What do I mean by uneven muscle development?
I’m not talking about the chest being stronger than back, or quads stronger than hamstrings, although these can cause their own problems. In this case I mean that one half of the body being stronger than the other.
This is not unusual since most people favour my side of the body over the other. I’m right-handed, so I naturally favour my right side. I dislocated my left arm five years ago, so I’ve had a significant difference in strength for some time.
What problems can it cause?
In a word – injury. When one side of the body is stronger than the other then it will take a greater proportion of the load when working. For instance, when pressing a weight overhead, my right hand side presses more than my left. This puts an uneven load through the rest of the muscles in the body. As I noted in this post, my right side is visibly larger than my left, not just in the arms but right through the muscles on the back. These injuries are not limited to lifting weights either – runners with uneven muscle development are just waiting for an injury.
More bilateral lifting (or pulling) won’t help either. Since the stronger side of the body is always lifting more of the weight, it continues to get stronger. The weaker side gets stronger too, but the strong side is always ahead.
What can I do about it?
One of the best ways to tackle this problem is to incorporate unilateral movements into your exercises. Dumbells are excellent in this regard.
Here’s a selection of dumbbell exercises. Although you can do these exercises with two dumbells, for the purposes of muscle balance you should use just one arm at a time.
- Dumbbell press, push press and push jerk
- Dumbbell deadlifts
- Dumbbell snatches
- Dumbbell rows
- Dumbbell bench press
- Dumbbell curls
- Dumbbell squat
- Dumbbell overhead squat
You can also use uneven exercises. For instance I used uneven pushups today with one hand on a dumbell and the other on the floor.
Some unilateral exercises
- Uneven pushups – use a dumbbell, a bosu ball or books
- One leg squat.
- Use the cable machine with one arm for pulling and pushing
Other recommendations are to try and use the weaker arm in day to day activities, like brushing your teeth, turning on a tap or using a computer mouse with the weaker arm.
At the moment I try and have at least one workout a week that consists purely of unilateral work, with the aim of correcting my uneven muscle development.
Workout: DB overhead press, DB rows, DB deadlift, DB curls, uneven pushups