Muscular balance and symmetry

 

Muscular balance and symmetry has received a lot of attention over the past few years with an increasing emphasis on ‘aesthetics’ in the fitness community. Many individuals go about achieving it in a rather haphazard manner, with the ironic result that the desire for symmetry can develop muscular imbalance.

Never confuse balance and symmetry

The former may end up compensating for the lack of the latter, causing a whole raft of problems, while the latter does not always result in the former. But there is no question that both are important when it comes to our physical wellbeing and become even more essential elements of a training routine the fitter you become.

More than just a case of vanity

Most of the population is asymmetric, which is not surprising. Most of us tend to be right or left handed, so favouring increased use of one side of the body and its muscles for everyday activities, whether it be carrying a bag, chopping vegetables or leading with one particular leg when running up the stairs. It’s equally no surprise we then favour the same muscles when we go to the gym. We grow used to depending upon them, while of course it’s also easier to develop them further and see faster results. The tougher job is working on the underdeveloped muscles.

Work on weaknesses, not strengths

Addressing weaknesses is important if only because being stronger in one half of our body than the other can lead to a range of issues:

Overcompensation is one of the most serious, when muscles on one side of the body end up working harder to compensate for the weaker side. This in turn will lead to the body generating more force than necessary to perform a lift, as it is not operating in a balanced and efficient manner; this can become a perfect recipe for injury.

Overcompensation can become ingrained, so worsening the condition. Meanwhile an increasing lack of symmetry in any area of the body can also start to cause problems in other parts: think of back pain as a typical example.

The issue of focusing on certain muscles and underdevelopment of others also tends to vary depending upon sex. For example, men typically work their chest and arms, ignoring their legs and back. Check out your gym for a typical ‘Chicken legs’ look. For women, it can often be a focus on abs and glutes, with backs, chest, shoulders or arms losing out.

The key point

If you have an overdeveloped body part, this means there will be an underdeveloped one too. This will increase risk of injury, which, if you are a fitness enthusiast, is the last thing you should enable.  As we build our fitness, aim should be to help our whole body to keep up, helping in training efficiency, improving health and helping us look better too.

Let the top athletes inspire be an inspiration and learn what they already know: you are only as strong as your weaknesses. Improve the faults and symmetry and balance will follow.

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Alex is a registered Master Trainer and Nutritional Advisor with Level 4 qualifications in obesity and diabetes. He is also a strength specialist and a Ni Dan in Shotokan Karate.

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