Safety / Injuries
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Muscle Imbalances: Cause and Effect
The causes of muscle imbalances vary greatly from person to person so it’s hard to say exactly where they come from. However, there are easy adjustments for some of the most common causes to help your clients see improvements right away.
As a fitness professional, you’ll encounter muscle imbalances when working with just about any client. These can range from being stronger on one side of the body all the way to chronic pain that requires medical attention. With respect to that, always be sure to stay within your scope of practice and refer your client to a medical professional as needed.
Here we’ll go over some common causes of imbalances, and for more in-depth knowledge, you can check out ISSA’s Corrective Exercise and Exercise Therapy courses.
Where Do Muscle Imbalances Come From?
Many of the common muscle imbalances come from our everyday movements. As a fitness professional, there are two major steps to take in working with muscle imbalances: First, you must take your clients through an assessment to determine the issue. Then, you can start to adjust their everyday tasks and base their exercise program around ways to correct it.
This results in one of the most common muscle imbalances; repetitive movements can include anything from continuously reaching for a high shelf to standing or sitting all day long. Yes, standing for an entire day every day can impact your body like sitting all the time.
The best way to improve this is to be aware of those repetitive movements. If you sit all day, make it a point to get up and walk every hour. If you stand all day, give your body a break occasionally by sitting down to relax.
Then, like most Americans, being on a computer all day long can impact your shoulders and cause you to have poor posture. But, let’s not forget to mention repetitive use of the keyboard and mouse.
One quick adjustment, and to really test your coordination, is putting your mouse on the opposite side and using your other hand every 30 days or so. In moving your mouse with the opposite hand, you will be surprised how much of an adjustment that can make in muscular imbalances.
Sitting for Extended Periods of Time
You’ve probably heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking,” and it becomes even more true when you look at all the areas sitting impacts. If you sit at a computer all day, your shoulders likely round forward and you have poor posture in general.
This also includes driving. Whether it’s during our work commute, on a road trip, or just while running errands, many of us slump in our seats, lean to one side, and round our shoulders forward. You may start to experience low-back pain that you can’t quite pinpoint. You may even notice your chest feeling tight from those shoulders rolling forward.
When you are sitting all day, you will notice that you start to feel tight hip flexors. This is because they are shortened, then to compensate, your gluteal muscles are lengthened. When this happens, you start to feel it in your hips and often also through low-back pain.
The best way to fix this is to make sure you get up and move around every hour. If you can take 5-10 minutes per hour to walk, you will see a huge impact in your posture and a decrease in the lower back pain.
If you sit all day, it’s a good idea to incorporate some stretches. A good one to start with is a chest opener, this can help relieve upper back or neck pain and help to adjust your posture. You may also add the standing hip flexor stretch, as well as the standing quadriceps stretch. Those will help relieve the tightness in your hip flexors.
This one falls into many of the other categories, but it is extremely common. Think back to when you were a kid and your parents or teachers would tell you to sit up straight. They were really trying to help you make good posture a habit to save you from the problems bad posture can cause.
Poor posture can lead to upper back, low-back, neck, shoulder, hip, and knee pain. Just all depending on how your posture is, that is why it is so important.
If you are on the computer for extended periods of time, your shoulders likely roll forward and your neck may start to protrude forward causing poor head posture. Another big area, even more so than the computer, is cellphone use. Think about how often you hunch over your phone, texting and scrolling through social media.
A great way to work on this is to be aware of it and try to sit up straight with your shoulders pulled back. Also, you can start by adding in some chest stretches. A very easy one to do is the door chest stretch and simply squeezing your shoulder blades back.
Another way people don’t even realize they affect their posture is by sitting with their legs crossed the same way all the time. For example, if you always cross your left leg over your right leg, you may end up with a very tight left hip flexor and your glute muscle lengthened on the left side.
A great way to correct this, which will take some getting used to, is either to not cross your legs or to be very conscious of it and go back and forth with the direction you cross your legs.
Shoes with a Heel
Wearing shoes with a heel is not limited to women. If you think of a man’s dress shoe, that heel may not be quite as drastic, but it still influences the body.
The lifted heel shortens your calf muscles and in turn, makes them tight. For people who wear heels often, it can even make wearing flat shoes or no shoes painful because of how tight the calf muscles get.
The first easy fix to this one is to trade out those heels for flat shoes. For some that may not always be a possibility, so the next step would be to use a foam roller on those calf muscles. Also beneficial is using something like a lacrosse ball on the bottom of the foot. The constant shortening of the calf can influence the muscles of the foot and over time becomes very painful.
The More You Know
While there are many other muscle imbalances out there, almost every trainer will see at least one of these. Most of these can be helped simply by more aware of them and taking the proper action to use better posture. Once you do that you will be on your way to being pain-free.
Ready to learn more about the body and how to use exercise to keep it functioning properly? Check out the ISSA’s personal trainer course online. Use the knowledge to improve your own fitness or become a trainer to help clients build healthier habits.