If you follow me on Instagram (shameless plug, I know), you may have noticed for a short time that I made some frequent posts in regards to muscular balance. This kick was actually brought on by an injury I incurred back in September of 2016 that was caused by my own lack of muscular balance. Essentially, I let my two legs get imbalanced doing split jerks, and it ended up costing me months of hard work and progress. I couldn't even air squat for 4 weeks post injury. Recently, a friend that I used to train with contacted me and told me that he underwent the same injury under the same conditions, and therefore I'm writing this to spread the word on muscular balance.
So what is muscular balance, and why is it important?
Think of your fitness as making a paper airplane. You make an original fold down the center, and then have folds that branch off of it that help it fly. Now, in order for a paper airplane to fly well, the folds on each side of the main centerfold have to be symmetrical. The more larger the difference per side, the plane won't fly well, or maybe not at all.
Your body is similar. Your spine acts as a centerfold, with muscle and bone extending from it to help it function at max capacity. However, in a lot of different situations in life we only end up using one side of our body. We only throw with a certain arm, or swing a certain direction, etc. This ingrains a certain pattern of movement that your body adapts to. In my case, I only did a split jerk with my left leg forward, and therefore my left leg got a serious amount of work, resulting in the following photo.
Because my left leg took a majority of the weight in the jerk, and I never did any unilateral work (or work for my right leg as well), my left quadriceps muscle gained a fair amount of strength and size. My right leg on the other did not, and in the long run my hip flexor couldn't deal with the shift that had occurred in my hips due to the different muscle strengths.
So how can you catch a muscular balance issue before it costs you, and how do you correct it? Here is my suggestion:
1. Take photos, videos, and use a mirror
I'm not saying all the time, but a lot of times these issues can be seen by watching or looking. A slight shift in a movement (like to one side of your squat), or even a visual size difference can be a good indicator. Pain is also a good indicator, but hopefully it won't get to that point.
2. Identify the movement pattern
You may have to do some research on that one, but for the most part, it comes down to looking at everyday actions and see what movements you do, and if there is a side that take over for a lot of the movement.
3. Mimic the pattern on the non-dominant side
Once you've figured out the movement pattern that caused the issue, do exercises that mimic it. I'm not saying to become an ambidextrous writer/thrower/swinger, but mimic the movement pattern in order to build up the strength on the non-dominant side.
This is a simpler, more cost affordable way to address possible imbalances. If you're not sure if you have one or are not confident in doing so, I highly recommend seeking out a Physical Therapist or Sports Chiropractor to get a professional assessment.