Muscle Imbalances

Now that the test date for my CPT exam is getting closer, I’ve really been focusing a lot on studying.  For the past couple of months, the actual exam seemed like such a distant event, but now it’s crunch time and it’s forcing me to really immerse myself in the material.  I’ve been spending at least an hour or two per day studying, and even though it’s a little stressful, I have to say that I’m really enjoying it. 

I’ve made flashcards and study guides and drawn diagrams, but the best form of studying for me has been actually putting the material into practice.  When I’m at the gym, I’m thinking about what I’ve learned, focusing on which muscles are being used, which physiological systems are firing, and which planes of motion I’m working in.  If anyone could read my mind, they’d probably think I was a little looney, thinking about things like how I’m moving in the sagittal plane doing bicep curls and the frontal plane doing side lunges, but it’s definitely helping me a lot!

One of the topics that has really struck me lately is that of muscle imbalances.  Muscle imbalances are technically known as alterations of muscle lengths surrounding a joint, meaning that some of your muscles may be overactive and others may be underactive.  A related concept, relative flexibility, says that the body has a tendency to seek the path of least resistance during movement, so when one muscle is working too hard and/or another is not working hard enough, you are going to make compensations for those imbalances.  This can lead to a whole host of negative impacts on your body, including decreased flexibility, bad exercise form and posture, and even serious injuries.

As an example, think of a person who has a tight latissimus dorsi muscle – the large muscles in your back, more commonly known as “lats” – who is trying to do a shoulder press.   

When this muscle is tight (or overactive), a person will have decreased sagittal plane shoulder flexion, meaning that he or she will be unable to lift their arms overhead.  They will compensate for this lack of range of motion in their shoulders by arching their lower back in order to press the weight upward.  (Go ahead, try it.)  The body is a highly adaptive mechanism, so if a person keeps performing the shoulder press with this improper form, their body will get used to this relative flexibility, or faulty movement pattern, and it could lead to injuries. 

Muscular imbalances are very prevalent in today’s society, for a variety of reasons.  Poor knowledge of technique, lack of stretching, and pattern overload are all common factors leading to muscle imbalances.  Pattern overload, or consistently repeating the same motions over and over, places abnormal stress on the body.  Training the same routine day after day at the gym, or in sports, things like pitching a baseball, long-distance running, and cycling, can all lead to pattern overload.  But what you may not realize is that even sitting, standing, or repetitively lifting and lowering things as part of your job every day can all lead to pattern overload as well.   (Here’s a not-so-fun fact: It is estimated that up to 80% of Americans have chronic low-back pain.  Are you one of them?)

I am definitely guilty of falling into the trap of repeating the same workout routine over and over again for weeks on end, but learning about muscle imbalances really opened my eyes to the importance of switching things up.  It’s easy to get tunnel vision in the gym, doing the same thing over and over because you don’t want to have to think about it, but when this happens, it’s also easy to forget what’s really important.  Your form slowly (and without you probably even realizing it) begins to suffer, and lose the true benefit of the moves you’re doing every day. 

All of this is just another reason why it’s good to switch up your routine from time to time.  With the workouts I’ve been doing lately, I switch things up pretty much every single day, and I can feel the positive effects it has been having on my body.  Not only do I feel stronger and more flexible already, but I also haven’t had nearly as many problems with things that I used to – like shin splints. 

When I started this whole fitness journey, I’ll admit: I knew pretty much nothing (even if I thought I did).  But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning as much as I have thus far, and I’m eager to learn more every day.  When you know better, you do better… and doing better every day is my goal. 

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2 Comments on “Muscle Imbalances”

  1. This is really helpful to me, particularly because it explains my injury in a nutshell…. Basically I’ve had no training in exercise and tried just finding exercises online from Pinterest and blogs going in no particular order….caused muscle imbalances and overuse injury called SI joint dysfunction. Really opened my eyes to the Importance of correct form, stretching, and also knowing what the heck you’re doing! Thanks for the info.


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