Improving aesthetic appearance, losing weight or enhancing athletic performance are three popular reasons for starting an exercise program. While we want the benefits from working out, not many of us will walk into a gym or health club and tell the staff we have something that needs to be fixed; yet many of us are walking around with muscle imbalances that are potential causes of injury unless addressed with the proper exercise program.

Every joint in the body is surrounded by muscles that produce and control movement. If muscles on one side of a joint become too tight from overuse, then it could cause the muscles on the other side to become too weak from lack of use. This is called a muscle imbalance. Muscle imbalances can be a potential cause of injury because they can affect the position of the joint at rest and change it’s path of motion during movement.

If you’re already injured or in pain, it is important to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis and course of treatment. However, if you notice that the same parts of your body are always a little too sore after a workout or day full of your favorite physical activity then you might have muscle imbalances.

The good news is that the right exercise program can help improve your muscle strength and enhance joint range of motion, both of which are essential for eliminating muscle imbalances. Being able to identify muscle imbalances and address them with a workout program can help improve how you feel without the time and expense of medical treatment. Here are six things that you should know about muscles imbalances and how they are created; if you find that you do any of these on a regular basis, then make sure to change the way you move so that you can avoid an injury.

  1. Repetitive motions are one of the most common causes of muscle imbalances. When muscles shorten they produce force; if they are used to generate force for the same actions repeatedly they can become overused and remain in a state of semi-contraction, which can change the position of the joint. Doing the same movements in a work setting or performing the exact same exercises in every workout are two examples of repetitive motions that can be a potential cause of imbalances. If you have a job requiring repetitive motions then try to identify ways that you can make small changes to the movement to avoid imbalances. Make sure to change the exercises in your workouts on a regular basis to minimize the risk of developing muscle imbalances.
  2. Remaining in a sedentary, seated position for an extended period of time can create muscle imbalances in the hips. Think about it; we sit when we drive to work, and then most of the working day we are in a seated position. While we’re seated, our hips are flexed, which places the muscles that cause hip flexion in a shortened position. When the hip flexors are shortened, they will change the way the hip joints move. In addition, when the hip flexors are tightened they reduce the activity to the gluteus maximus muscles responsible for extending the hips, which could be a potential cause of low-back pain. If you work in a job that requires you to be seated through most of the day, then look for opportunities to stand up, move around and try to keep your joints mobile and hip muscles from becoming too tight.
  3. Performing exercises in only a single plane of motion can be a cause of muscle imbalances. The body is designed to move through multiple planes of motion and in many directions, however many popular exercises move the body through only a single plane of motion. Biceps curls, lat pulldowns, seated rows, crunches and squats are all examples of exercises that are restricted to a limited, linear path of motion. Doing too many exercises that are restricted to a limited path of motion could possibly lead to muscle imbalances. To reduce the risk of developing muscle imbalances, make sure that your exercise program includes equal amounts of movements like pushing, pulling, rotating as well as moving sideways and in rotational directions.
  4. Maintaining a poor posture can result in muscle imbalances of the upper body, specifically the shoulders and upper back. If your parents told you to ‘stop slouching’ or to ‘sit up straight’ they were definitely on to something. Posture is the resting position of the body. If you have poor posture, it could lead to faulty, inefficient movement patterns that increase the risk of injury. For example, allowing your body to roll forward in a slouched position can cause shortness in the muscles of the shoulders, which creates unnecessary length in the muscles of the upper back. Using a computer keyboard or constantly banging out messages and status updates on a phone can also create this slouched position. If this sounds familiar, exercises for core stability or pulling movements with your hands in a neutral position can help you stand taller (which also helps you to look slimmer without dropping any weight).
  5. Wearing shoes with an elevated heel can create muscle imbalances. If you frequently wear shoes that elevate your heels higher than your toes, you could be at risk for developing a number of muscle imbalances in your feet, lower legs, hips and even shoulders. When your heels are in an elevated position it can change the position of your knees, which changes the position of your femurs (thigh bones) which, subsequently, changes the position of your spine and shoulders. Elevated heels can also cause extreme tightness in the calves and the muscles responsible for pointing the feet. If you’re a runner or dancer and you wearing elevated heels on a regular basis, then it’s important to address any flexibility issues in calves before they develop into potential injury-causing muscle imbalances.

If you notice that your car has a tendency to pull to one side, then it means it’s out of alignment and you need to see a mechanic. Likewise, if you experience the same injuries over and over or you notice a lingering soreness that doesn’t go away, it could mean that you have muscle imbalances which affect how your joints move. While we often think of flexibility training as holding stretches for extended periods of time (that is just one component of flexibility called static stretching) simply moving is an important way to increase muscle length and improve joint range of motion.

Dynamic flexibility is a combination of muscle extensibility, the ability of a muscle to lengthen and shorten, and joint motion. Dynamic flexibility occurs every time you move – as a joint moves muscles on either side are lengthening and shortening, which can help improve mobility. Exercising with the shifting mass of an ActivMotion Bar can help enhance dynamic flexibility, which can help address muscle imbalances while increasing overall strength. As the ActivMotion Bar moves the weight of the ball bearings can shift towards the far end which creates an additional lengthening force on your muscles.

If you find that you have tight hips, which could be a result of being seated for too long, this exercise, a lateral lunge with rotation, would be perfect for lengthening the tight muscles and improving overall joint mobility. Another exercise to improve hip mobility would be the reverse lunge while holding the ActivMotion Bar overhead – the primary focus of the stretch is on the leg stepping back and it is important to keep your spine as long as possible during the movement. For each exercise complete approximately 8-12 reps on each side for 2-to-4 sets.

Thanks for reading – now get moving!!!

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