Ask The Trainer #112 – Fixing Muscle Imbalances To Improve Symmetry

Ask The Trainer #112 - Fixing Muscle Imbalances To Improve Symmetry

QUESTION:

Hello Chad! Thank you for providing so much valuable information to your followers, myself included. Here’s my situation: I started lifting about 18 months ago and was using a smith press for benching and squats. I’m by myself, so it seemed like a safe way to lift. It has become significantly noticeable that my right arm is WAY bigger than my left. I’ve always been right-hand dominant and I believe I have become MORE right side dominant because the Smith lets me do that. My right arm, shoulder, and back are huge and I feel like Homer Simpson in the episode when he arm wrestles…anyway. Some friends have given me lots of tips and suggestions for ISOLATING each arm by strictly using dumbbells. This makes a lot of sense to me and I have started to do exactly that. I can already tell that sticking with this strategy could help catch-up my left arm and in one week I can feel a slight difference. In each exercise, it’s amazing to feel how much stronger my right is over my left.

Would you have more professional advice on how to address the situation I have created? I never set out to be a bodybuilder, but I really like what I see and the results I have obtained, but I know I could do better. What do you think?

Thank you again and I appreciate your time and expertise!

Sincerely,

Michael


ANSWER:

Hi Michael,

You’re more than welcome my friend! I’m extremely pleased to know that you’ve found my information to be of value. Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter! Well, we certainly can’t have you looking like the Homer Simpson arm wrestler, so I’m going to offer my best advice on how to remedy this issue.

First off, I think your issue is more common than not. Of course, there are varying degrees of disproportions among individuals. But, when you associate with a lot of bodybuilders and other devoted gym goers, you’ll find most people have at least 1 muscle group they’re unhappy with when it comes to the symmetry between the two sides of their body.

The first point I want to make is that often times people experience these issues because of genetics. When you have a muscle group that attaches at a different origin on one-half of the body compared to the other, this will cause each side of the muscle to develop differently. For example, an individual may have uneven chest development because their right pec attaches at a different point on the sternum than the left pec. In other instances, it could be that one pec is actually larger than the other, simply because it’s on the dominant side of the body and inadvertently gets used more than the other side during everyday activities.

Whatever the case may be, there are some measures you can take that may not give you perfect symmetry between the two sides of your body. But, they can at least improve it to the point where it is much less noticeable.

Pre-Exhaustion Strategy

Prior to engaging in your regular workout routine, try pre-exhausting the muscles on the weaker side of the body. Do a couple of light, high rep sets of an isolation exercise. Resistance bands serve this purpose beautifully as well. The purpose in doing this is to help establish a more pronounced mind to muscle connection among the muscles on the weaker side of your body. When you do your actual workout, those muscles will have better synergy and contract to a greater degree, stimulating more productive muscle gains.

To apply this pre-exhaustion strategy, I suggest using a level of resistance that allows you to perform 20-25 reps, not to failure, but to a point of moderate fatigue. Really focus on the muscle contracting as you do this. Perform 2-3 sets like this on just 1 exercise per muscle group. Here are some examples of isolation exercises you can implement:

Exercises

Chest= 1 arm resistance band, cable, or dumbbell fly. Back= 1 arm resistance band, cable, or dumbbell row. Biceps= 1 arm resistance band, cable, or dumbbell concentration curls. Triceps= 1 arm resistance band, cable, or dumbbell kickbacks. Shoulders= 1 arm resistance band, cable, or dumbbell lateral raises. Quadriceps= Single leg, machine, or resistance band leg extensions. Hamstrings= Single leg, machine, or resistance band leg curls. Calves= Resistance band calf extensions— this can be done by sitting on the floor with your legs straight and looping a resistance band around your foot just below your toes. Begin with your toes aimed up towards the ceiling, and, using your calf muscle, point your toes forward towards the wall.

Here are some examples of isolation exercises you can implement: Chest= 1 arm resistance band, cable, or dumbbell fly. Back= 1 arm resistance band, cable, or dumbbell row. Biceps= 1 arm resistance band, cable, or dumbbell concentration curls. Triceps= 1 arm resistance band, cable, or dumbbell kickbacks. Shoulders= 1 arm resistance band, cable, or dumbbell lateral raises. Quadriceps= Single leg, machine, or resistance band leg extensions. Hamstrings= Single leg, machine, or resistance band leg curls. Calves= Resistance band calf extensions— this can be done by sitting on the floor with your legs straight and looping a resistance band around your foot just below your toes. Begin with your toes aimed up towards the ceiling, and, using your calf muscle, point your toes forward towards the wall.


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Dumbbell Training

Consider placing more of an emphasis on dumbbell training. Although I personally enjoy using barbells the most when I train, barbell training may not be the best option for someone looking to correct a size imbalance between the two halves of their body. This is because when you’re using a barbell, the stronger side of your body can compensate for the weaker side to a certain degree. Also, on the weaker side, other secondary muscles used in the exercise can compensate for the primary muscles you’re trying to target. Dumbbells, on the other hand, tend to keep both sides of your body more honest.

Barbells or Straight Bar

Be sure to double check your body alignment if you use barbells or a straight bar, as in the case with a Smith machine. Sometimes people unknowingly have one hand placed too close or too far away from the central points of the bar. This can cause one side of the body to work harder than the other. There have been times when I’ve trained with a partner who informed me that my hands weren’t properly aligned on a barbell. Even though I felt like my hands were even and I was correctly centered under the bar, from my training partner’s perspective, he could clearly see my centering was off.

You mentioned that you work out alone. So, this is something you especially need to be aware of. Make sure your grip is even. In the case of doing squats, be certain your shoulders are evenly centered under the bar. Also, when you squat or leg press, space your legs evenly apart and evenly place your feet. If they aren’t, this will cause the muscles on each side of the body to work differently and, therefore, develop unevenly.

I hope these suggestions help you find more satisfying results with your training. I wish you all the best of success with your fitness goals!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

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