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How to fix unbalanced arms

How to fix unbalanced arms

Muscle imbalance occur when one set of muscles—for example, the pectorals—are of unequal strength or size compared to an opposing group of muscles—for example, the lats. These differences in muscle function can derail your hard work in the gym and create serious injuries.

When one muscle is weak and the other is overactive, it pulls your body into bad posture—like rounded shoulders or an excessively arched lower back—which also limits mobility at your joints and makes certain muscles stiff.

Typically, muscle imbalances occur around areas of your body that are supposed to be mobile—hips, shoulders, thoracic spine—but they can happen almost anywhere.

What does it look like when you have an uneven body muscle and how do you know if you have them? Read on for the four most common muscle imbalances, a quick test to see where you’re at, and exactly how to fix them.

1. Symptom: Rounded Shoulders Posture

The Test

Look at a shirtless picture of yourself in a side pose—if you can see any part of your upper-back, you have rounded shoulders.

The problem is we spend too much time on the computer and isolating our chest at the gym that our pecs get tight and pull our shoulders forward.

Start strengthening your back muscles and stretching your chest. Do only one chest exercise per week for a month while focusing on the following exercises.

How to fix it:

Chest-supported dumbbell row

  1. Set an adjustable bench to a short incline and lie face down with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Start the movement by pulling your shoulder blades together and row.
  3. Don’t let your elbows pull past your ribcage.

Wide-grip inverted row

  1. By gripping it wider, your arms will do less work while your neglected mid-back muscles will do more.
  2. Set a barbell on a power rack or Smith Machine and, from underneath, pull yourself up and touch your chest to the bar.
  3. Pin your shoulder blades together and keep your body straight like a plank.

Doorway pec stretch

  1. Stand at a doorway with your hands above your head, make a 90° angle with your elbows, and keep your forearms on the doorjam.
  2. Lean forward and stretch your pec muscles.

2. Symptom: Sway Back Posture

If you have rounded shoulders, you probably have a hunchback, too. This requires a different set of corrective exercises than rounded shoulders. In addition to the previous exercises, you need to work to regain the flexibility and mobility at your thoracic spine. Use these stretches before your next workout.

How to fix it?

Cat-camel

  1. Get into an all-fours position with your knees directly under your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders.
  2. Now, push your mid-back as low as you can to make an arch like a cat.
  3. This is a kneeling cobra yoga pose.
  4. Then, reach your back to the sky making it look like a camel’s hump.

Segmental T/S extension

  1. Lay a foam roller across your mid-back.
  2. Place your hands behind your head, keep your butt on the ground, and pull your body backward on the foam roller while maintaining a neutral neck.

3. Symptom: Anterior Pelvic Tilt Posture

Anterior pelvic tilt occurs when your pelvis tilts forward causing an overly hollowed-out back and rounded shoulders.

Test 1

When you wear a belt that fits snug, where is your buckle pointing? If it’s pointing down towards the ground rather than straight ahead, you have APT.

Test 2

If your hamstrings are always tight compared to your quads before, during, and after exercise, you likely have APT.

With APT, your hamstrings are tight because they’re always working to prevent your pelvis from tilting farther forward. This causes lower back problems and even hamstring pulls.

Instead, bring your pelvis back into a neutral alignment and you’ll let those hamstrings relax, those glutes to work properly, and that lower back to calm down.

How to fix it?

Hip flexor/RF stretch

  1. Get on one knee with your feet inline and place your rear foot on top of a bench behind you.
  2. You’ll feel a deep stretch through the front of your hips and quads.
  3. Squeeze the glute of your rear leg and hold that stretch for 30 seconds.
  4. Switch sides.

Deadbugs

  1. Lie on your back with your hands and knees in the air.
  2. Keep your butt off the ground, but your lower back flush on the ground.
  3. Reach with opposite arms and legs while maintaining your starting posture.
  4. Alternate sides.

4. Symptom: Forward Neck Posture

When you walk through a doorway, what passes through first: your head or chest? If it’s your head, then your head and chin might be hanging low in conjunction with your neck sticking forward.

Having a head that sticks forward causes neck issues: For every inch your head moves forward, you add an extra 10lbs that your neck must support. Instead, strengthen the neglected muscles deep within your neck with this simple drill.

How to fix it?

Quadruped chin tucks

  1. Get on all fours and pull your head down.
  2. Now, from the bottom, pull your neck up by keeping your head position the same.
  3. Imagine lifting your head and neck up by making a double-chin.

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A biomechanics expert explains the methods that have helped everyone from John Stockton to Bryson DeChambeau to build stability.

Imagine walking along a sheet of ice, struggling to find your balance. Every muscle in your body tightens, bracing for each unknown, unstable step. “It’s an actual neurological response,” says strength coach and biomechanics specialist Greg Roskopf. “When the body senses instability, it tightens up as a protective mechanism.”

Understanding this mechanism and addressing underlying muscle weaknesses are key to soothing your tight, achy muscles. And this concept lies at the heart of Roskopf’s Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT for short), a training protocol that protects your joints, eases muscle pain, and forges strength and stability. MAT does this by identifying weak muscles and activating them with the isolation movements that are often shunned by the functional-fitness world.

In an era when every gym has ten foam rollers and mobility is the buzzword, MAT is a throwback, shifting away from multijoint movements to focus on one muscle at a time. Despite that, Roskopf’s decades-old template (yes, it’s been around that long) has recently drawn attention. Peyton Manning has visited Roskopf’s Denver clinic. Over the past three years, Roskopf has overseen the training for golfer Bryson DeChambeau, who has packed on 40 pounds and racked up six PGA Tour wins, including one this year. “MAT doesn’t reinvent training,”says Dan Giordano, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., “but it’s a smart reminder that we shouldn’t overfocus on mobility.”

How to fix unbalanced arms

Yes, overfocus. Your average trainer will tell you to stretch a tight muscle or foam-roll the tightness away. To Roskopf, that solves nothing. “That’s why people stretch day after day after day and they never get any more flexible,” he says. “Because they’re still walking on ice.”

According to Roskopf, muscle tightness is a protective mechanism against instability and a signal that other, weaker muscles are causing that instability. Whether you’re standing up from a chair, doing a squat, or balancing on ice, your muscles spend every moment of every day making thousands of microadjustments, tensing and relaxing in response to your environment. They’re also adjusting to one another. When they’re in balance, muscles on the front of your body and muscles on the back of your body essentially tug a joint into “neutral” position. Your pecs and your lats, for example, help properly position your shoulders. “Think of a tug-of-war with ten 250-pound guys on either side of the rope,” says Roskopf. That’s how muscles are supposed to work: equal strength on opposing sides of a joint.

But if your lats weaken—perhaps because you’re sitting constantly, perhaps because you’re not training them—that would allow your shoulders to shift forward, leading to imbalance. Stretching your chest wouldn’t solve weakness in your back, either, says Roskopf. Instead, you need to activate and build strength in your rhomboid and trapezius muscles, the muscles between your spine and shoulder blades.

Roskopf began exploring this philosophy when he was training the Utah Jazz in 1997. He regularly treated John Stockton for tight hips, taking the future Hall of Famer through a series of stretches. Stockton always returned for more work the next day. “Wherever I saw limitations in range of motion,” says Roskopf, “I saw a muscle weakness.”

So one day, Roskopf decided to try something else. He tested Stockton for muscle weaknesses, asking him to push his legs in various directions against Roskopf’s hand. He discovered that while Stockton’s glutes were strong, his hip rotator muscles not so much.

Roskopf spent the rest of the session activating and strengthening Stockton’s hip rotator muscles, and as the season continued, Stockton gradually made fewer trips to the trainer’s room. And his flexibility improved, even without Roskopf stretching him. “When you get the muscles activated, not only do they contract to a greater range of motion, but then they have strength and integrity in that great range of motion,” he says.

It’s a combination that can help you move better and feel better, erasing plenty of little muscle aches. And it certainly beats walking on ice.

Hit the MAT

Foam rolling is an excellent way to promote blood flow to a muscle, and stretching can help you understand your muscles’ full range of motion. But neither actually solves muscle tightness the way MAT can. Try it in these situations.

The Problem: Tight Hips

How to fix unbalanced arms

The Solution: Lie on the floor, raise your leg as shown, and turn your thigh inward as far as you can. Hold for 6 seconds, then relax. Repeat 6 times per side.

The Problem: Tight Hamstrings

How to fix unbalanced arms

The Solution: Strengthen your hip flexors, pulling your pelvis into neutral position below your spine, with the hip-flexor squeeze. Lie on your back, legs straight. Actively lift your left leg until you feel a stretch in your hamstring. Hold it high for 6 seconds. Lower. That’s 1 rep; do 6 on each side.

The Problem: Sore Shoulders

How to fix unbalanced arms

The Solution: Strengthen your mid-back muscles with prone scapular squeezes. Lie facedown on a firm surface, arms at your sides. Raise your arms and shoulders toward the ceiling, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for 6 seconds. Return to the start. That’s 1 rep; do 3 sets of 6.

The Problem: Lower Back Pain

How to fix unbalanced arms

The Solution: Build those glutes with prone glute squeezes! Lie facedown on a firm surface and bend your left knee 90 degrees so your heel points toward the ceiling. Tighten your abs and squeeze your left glute, lifting your leg off the floor slightly. Hold and squeeze for 6 seconds. Lower, pause, then repeat for 6 reps. Do 2 sets per side.

This story originally appeared in the November 2020 issue of Men’s Health.

How to fix unbalanced arms

Uneven symmetry throughout your body is normal, but shouldn’t interfere with day-to-day activities or exercise. Your arms may develop larger muscles on your dominant side. This occurs because you often use that arm to carry groceries, reach for high objects and push or pull items during the day. In most cases, the problem is slight, but a muscle imbalance could result in an injury. Proper training allows you to even out the muscles in your arms and helps counteract a disproportionate look. Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

Step 1

Use dumbbells while strength training. This prevents you from favoring the strong arm, which you might do with a barbell or weight machine. Incorporate dumbbells during curls, rows and presses.

Step 2

Do one-and-two-and-one repetitions during each arm move. This allows you to work both arms at the same time, but emphasizes the weaker one. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. When doing an arm exercise, perform one repetition with your underdeveloped arm, while keeping your stronger one at rest. On the next repetition, perform the move with both arms. Alternate back and forth until you complete your set.

Step 3

Incorporate one-and-two-and-one sets into your routine. The idea is similar to going back and forth during each repetition but, instead of doing one with the weak arm followed by one with both arms and back and forth, you’ll do a complete set of the arm exercise with your weak side. Next, you’ll do a set with both arms. This challenges your underdeveloped arm, while still allowing you to work the dominant one as well.

Step 4

Use different size dumbbells in each hand. Hold a slightly heavier weight in your underdeveloped arm. This allows you to complete a traditional workout without having to alternate back and forth among sets and repetitions. For example, hold an 8-pound dumbbell on your dominant side and a 10-pound dumbbell on your weaker side.

How to fix unbalanced arms

Have you ever managed a single-legged squat on only one leg or struggled to lift a weight with one arm but not the other? There’s a reason for that, and it’s called a muscle imbalance: when a muscle is stronger on one side of your body than the other. It’s natural and pretty commonplace, which makes sense when you think about how most of us are trained to favor one hand, and therefore one side of the body, when we’re very young.

“Imbalances are not a cause for panic,” BOC-certified athletic trainer Liz Letchford, MS, told POPSUGAR, especially because your body “is asymmetrical by design — we’ve got one lung bigger than the other, a liver on one side, and even our diaphragm is a little off-center.” And being imbalanced is normal in a lot of sports, too; many, like tennis and softball, are asymmetrical by design, and having an imbalance can even help you in competition.

That doesn’t mean it’s something you want to keep around. According to Nirav Pandya, MD, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at UC San Francisco, muscle imbalances become an issue when you compete in endurance sports, such as running, cycling, or swimming. “If you’re doing just short bursts of activity,” like playing tennis once a week or running for 20-30 minutes at a time, an imbalance may not be a big deal. But when you extend that exercise over a long period of time, it can lead to painful joint injuries.

If you’re in your 20s or younger, though, an imbalance might be more annoying than painful. My right arm is stronger and noticeably bigger than my left, a remnant from playing softball for 12 years. My leg and glute muscles are also imbalanced — possibly also related to sports, or simply from natural dominance. Neither imbalance has affected my daily life or workouts yet, but Dr. Pandya warned that that could change. He said people typically start running into imbalance-related injuries in their 30s, when their bodies are less able to bounce back from the damage.

Unfortunately, correcting an imbalance isn’t as simple as doing more reps or using heavier weights on your weak side. Both Letchford and Dr. Pandya agreed that seeing a physical therapist or a trainer is your best bet, especially one who’s trained to recognize and correct imbalances. “If you’d like to give it a go yourself,” Letchford said, try to “get curious about how your body moves and feels” when you’re working the imbalanced muscles. When I squat, for example, I feel my left quad and glute firing much more than my right. Some people can even see the imbalances in a mirror. Then, Letchford said, focus on what it feels like when you make the movement look or feel more balanced. “Find that feeling more often,” she said.

But whatever you do, always train both sides evenly. Going harder or heavier on the weaker side can build up too much strength, which reverses the issue instead of fixing it. “The weaker side will eventually catch up,” Letchford said. “And then you can progress your movements with a more balanced body.”

That means it’s also OK to use lighter weights or lower the reps on both sides until your weaker side is up to speed. “It’s better to be a little bit weaker and symmetric than to be really strong and asymmetric,” Dr. Pandya said.

It’s basically impossible to get to full symmetry, but working both sides to equal strength, or as close to equal as you can, will help protect you from injury in the long run. It’s a time-consuming process, Dr. Pandya said. “You’re kind of breaking yourself down and building back up again, but that time that you put in can definitely pay off on the back end.”

I noticed in the mirror that my left arm is a good amount smaller than my right (which is already weird cause I’m left-handed). I can’t tell if it’s my biceps or triceps that are lagging behind and causing the smaller arm size, but at the moment I’m thinking it’s the triceps. What can I do to fix this left/right imbalance? Thanks!

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Aye, don't forget the mirrors aren't just there for fuckbois to check out their sick delts. Check your form, watch yourself as you lift and make sure you aren't over-compensating with your right side.

. but also make sure to check out those sick fucking delts

Use dumbbells not a barbell. You want your weaker arm to be doing the same amount of work as your stronger arm. If you're using a barbell, your stronger arm will compensate more. So do exercises that are one arm at a time.

Lead with your weaker arm. This way you know when to stop so that your stronger arm won't get a better workout.

Just work both arms equally, when your left arm fails then stop with your right. No need to do extra sets or whatever, over time it will even out.

I actually have only been using dumbbells since my apartment complex gym doesn’t have a barbell. I’ll try leading with my weaker arm. Never heard that tip before! I’m sure everything will even itself out over time. Thanks!

Would this also be the same method for chest imbalances as well?

unilateral movements and get someone checked on your form, it's possible you use one side dominantly.

imbalances are universal though, nobody is symmetrical.

triceps are generally where the "size" of the arm is, since they cover a larger portion of it, and imbalances are caused by the stronger arm working harder therefore becoming even stronger relative to the weaker or smaller arm.

In order to fix imbalances a good method I can testify for is doing an exercise as many reps as you can on your weaker arm, and limit your stronger arm to that.

In this case I would recommend a one arm tricep press down with your left arm until you can't anymore, and whatever number you reach do the same with the right, that way they both get a workout, but equal workouts and harder on the weaker arm.

I have a similar question due to a bad knee. After searching for months on how to even out my legs, I stumbled upon the Fit, Healthy, and Happy Podcast with 2 trainers who give their researched insight by answering questions from listeners.

I asked them this question and they gave a wonderful response, including the leading with the weaker side and also they went into depth on how to prevent any future imbalances. Obviously they went into further depth but I suck at explaining things that aren't in my area of expertise.

I agree with the use of dumbbells, but I'd like to add an additional tip. Whatever you feel like is imbalanced, take the exercises that work those muscles and turn them into single side/arm movements. Then I start with my weaker side so that if I can't finish a set, hit failure, observe form breaking down, etc., I can "cap" myself and regulate the work done on my stronger side to match the weaker side.

example: I'm right handed, right arm is stronger. If I do Leaning Cable Lateral Raise or Dumbbell Shoulder Press etc, and I can only do 6 reps at a certain weight on my left (weaker side), I'll only do the same amount of reps on my right (stronger side), even if I feel like I could do more. That should keep things matched and balanced, even if it means temporarily "holding back" on your stronger side.

How to fix unbalanced arms

If your right arm has ever confidently banged out a set of bicep curls or rows at the gym while your left arm has struggled to keep up (or vice versa), you know what it feels like when one side of your body is stronger than the other. Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with you – it happens to pretty much everyone.

It makes sense, when you think about it: Most everyone has a dominant side of the body, and for as many years as you’ve been able to move your body, the muscles on your dominant side have worked harder in everyday life to do things like lift bags off the ground, shut car doors, you name it. Beyond just having a dominant side, certain lifestyle habits such as sleeping on one side of your body consistently, crossing your legs the same way every day, or always carrying your tote bag on one side, can lead to imbalances on your right and left side over time.

These imbalances can also be caused by injuries or surgeries that result in you favoring one part of your body. Oftentimes even after physical therapy, your muscles still have a way to go to regain their strength and size.

While a slight difference in strength between the sides of your body isn’t anything to worry about, if it’s big enough to catch your attention in the gym or at home, it might be worth your time to seek professional guidance. This is because if you have a big imbalance, certain muscles will work harder to overcompensate, which can lead to pain and injury in either side – yes, even the stronger one.

To add insult to injury, the muscles on the stronger side of your body can actually end up hurt, too. Since they’re stronger, they will work harder and ultimately end up overworking when there’s no second side of muscles to share the load with.

There are a number of strategies you can use to correct muscle imbalances, and depending on the cause of the imbalance, should be handled in a fashion specific to your needs.

The following is a list of the most universal strategies:

Use unilateral exercises.

Start with the weaker side.

Let the weaker side set your workout volume.

Do additional work on the weaker and/or smaller side.

Fix the problem i.e. mobility and/or flexibility.

At the present time, I am working with 25 clients on a weekly basis. Every one of my clients has a muscle imbalance of some sort. Eight have had some sort of injury and subsequent surgery that has left them with their imbalance. One in particular is working not only with me, but also a structural therapist to correct his severe imbalances that are due to surgeries on his back and hip replacement on his left hip that has caused a noticeable difference in size and strength to his right leg and right side of his body. Since his right leg is an inch smaller that his left leg, we train the right leg only with single leg squats, one legged hip bridges and calf raises, just to name a few. For his upper body, we still train both sides, but we start out with the weaker less dominant side and add reps to this side first. (i.e. biceps curl – start with the right for 6-8 reps – continue with both for 10 more reps.) The goal is to maintain the muscle mass on the stronger side until you offset the imbalance, so even though that means your stronger side won’t feel quite as challenged, your body will thank you in the long run … and it’s about time your weak side got some attention, anyway.

Typically, with proper training and consistency, 6 weeks’ time duration is needed to see considerable change in strength and girth of a muscle.

For less severe imbalances, follow the strategies to improve strength and add a strong stretching routine to your workouts. Oftentimes, gaining flexibility will enable a more fluid mobility and be a great relief for all of your muscles.

While playing favorites is a natural tendency, over time these seemingly innocent habits can cause imbalances throughout the skeletal system, which can result in chronic pain or injury.

How to fix unbalanced arms

Is your body well-balanced? Without realizing it, we tend to work one side of the body harder than the other. Whether you are right-handed or left-handed, the side you engage more frequently will be stronger.

It’s likely you won’t notice the effects of these behaviors until performing a single-sided activity, such as swinging a tennis racquet or brushing your teeth, with your less dominant hand. And while playing favorites is a natural tendency, over time these seemingly innocent habits can cause imbalances throughout the skeletal system that can result in chronic pain or injury.

To keep your body safe, muscle groups of the same limb need to be exercised equally. Think of your joints and adjoining muscles as a cable and pulley system that requires balance on each end to function correctly. When the workload is constantly applied to only a single side of a limb, such as when practicing a biceps curl, these muscles tighten and tug on the opposing muscles (the triceps), causing imbalances and atrophy.

Achieving a healthy body is a balancing act in need of constant practice. Here are some easy exercises to strike a better balance in your body:

Perk up your posture. Take a moment to assess your posture in the mirror. If your shoulders are rounded to the front, hands are forward-facing, or your ears extend past your collarbone, your posture would benefit from some strength training. There are a number of factors that contribute to poor body positioning, such as certain muscles compensating for others due to a prior injury, daily habits, or even diseases such as osteoarthritis. But for those who need a simple posture fix, your solution could be as basic as incorporating specific upper-body exercises into your routine.

If you’re a habitual huncher, the muscles lining the posterior part of the back tend to be elongated and underworked, while the anterior chest muscles are taut. This pulls the shoulders forward.

Quick fix: Perform 10 push-ups followed by 10 standing rows

Standing row

Securely loop a resistance band to a sturdy object. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and grasp the free end of the band firmly with your right hand.

Pull the band in toward your ribs until you feel a squeeze in your shoulder blade. Hold for two counts, then release the band back to the starting position.

Lower leg love. It’s very common to be quad-dominant, meaning that when you perform activities such as standing, squatting, walking, or stair climbing, you’re inclined to push through the front of your foot instead of through your heels. Eventually, the quad muscles, located on the top of the thigh, begin to grow stronger while the corresponding hamstring muscles, at the back of the thigh, weaken. This affects not only the function of the leg but can also produce lower-back pain.

Quick fix: Perform 15 squats followed by 15 hamstring curls

Hamstring curl

Start in a supine position, with your heels resting on a towel and toes pointed up.

Smoothly and simultaneously pull your heels back and in toward your glutes as you lift your hips high, forming a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.

Squeeze your glutes for one count, then slowly lower your hips and straighten your legs back to the starting position.

Amped-up arms. The biceps curl is a popular pick when working out the upper body. After all, nothing fills out a sleeveless T-shirt quite like a bulging set of biceps. But, if you’re in the practice of working only the anterior part of your arm, chances are your biceps’ buddy, the triceps, is getting lonely, lengthy, and limp.

Quick fix: Perform 10 biceps curls followed by 10 triceps extensions

Triceps extension

Standing tall with feet hip-width apart, firmly grip one free weight between your hands and elevate it above your head.

Bend at your elbows to lower the weight behind your head, then bring the weight back to the extended overhead position. Avoid this improper form by securing your elbows close to your ears throughout the entire exercise.

How to fix unbalanced arms

Whenever my clients ask about muscle imbalances, I jokingly tell them I suffer from them too: I have one strong arm. and one really strong arm!

It’s true, though, a person’s dominant side is almost always going to be stronger than their non-dominant side. That means right-handed people are more likely to have weaker left arms.

Though some degree of muscular imbalance is inevitable, having a side that’s a little stronger won’t matter much if you have enough strength on your weak, or less strong, side. However, you can and should do your best to keep your muscular imbalances from becoming too exaggerated because.

  • Having a weak side will hold you back from advancing in your training.
  • When one side is weaker, you’re more likely to suffer an injury. When attempting a difficult task, it’s the weak spot that’ll give out first. In fact, overuse injuries commonly occur on peoples’ non-dominant side, even though they use their dominant side more frequently.
  • Having a weak side could ruin your symmetry. Strengthening up your weak side will simply make your body look better.

The 5 Fixes

Here are some exercises that’ll help you balance things out:

1. One-Arm Pulldown

Have you ever noticed how most people at the gym do one-arm rows, but hardly anybody does one-arm lat pulldowns?

It’s a shame because the one-arm pulldown is a fantastic exercise to help eradicate left/right pulling imbalances. Even if you do lots of pull-ups and standard two-arm pulldowns, there’s a good chance that you’re relying on your dominant arm to do the majority of the work.

By simply swapping the long bar out for an individual handle, you can work one arm at a time and begin to help your less strong side catch up.

2. One-Arm Pull-Up

Single-arm pull-ups are also a fantastic way to get yourself evened out. You can start by practicing one-arm hangs as I described in The Ultimate Grip Strength Test and then eventually work your way up to training for a one-arm pull-up.

Even if someone’s a little stronger on one side, anyone who’s capable of a full one-arm pull-up using either arm is extremely strong on both sides of the body.

3. Single-Arm Overhead Press

Doing barbell presses all the time won’t remedy pushing imbalances. That’s where this exercise come in. Yes, you’ll have to use less weight than you would if you were doing a barbell press, but if you’re willing to put your ego aside in the short term, it’ll have a bigger payoff in the long run.

4. One-Legged Squat

How to fix unbalanced arms

Just as we all have a dominant arm, we each have a dominant leg too, though many people will actually be stronger on the leg that’s opposite their dominant arm.

It may seem counterintuitive at first, but oftentimes in sports and other activities we post off of our left leg in order to use our right arm (and vice versa). Think of a pitcher in baseball or a boxer throwing a cross. These contra-lateral movements often produce better development in the leg that’s opposite the primary arm.

Single-leg squats are the answer to evening out your lower body imbalances, even though the strongest lifters are often humbled by attempting an unloaded, full ROM one-legged squat.

Since not everyone’s strong enough to perform a proper one-legged squat, you can practice them with an assist from your arms by holding onto a suspension trainer or a vertical pole. Just make sure you aren’t doing too much of the work with your arms – they’re only there to give the squatting leg just enough help to complete each rep.

5. One-Arm Calisthenics

How to fix unbalanced arms

If you’re a calisthenics enthusiast like myself, you can try practicing the One-Arm Push-Up and single-arm wall handstands to keep the pushing power of your left and right sides balanced.

Kick up into a two-arm handstand first, then carefully take one hand away and hold the position for as long as you can. Of course, you’ll want to be sure you’re doing the same work for both sides.

Unilateral Programming

Once you’ve identified your weaker side, you can begin prioritizing it in your workouts. This means training that side first within each session, which will allow you to give it your full energy and attention.

That said, you don’t want to hold your stronger side back from progress, either. The best way to focus on your less strong side without babying your stronger side is to perform the same amount of reps on both sides, but spread them out over more sets on the less-strong side.

For example, if you can do 3 sets of 10 single-leg squats on your stronger leg, you can try doing 6 sets of 5 reps on your weaker side to allow for more recovery without doing less total work. You’ll still be working your two sides evenly in terms of overall training volume, but you won’t have to sacrifice your form to do so.

Though you may never completely even out your two sides, implementing these methods properly will ensure you no longer have a weak side. You’ll have a strong side. and a really strong side!

Is one of your arms smaller and weaker than the other? Or maybe one of your legs?

Today’s question comes from Johanna, who wants to know how to fix such muscle and strength imbalances:

“What should I do about muscular asymmetries? I’m getting better muscle contact on my right side, and the muscles on my right side are also more developed than those on the left. Is there anything I can do to fix this asymmetry faster, or should I just keep training and hope that the imbalance goes away with time?”

I answer this question in the video below, but if you’d rather read, you can skip to the article below the video.

How to fix unbalanced arms

Almost every one of us is a little stronger in one of our arms and legs than we are in the other, and that is okay. It is not weird, and it is not life-threateningly dangerous. It is a natural consequence of our lives, where we tend to use one side more than the other, or where we participate in activities that favor one side more than the other.

As long as you don’t have excessive differences in size and strength, and you’re not troubled by it, you generally don’t have to pay this too much attention. However, since you’re reading this article, and since you’re also probably interested in strength training, let’s see what you can do if you want to even out imbalances between sides.

As it turns out, strength training is ripe with opportunity for this.

Two Strategies for Fixing Strength and Muscle Imbalances

I’m going to give you two separate strategies for how you can address your asymmetries, to use in the training you’re probably already doing anyway.

Both strategies assume that you are doing unilateral exercises. That is, exercises in which you are using one arm or leg at a time, such as dumbbell curls or Bulgarian split squats.

Strategy #1: Weak Side Sets the Pace

With this strategy, you let your weak side determine the weight and reps, and just repeat the same work with your strong side.

An example:

You do 8 curls with a 10 kg dumbbell with your weak arm. Then you repeat this with your right arm, even if you could have done several more.

Here’s the disclaimer: I don’t like this strategy. It relies too much on halting the development of your strong side.

Instead, I prefer …

Strategy #2: Follow the Leader

In this strategy, you’re flipping the table. Instead of leading with your weak side, you lead with your strong side.

You do a set just like normal with your strong side. Then, it’s time for your weak side to play catch-up. You will do that by lifting until you have replicated the same number of reps at the same load, no matter how long it takes.

Here’s how it might look:

You do a set of 12 reps with the 10 kg dumbbell with your strong side. Then you switch to your weak side. However, you only manage 8 reps in one set. But, instead of putting the dumbbell down, you keep it in your hand, and keep pumping out a rep here and there, just resting for a few breaths in between, until you’ve matched all 12 reps.

What’s the difference?

Instead of making your strong side work less, you’re making your weak side work harder.

What about Bilateral Lifts (with a Barbell)?

So should you stop training bilateral lifts with a barbell, such as bench press, squat, and deadlift, until you’ve corrected all your imbalances?

  • If your strength imbalances are large, you should film yourself, check if you’re excessively shifting the load to one side or the other, and then try to correct that. (Actually, you should film yourself from time to time anyway, to check on your technique)
  • If your strength imbalances are minor, you can lead your workout with these compound lifts like (I assume) you normally do, and then switch to some unilateral exercises where you use one of the two strategies mentioned above, to even out differences.

Don’t be too hard on yourself when you’re filming yourself to check for imbalances, however. If you identify that you’re shifting the weight to one side or the other: sure, try to correct it. But just like most of us asymmetrical in our muscle and strength, we are slightly asymmetrical when we are moving or lifting weights. Perfect symmetry between sides is not the norm, and while you might strive for it, you shouldn’t let minor asymmetries get in the way of getting good, productive training in.

Good enough is good enough.

How to fix unbalanced arms

Closing Up

I hope that helps you tackle any muscle and strength imbalances you feel needs handling. Remember that all of us are more or less asymmetrical and that it is normal. However, with some simple tweaks in your training, such as “Weak side sets the pace” or “Follow the leader”, you can probably make great improvements in closing the gap between your weak and strong side.

Or, as one strongman put it:

“I don’t have a weak side – I have a strong side and a stronger side!”