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Muscular Imbalance: Definition, Causes, and Prevention

What is a Muscular Imbalance?

A muscular imbalance occurs when there is a noticeable difference in strength, size, or flexibility between two muscles, typically agonists and antagonists. While sometimes difficult to diagnose, an imbalance can lead to improper movement that leads to undue joint stress, nagging aches and injuries, poor posture, and asymmetry, the latter of which is particularly problematic for bodybuilders.

What Causes Muscular Imbalances

1. Dominant Side Taking Over

Side-to-side muscle imbalances, such as having one bicep stronger than the other, can often result from the dominant side of the body taking over bilateral activities

For example, when a trainee performs a pull-up, one side could subtly do more work. This causes that side to develop more, further widening the gap between the two. 

2. Poor Technique

While the dominant side taking over can be one reason for poor technique, there are other factors to consider.

Poor form, particularly resulting from too much weight, can lead to compensatory movement patterns. These can force specific muscles to overcompensate and receive a more significant training stimulus.

In contrast, the muscles that are supposed to do most of the work are left unused, unstimulated, and underdeveloped.

3. Badly Programmed Workout Plans

Many trainees organize their workouts around the muscles they want to work, which creates an imbalance. For example, a typical gym bro might do a lot of training for the biceps, triceps, chest, and abs without putting nearly as much effort into training the shoulders, back, and lower body.

This cause of muscular imbalances is the easiest to remedy because you can put the client on a balanced plan to bring less developed muscles up to speed.

How to Prevent or Reverse Imbalances

1. Create Balanced Workout Plans

Assign similar training volumes for agonist-antagonist muscle groups, ensuring the anterior and posterior chains receive enough training volume

Start by programming the core compound and accessory lifts and fill in the blanks with isolation work where necessary. 

2. Monitor Your Clients’ Technique Carefully

Monitor clients carefully for improper movement patterns that could shift the focus to the wrong muscles. 

For example, when a client performs quad-focused squats, pay attention to torso lean to determine if their quadriceps do most of the work as they should or if hip extension occurs and shifts the focus to the glutes and hamstrings.

You can do this even with online clients. For example, Hevy Coach’s built-in chat lets clients send you training videos for review.

3. Perform Regular Assessments

Performing a regular assessment of posture, mobility, strength, and cardio would provide more insight into your clients’ progression and help you spot muscle or strength imbalances early on. Corrective exercises can help resolve any issues.

4. Emphasize Weak and Underdeveloped Muscles

If a trainee already has an imbalance, you can temporarily increase the training volume for the weaker muscle and reduce the volume for the more developed one.

For instance, let’s say you start work with someone who’s done a lot of push training and has developed their chest, triceps, and shoulders much more than their back.

In this case, you can temporarily reduce the volume for the push muscles and add more sets on pull day.

5. Include Unilateral Work

Unilateral exercises, where the trainee works out one side of the body at a time, can help spot and fix side-to-side muscle imbalances.

For example, let’s say that a trainee’s dominant side often takes over. In this case, you can switch from movements that train both sides together (e.g., barbell back squat) to unilateral activities (e.g., Bulgarian split squat).

Each side must do work independently, which will hopefully help bridge the gap over several weeks or months.


1. Can muscular imbalances lead to pain?

Muscular imbalances can lead to poor movement patterns, which place significant stress on the joints and connective tissues and cause nagging aches.

2. What are some risks of muscular imbalances?

It depends on the specific imbalances, but some risks include poor posture, chronic pain, injuries, reduced athletic performance, and asymmetry that affects aesthetics.

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