There are many ways we create muscle imbalances in our physiques. Maybe you have a job that requires physical labor, and you favor one side over the other. Favoring that side all the time will surely create an imbalance – making the side you don’t use as often become weaker and/or less developed than the favored side. Physical activities that can cause this may be jobs in a stocking room, shoveling and even a computer job can change the strength and/or structure of the arm that is always up on the desk using the mouse. And don’t forget, mamas, the side you favor when carrying your sweet babies!
Let’s get to the bottom of how to fix this, and bring the balance back.
Machines Mask Imbalances
First, using all machines and no free weights (dumbbells or barbells) is not recommended. Machines are great, but most do not mimic our body’s natural movements, and, thus, put us at risk of injury and further imbalances. It may not happen quickly, but these movements repeated over time can worsen your issues.
When you always use machines, you’re never working on fixing any imbalances. If your right arm is stronger than your left during military presses, for example, you will notice right away, if you are using dumbbells. Your right arm pushes that 25 lb dumbbell like a beast, while your left arm decides it’s done halfway through the rep. We’ve all been there! If you are using the military press machine, your stronger side is able to dominate the movement without you really even noticing, because the machine moves together as one unit. This will continue to keep your stronger side strong and will not build up strength on your weaker side.
Fix It With Free Weights
So how do we fix the imbalance using free weights?
Take a moment to figure out which weight is appropriate for your weaker side. Let’s continue to use military presses as our example. Find the dumbbell rack, and start with a weight you know you can press 10-12 reps with on that weak side. If it was too easy, increase the weight for the next couple of test sets until you have found a weight that is challenging but appropriate for that arm (and by “appropriate,” I mean that you can get all of your reps in with PERFECT form, but the set is still a challenge for you).
THAT is the weight you are going to use for your military presses. I know you can press more weight with your stronger side, but in order to correct the imbalance, we are going to train to our WEAKER SIDE.
Using the free weights, as long as you are practicing proper form, you are forcing the weaker side to improve. You are essentially under-training your strong side and working hard on your weaker side until you bring up the strength to match the strong side.
You’ll have to drop the ego a bit using the lighter weights while you work on balancing it out, but you’ll be thankful later.
Another Option: Cables
If you feel like you need a bridge between using machines and using free weights, the cable cross-over machine may be just right for you. In fact, even advanced lifters should be incorporating this into their workouts. The cable cross-over machine uses resistance in multiple planes of motion, mimicking your body’s natural movement. It also requires you to control the path your are moving your muscles, correcting muscle imbalances, all while working on your stabilizer muscles in the feet, core and erectors (back muscles along your spine).
This awesome piece of equipment is usually in every gym, and you can perform so many exercises using it and its attachments. You can always count on it to remind you to drop the ego (again) the same way you’ll probably need to drop the pin to a lower weight until you’ve trained your strength and muscles to balance out.
For my awesome arm & shoulder workout for correcting muscle imbalances,