Correcting Muscular Imbalances
by John Harris Fitness
Neck pain, lower back pain, or knee pain – who hasn't experienced these issues? Nearly everyone, at some point, struggles with tension and joint discomfort. Especially in a sedentary lifestyle, these problems can arise. Most of our movements, if not all, are forward-oriented. We spend hours sitting in front of computers, in school, in our cars, and our daily activities involve forward motion. Even the majority of sports involve forward movements, be it soccer, swimming, or volleyball. This leads to an imbalanced strain, disproportionately activating muscles like the chest or quadriceps. These are called tonic muscles. Tonic muscles are endurance-based and fatigue slowly, but they tend to shorten. This group includes neck muscles, chest muscles, lower back extensors, front thigh muscles, and calf muscles.
What are Phasic Muscles?
Phasic muscles are those that tend to weaken due to underuse in everyday life and most sports. They're the opposite of tonic muscles, which are constantly active. Phasic muscles fatigue quicker but don't tend to shorten. Without regular training, they weaken. Phasic muscles include upper back extensors, shoulder girdle muscles (lower and middle trapezius, external shoulder rotators), serratus anterior, abdominal muscles, and gluteal muscles.
Insufficient physical activity, unbalanced exercise routines, or improper movement execution can lead to muscular imbalances—an uneven distribution between tonic and phasic muscles. How do you recognize muscular imbalances? Through typical postural deviations:
- Rounded shoulders, head forward – caused by chest and neck muscle shortening and weakened upper back extensors responsible for maintaining the chest upright and centering the shoulder blades.
- Anterior pelvic tilt or lower back arching – due to shortened hip flexors, weakened abdominal muscles, and gluteus maximus.
- Lateral pelvic tilt – from weakened gluteus medius and minimus.
Most joint pain stems from muscular imbalances. Regular training can alleviate this. It's essential to strengthen both global (outer) muscles and local (inner) muscles. The latter is mainly reinforced through coordination training, including balance exercises using stability balls, wobble boards, and similar tools.
You can correct muscular imbalances by strengthening phasic muscles and stretching the tense tonic muscles. Here are a few exercises to strengthen the weakened muscle groups.
Straighten Thoracic Spine & Center Shoulder Blades
- Thoracic extensors - "Kraxn"
Sit on the edge of a chair or bench and lean slightly forward. Place your hands on your temples. Roll up in your thoracic spine and then slowly unroll. Maintain a rounded lumbar spine during the movement. Engage your core during the exercise.
- Lower and Middle Trapezius - Rowing
Perform this exercise either on a machine or using a cable pull. Keep your elbows at shoulder level throughout the movement, and engage your core. Pull your shoulders back and downward, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Serratus Anterior - Push-Up+
Start in a push-up position. Push yourself up slightly. Keep your arms extended throughout. To intensify the exercise, rotate your hands outward so your fingers aren't aligned straight.
- Prevent Anterior Pelvic Tilt (Lower Back Arch)
Gluteus maximus - Hip Bridge Start in a supine position with your knees bent and feet pressing actively into the ground. Cross your arms in front of your chest and press your hips upward. Hold this position briefly at the highest point and lower your hips down, but don't fully rest them on the ground.
- Strengthen Abdominal Muscles - Crunch
During a crunch, press your heels actively into the ground and round your lower back. Perform the crunch by curling your upper body inward, not with a straight back.
- Prevent Lateral Pelvic Tilt
Gluteus minimus & medius - Abduction Train this muscle group using abduction movements, whether on a machine, cable, or with body weight. Ensure your hip stays neutral and doesn't sway while moving your leg outward.
Muscular imbalances are becoming increasingly common in our society, especially due to a sedentary lifestyle. Now you know how to address and correct them. Best of luck with your training!