How To Fix Muscle Imbalances (Your Definitive Guide To Body Symmetry)

You have put years of hard work into getting the body of your dreams, but are now starting to notice a few differences in maybe the size and strength of each side of your body.  If this is you and you are seeking the most effective way on how to fix muscle imbalances, then check out what I have to say below.

Unfortunately, muscle imbalances are something every single person has whether they like it or not.  Even I suffer from them.  I have one really strong side, and one strong side 🙂

All jokes aside it’s something the majority of us can’t get away from.

Most right-handed people are stronger on their right side and most left-handed people are stronger on their left side.

It only becomes a problem when one side is much much weaker than the other.  I am, of course, talking in terms of strength, but in most cases, if one side of your body is miles weaker it’s most probably going to be smaller as well.

Below are a few reasons why you should try to keep your muscle imbalances to a minimum.

  • As physique athletes and bodybuilders are the ultimate goals of spending all that time in the gym is to look good right.  As men, we want washboard abs, 3-dimensional looking shoulders, that give the impression they are popping out of your arms, wide lats, and a strong and thick looking legs.  Women, on the other hand, generally want a curvy butt, and a lean upper and lower body.  Making sure you are balanced either side of your body, will naturally make you look better.
  • An overly weak side will without a doubt hold you back from progressing in your training.  And as progressive overload is the most important factor in improving, you can see how damaging muscle imbalances can be.
  • Finally, having an overly weak side will mean an increased risk of injury.


What Are The Different Types Of Muscle Imbalances

#1. Imbalances Between Duplicate Muscles Either Side Of The Body

Male athlete with a muscular physique, with arms stretched out, looking to his left side

Almost every muscle in the body has a duplicate.  Your right tricep has a duplicate in the left tricep, your right hamstring has a duplicate in the left hamstring and I could go on with the list but I think you get the idea.

We can usually define a muscle imbalance as a strength and/ or size miss-match between duplicate muscles.  For example one pec maybe much weaker and smaller than the other pec.

A much more common imbalance, especially in men, is the size difference between their arms.

Depending on how lean you are or whether you are someone who strictly analyses your body every day in the mirror, it’s not a case that you can actually see much difference in the muscle.

However, it is easy to spot the difference when you train.  Usually, if one muscle is much weaker than its duplicate, you will notice a big difference in the movement pattern.

If you do a lot of bar work over dumbbells it’s much easier to spot the muscle imbalances.

For example, if doing a barbell overhead press, you may find the bar angled to one side rather then being straight, and one side moving up much quicker then the other.

#2. Muscle Imbalances Between Different Pairs Of The Major Muscle Groups

You can also have disproportion between pairs of muscle groups as well.  For example, there could be imbalances between, your biceps and triceps and your back and chest.

Imbalances between these opposing muscle groups can cause a few problems.

  • Risk of injury
  • Your body can visually look disproportionate
  • Performance in the gym will suffer

So what are we trying to achieve?

  • We want each duplicate set of muscles (either side of the body) to be as symmetrical as possible, plus we want them as equal in strength as possible.
  • Also, we want development in the opposing muscles to proportionate.  For example, we don’t want a huge looking upper body sat on top of a small set of legs.  We also want the back and front parts of your body to be in proportion also.

Extreme muscle imbalances can be avoided from the get-go if you are brand new to training.  This is done by simply following a well-structured weightlifting plan.

I here so many coaches and personal trainers giving such bad advice to beginners saying things like “just go and lift weights as you will improve off anything”.

Although this is partly true, if that person doesn’t have a clue what they are doing, then they can quickly create muscle imbalances by overtraining certain parts of their body and undertraining others.

One thing we do need to remember is that everyone has different genetics, and this does play a part as well.

We each genetically have certain parts of our bodies stronger and weaker than others.  Over a long period of time, this will start to show, and that’s when you will need to follow a well put together plan to address them.


Ways To Prevent Muscle Imbalances From Occurring

Female athlete in a vest and shorts deadlifting

It’s important to say, that it is near impossible to totally prevent muscle imbalances.

However, there are things we can do to slow the process down.

#1.  Follow A Well Structured Training Plan

I briefly touched on it above, but the first step to preventing muscle imbalances is following a well-structured training plan, that focuses on compound movements, heavyweights and hitting your whole body nice and even over the week.

It’s important that 80% of your training focuses on compound movements.

For example, to attack your quads, you could squat which not only hits the desired muscle group, but also every other muscle in the lower half of the body.  In fact, squats will work most of your upper body muscles as well.

The other option would be to just do leg extensions to hit your quads, leaving all other lower body muscles un-worked.

There are of course exceptions to the rule.  Which is why I said 80% of your training should be made up of compound movements.

That leaves 20% for isolation exercises, which can be used to hit those stubborn smaller muscles which simply won’t be engaged to the maximum using just compound exercises.

For example, Shoulder pressing movements will engage mostly your front delts, a little bit of side delts and barely any rear delts.

So in order to make sure your rear delts are worked in proportion as isolation exercise like a rear delt fly will need to be used.

As I said above it is near impossible not to develop some muscle imbalances to a certain degree.

Most people are naturally more dominant one side or the other (right-handed, left-handed and right-footed, left-footed)

So because of this, there will always be slight differences when lifting weights between your dominant side and your weaker side.  Near the beginning, it may not be noticeable but over time these difference will add up and become more noticeable.

An example of this would be when bench pressing, your right side may slightly be ahead of your left side during the lift.

#2.  Include Unilateral Exercises In Your Training Plan

Male athlete being spotted by a female athlete doing flat bench dumbbell presses

If you were to just do bar work alone, then the noticeable differences will happen a lot quicker.

This is why I always include unilateral work within my programs.

What I mean by unilateral, is I always include exercises that train both limbs at the same time but also independently.

For example, doing movements like dumbbell chest presses, Power lungers and dumbbell bent-over rows.

Doing unilateral exercises are great for preventing muscle imbalances as although both limbs are still working at the same time, they also have to pull their own weight.

This means your dominate side won’t be overworked and your naturally weaker side underworked.

#3. Invest Some Of Your Time In Mobility And Flexibility Training

I must admit, I spent years and year neglecting this side of training.  Why?  Because I found it extremely boring.

However, this soon came back to bite me in the butt.  I started gaining more and more niggles and injuries, to the point where it was really affecting my training.

Lesson learned.

I now follow a mobility routine before every training session and a strict flexibility program after each session.

Yes, I still find it incredibly boring, but the difference it has made to my training is worth going through the snooze fest.

It’s simple really.  If your body lacks in functionality and flexibility, then you are going to struggle to lift weights properly and your body will naturally start to compensate by overworking certain muscles in order to allow you to get through the exercise.

Of course, muscle imbalances will be formed if this goes on for too long.

Spend just 7 minutes at the beginning of your training going through a mobility routine and 7 mins at the end going through a flexibility routine.


The Best Ways To Fix Muscle Imbalances

Female athlete doing single arm dumbbell rows to fix a muscle imbalance in her lats

So after reading above on how to prevent muscle imbalances, you may be thinking “hindsight is a wonderful thing, but for me, it’s too late as I already have them”.

Do not fear.  It’s now simply a case of correcting the issue.  This isn’t a fast process and you will have to persevere, but if you are consistent in your efforts, you will have a body working in symmetry in no time.

From reading above, you now know there are two different kinds of muscle imbalances.

  • Imbalances that occur between duplicate muscle.  For example, you may have one leg much weaker than the other.
  • Imbalances between opposing muscles.  For example, your upper body may totally dominate your lower body in size.

Below we are going to look at how to correct each one.

#1.  Fixing Imbalances Between Duplicate Muscles

There are a couple of things you can do to correct a weakness in a duplicate muscle.

  1. Train add extra work into your program for the weaker side
  2. Perform only unilateral exercises, and make sure you finish the set once the weaker size gives way.  This will mean the intensity you are working the weaker side will be greater than the stronger side.

There really is nothing fancy or complicated that needs to be done here.  Let’s look at an example.

Let’s say you have a big difference in size between your pec muscles.

The first thing to do is to start doing unilateral work (using dumbbells)

Now all I would simply do is add another set into one or two of your exercises.

So let’s say you are doing 3 sets of 8 reps on dumbbell press.

You would do your first sets as normal, the only difference being is to stop the set when you weaker side burns out.

You would then simply add a 4th set for your weaker side only.  So you would be doing a single-arm dumbbell press.

Keep to this formula until your weaker side has caught back up to your strong side.

You would then revert back to your normal program.

I would like to add one more thing in.  Although it will add extra time to your training sessions.  Whilst trying to fix a muscle imbalance it may be worth doing all your dumbbell work as single-arm work.

What I mean by this, is to do your weaker side first, followed straight away by your strong side.

This will make it easier to avoid doing extra on your stronger side because your weaker side will be determining the amount of work being done.  Basically, when your weaker side has had enough, you then stop working on your stronger side also.

#2.  Fixing Imbalances Between Opposing Muscles.

The answer is pretty much the same as the above.  You need to increase the volume over the week plus train with slightly more intensity.

Let’s look at an example.

So you have a really over developed chest compared to your back.  This is clearly something that needs fixing so there is a nice symmetry between the opposing sides of your upper body.

So in order to correct this imbalance we need to train the back harder.

The first mistake most people will make here is adding in a full second back session on top of all their other sessions.

Making sure you are able to fully recover and avoid overtraining is hugely important to long term progression, and taking the above step may be too much for your body to handle.

So how do we go about it then?

You will need to follow a specialization training program.

These are designed to help improve lagging body parts.

With the above scenario in order to add the extra volume and intensity to your back training, without affecting your overall recovery, you will need to hold back a bit on everything else.

By doing this, it will allow you to bring up the weaker area whilst still maintaining strength and size through the rest of the body, and not outstripping your bodies ability to recover by doing too much extra.

Check out one of my specialisation programs below

How To Build Massive Arms (Your definitive guide)


How To Fix Muscle Imbalances Key Takeaways

  • Muscle imbalances are something none of us can get away with regardless of what we do.
  • Many things can lead to imbalances from, genetics, poor programming, injury, etc.
  • You can really limit the speed in which they occur by following a well-structured training plan that has you training everything evenly, doing big compound heavy movements and using unilateral exercises.
  • When the inevitable happens and noticeable muscle balances do occur, it’s a case of make some simple changes to quickly fix them.
  • When correcting muscle imbalances, firstly make sure your weaker side determines how much work your strong side does.  Basically, stop once your weaker sideburns out.
  • Make sure to add more volume and intensity to your weaker side.
  • Doing everything you can to prevent imbalances and fixing once you have, will hugely improve your look, strength, and risk of injury.

Thanks for checking out my article here at BFG Muscle.  If you have any questions or comments regarding muscle imbalances, then please don’t hesitate to leave them below

how to fix muscle imbalances

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