is connected and affects everything else, from your toes up to your head. When exercising, be sure to focus on function and the whole body, rather than huge muscles in one area. Balance and stability are key to living well and having fun!