Johnny started a new training routine consisting of pull-ups, dips, squats and push-ups. Insecure about the outcome of similar training, he asked a big bro known to be an expert in fixing training errors.
“Is this routine any good,” asked Johnny.
“No, this routine is complete garbage. I can see exceptional shoulder and ankle imbalances that are going to occur with this type of training,” said Chris.
“Muscle imbalances? What are you talking about, Chris?”
“Where are your rear delt flies? Your shoulders are going to explode. Besides, your push to pull ratio is off. It’s 2 to 1 in favor of pushing. Did you read the latest article on Bro-Nation?”
“Oh, no! I have been following this routine for about 2 weeks, 12 days to be exact. Is the damage permanent? Will I ever recover,” replied Johnny. His voice was full of strong anxiety.
“I don’t know. You better include rows and rear delt flies, shin raises, reverse wrist curls, neck extensions, side laterals, ear raises and something for your lower abs too.”
Modern muscle media, which tends to put a lot of emphasis on bodybuilding and professional fitness, is one of the many reasons lifters suffer from muscle imbalance paranoia. Even though most people training in gyms are not real bodybuilders, they have been convinced that they are.
On paper, one of the main goals of bodybuilding is the creation of a physique that is perfectly balanced from head to toe. Having less developed muscle groups is considered a major weakness in bodybuilding, at least according to the official rules. Therefore, all popular routines are trying to give special attention to every body part.
As a result we have people who are afraid their shoulders will shut down without stupid stuff like rear delt flies and face pulls. The truth is that muscle imbalances are not as dangerous as mainstream fitness articles proclaim, and if you are doing compound exercises, it’s very unlike to suffer dangerous side effects.
What if I told you that having muscle imbalances is actually normal?
There are two kinds of muscle imbalances as far as I am concerned. The first type is due to no training of an area, while the other type is caused by smaller muscle activation during compound exercises.
The first one occurs when you skip training a muscle group entirely. I am taking about zero actual training. In that case the muscle group cannot get stronger ever. This is a more severe situation, although people need to understand that this is not the end of the world.
Many sports are lower or upper body dominant. There is a big difference between skateboarding and rock climbing. Skateboarding is extremely lower body dominant while rock climbing is full body with higher emphasis on grip and back strength.
I can assure you that skateboarders couldn’t care less about how big their arms are. Ultimately, everything depends on your priorities. When you are not a bodybuilder or fitness model who is going to be judged on stage, there is no need to freak out if your rear delts are not coming up.
In a recent post I talked extensively about captain upper bodies. While I don’t consider such training optimal, the truth is that your life could be just fine training wise, even if all you do for your legs is jogging and bike rides to the local bar.
What about injuries?
What about them? There are many gurus who trying to sound smart and fancy with stuff like push to pull ratios, while naive kids are falling in the trap all the time. What do you think will happen, if you do more pushing than pulling? What? Not much to be honest. It takes significant amount of work (years) to cause those mind blowing muscle imbalances people constantly talk about. For example, a common imbalance seen among rock climbers are weak pushing muscles – triceps, chest and legs. There are many climbers who don’t even train those muscle groups directly? Is it healthy? Of course, not. Will this training make you look like a beast in your underwear? No. Is it deadly? Well, everything is deadly, and life is the deadliest thing of them all.
Balance helps a lot and training the muscle groups that are less frequently used in your sport or daily activities is helpful, but overthinking and losing sleep because your triceps are underdeveloped compared to your biceps is nonsense.
The second kind of imbalance comes as a result of body structure. Different compound exercises have different effect on different people. Some are arm and leg dominant while others are torso and hip dominant. The result is imbalanced development.
There are many powerlifters who have poor leg development, believe it or not. They have strong hips and relatively weak legs because of the squatting style they use. Are they going to suffer terrible consequences because of it? I doubt it. Are they obsessing over their leg extension to leg curl ratio? I doubt that too.
You can’t train all muscles in the body equally.
Even if you wanted to, you can’t be training all your muscles equally. When was the last time you trained your shins directly for example? It’s not realistic to follow a routine that focuses on every single muscle. It’s just not practical, at least the way I see it.
It doesn’t take much to avoid muscle imbalances.
At the end of the day, the truth is that it’s not even that hard to prevent major muscle imbalances. All you have to do is include basic exercises that cover the following moving patterns: squat, push, pull, twist (optional). If you have a specific issue, work on it, but don’t develop paranoia because your training doesn’t make the gurus happy. Most of those are just broken clocks anyway.