Muscle Imbalance And How It Affects You
Are you an athlete, a sports enthusiast, or do you simply live a very active life? Muscle imbalance may not be the first thing you hear about on the trail, but it can affect you - and your performance in the long run! Learn more about what it is, why it occurs, and what you can do to improve the condition!
What is muscle imbalance and how can it contribute to sports injuries?
To understand what a muscle imbalance is, you must first understand what agonist and antagonist muscles are. Agonists are known as prime movers; they are chief muscles that produce the main movement by contracting to move the body part in question. Antagonists work against the agonists, contracting to return the body part back to its original position.
Agonist and antagonist muscles that work together are known as antagonistic pairs. The muscle that contracts while the other relaxes is known as the agonist, while the relaxing muscle is known as the antagonist. In order to move properly, the opposing muscles of any antagonistic pair must coordinate with each other, and to coordinate, they must be in balance. Muscle imbalance occurs when there is an imbalance between the agonist and the antagonist in the antagonistic pair.
The symbiosis between agonist and antagonist muscles is easily visible. For example: when you’re drinking water out of a bottle. With the bottle in hand, you flex (contract) your biceps (the agonist) to bring the bottle to your mouth. As your biceps contract, your triceps relax (the antagonist). If either the bicep or the tricep is more developed than its counterpart, you may not be able to attain full range of motion. In some situations, the more developed muscle may contract more and tighten up.
Where else can muscle imbalance manifest?
Between stabilisers and mobilisers
Stabilisers are deep muscles that stabilise specific joints and body parts, while mobilisers are superficial muscles that move our joints. Each of the muscles that surround a joint work with opposing force that keep the bones of said joint centered for optimum movement. When one or more of these muscles become weaker, stronger, looser, or tighter than normal, muscle imbalance can happen, limiting your joint movement.
Between the left and right half of the body
This imbalance is due to overuse of one side of the body, such as when one arm becomes more muscular than the other due to an uneven load on the hands, or due to exercising only one half of the body. The muscles on each side of your body should be symmetrical with each other in size and strength. Imbalances occur when the muscles on either side of the body are larger, smaller, stronger, or weaker than its corresponding counterpart.
Between the upper and lower half of the body
Similarly, this imbalance is due to overuse of one half of the body, such as when the upper body is more intensely trained than the legs. This is the case in various sports, or when gym training is not carefully balanced.
In sports, it is important to compensate for or treat muscle imbalance, as they can cause tendon, muscle, and joint irritation. This can increase the risk of injury, and lowers peak performance.
What Causes Muscle Imbalance?
Muscle Imbalance is often the result of:
Certain strenuous activities in daily life
An unbalanced exercise program
Exercising with improper form
What Are The Effects Of Muscle Imbalance?
The effects of muscle imbalance can pervade into your everyday life, causing discomfort and difficulty. They include:
Instability, leading to increased risk of injury and damage to: joints, ligaments, tendons, bones, muscles, and connective tissue
Here’s What You Can Do To Fix Muscle Imbalance
The entirety of your body is connected through muscles, veins, nerves, and bones. When one part of your body is afflicted, you can almost always expect that the affliction will affect and impact another part of your body. That’s why it’s important to identify any muscle imbalance in your body, so that you can take the steps necessary to correct it.
Undergo Muscle Strength and Endurance Testing
Biometric testing can help you to identify muscle imbalance. This method uses a machine to measure muscular contractions, which can reveal strength deficiencies and muscle imbalances. Biometric testing can also focus on individual joints, including the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles.
Some athletes use photos taken from various angles to identify muscle imbalance in their bodies. These photos help them to see where their bodies are symmetrical, and where they may have some size imbalances. They can also help to identify imbalances in muscle pairs affecting the head position, hunched shoulders, pelvic tilting, and leg rotation.
Do Some Exercises
Muscle imbalance can be corrected through exercise. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science posed that elite fencers who engaged in heavy use of their bodies while lunging suffered imbalances in their lower and upper limb muscles. By improving global muscle balance, the fencers were able to improve their lower extremity balance, which in turn improved their performance at their sport.
Check Your Form
It is possible to avoid or fix muscle imbalance by ensuring your exercise form is proper and appropriate. Check your form with an exercise professional like a trainer or a coach, or look in the mirror while you work out to see if you’re working your body in the right way.
Focus On Function
Keep exercise-induced muscle imbalance at bay by focusing on function and the entirety of your body. Avoid trying to build huge muscles in one area. If lifting weights or performing a specific exercise like a lunge, be sure to do the same number of reps on both sides of the body to maintain muscle balance.
Muscle imbalance may be corrected through targeted exercise. Consider engaging the help of a physiotherapist, as they can help you to diagnose and address any imbalances you may have.