Are muscular imbalances causing your lower back or neck pain, or leading to a potential injury? These imbalances are not just limited to athletes and can be due to a number of factors such as lack of joint mobility or instability/weakness of a particular muscle group. This usually happens when one muscle group is overworked and its opposing muscle group remains under-worked.
Performing simple tasks that we don’t give much thought such as lifting a child repetitively or sitting in one position too long at the computer can contribute to muscular imbalance development over time. Here are three of the most common imbalances we see and some simple corrective strategies to help begin the restoration process:
- Anterior Pelvic Tilt: Commonly referred to as Lower Crossed Syndrome, this occurs when the front of the pelvis is tilted forward or looks down, which creates an arch and puts excessive strain on the lower back. This can be caused by one or any combination of the following: Tight (shortened) Hip Flexors, Abdominal Weakness, and/or Gluteal Weakness. Since many of us are in a seated position for a good portion of our day, it is a safe bet that our hip flexors are tight. Performing a kneeling hip flexor stretch a couple of times a day can help with this, and over time, flexibility should improve, thus helping to restore pelvic alignment. At the same time, we want to make sure that we are prioritizing core and gluteal strengthening when resistance training. Ideally, we are looking to work each muscle group about 2-3 times per week.
- Rounded Shoulders: Also referred to as Upper Crossed Syndrome, this occurs when your shoulders drift forward, usually due to shortening of the primary internal rotators of the shoulder, the Pectorals and Lats. The weakened opposing muscle groups in this case would be the muscles of the upper back, which include the Traps, Rhomboids, Rotator Cuff, and Rear Delts. For example, to many gym-goers, Mondays are referred to as “International Chest Day”. In this scenario, the gym-goer comes in on Monday and works the chest with a variety of horizontal pressing movements. The gym-goer then does not come in the rest of the week and neglects to train their upper/middle back. Eventually, this imbalance can lead to rotator cuff impingement, which then manifests itself in anterior shoulder pain during any pressing or overhead exercises. The fact that many of us are hunched over a keyboard for many hours each day also contributes to this imbalance. To correct this, we need to strengthen the muscles of the upper back and posterior (back side) of the shoulder, while also working to improve flexibility in those tight pecs and lats via myofascial release techniques and stretching. Some excellent exercises to help strengthen the upper back and improve posture includes Rows (and lots of them), Reverse Flies, Face Pulls, and YTLW’s on a bench or physioball.
- Limited Hip Mobility: Typically, this is due to a general lack of physical activity. As mentioned earlier, the fact that we are always sitting is a main contributor to this limitation. If overall mobility is limited, this is going to reinforce faulty movement patterns when exercising, which could eventually lead to injury and other muscular imbalances. Think of it this way, if your muscles are not “working” as efficiently as they should be, are you getting the most out of the exercise that you are doing? The answer to this question is no, you’re not. Therefore, to mobilize the hips, we need to be foam rolling, performing hip mobility drills, and stretching. Some of my favorite mobility exercises to prescribe for this are Quadruped Hip Circles and Quadruped Fire Hydrants. These exercises not only strengthen the muscles around the hip joint, but actively takes the joint through a large range of motion to help restore mobility and help prepare the body for more vigorous exercise. Programming a few hip mobility drills as part of your dynamic warm up routine is a smart strategy to prevent injury and get the most out of your workouts. Likewise, some stretches that can help improve hip mobility include a Lying or Seated Piriformis stretch and a Kneeling Hip Flexor stretch. Be sure to hold these stretches for AT LEAST 15-30 seconds after every workout.
Having a combination of these resistance exercises and mobility drills in your workout program can help restore balance back to the intended area. However, be sure to have your movement and posture screened by a trained professional. This will ensure that what you are feeling is actually occurring and a proper exercise prescription can be developed and safely implemented.