Two Simple Tests to Check for Muscular Balance
Keeping your muscles properly balanced is one of the goals of a good workout. Every time you work your shoulders, you should also work your lats. The same goes for chest and back or triceps and biceps. The problem is many people only work the muscles they see. Beginners often concentrate on how much weight they can bench press, while skipping exercises that engage the back.
In the past, when you wanted to find out if your muscles were balanced, it required expensive laboratory equipment like isokinetic devices. Now there are two tests you can do to check for muscular imbalances, with no special equipment required. Let's start with the test for chest and back.
Chest and Back Test
In 2004, Australian researchers at the School of Biomedical and Sport Science determined that if you're a well-trained athlete, the amount of weight you can bench press should equal the amount you can lift in a pull-up.
That means if you can bench press your body weight, you should be able to do at least one pull-up. If you bench more than your body weight, you should be able to do a pull-up with more weight attached. Here's how to figure it out.
Take the weight you can bench press, up to a maximum of five times, subtract your body weight and the remainder is how much you need to add to your pull-up. For example: If you weigh 180 pounds and can bench 200, you should be able to do at least one pull-up with 20 pounds attached to your waist. (If you can't do at least one bodyweight pull-up, come back and do this test when you can.)
To attach weight to your waist, look around your gym for a belt with a chain on it. That chain is used to add weights. Make sure you attach the weights securely before attempting your pull-up. Then, if you can bench 5% or more than you can pull-up, it's time to start doing more back exercises. Having a back that's weaker than your chest puts you at a significantly higher risk for shoulder injuries.
The next test is to see if one leg is stronger than the other. Researchers at Ball State University found that lifters often workout one leg harder than the other. As the muscular imbalance grows, it can limit gains and increases the risk for injuries. Here's the leg test.
Stand on one leg and hold the other leg up. Then hop-forward five times, moving as far forward each time as you can. When you reach the final hop, land on both feet. Measure the total distance you hopped. Now repeat it with your other leg. If there's more than a 10% difference in distance traveled between the two legs, you have a strength imbalance.
Don't mistake a SIZE difference for a strength imbalance. For example, if you flex both arms and one bicep is slightly larger than another, but they're both equally strong, there's often nothing much you can do. Absent any disease or injury, it's likely caused by genetics. It's the STRENGTH imbalances that can lead to injury.
The easiest way to deal with muscle imbalances is to try something called font to back training. That's where you work one muscle group, then immediately after work the opposing muscle group. The hanging leg raise, followed by a squat is an example. Other combinations include a bicep curl followed by a tricep curl, a back extension followed by a crunch or an incline press followed by a bent-over row.
Front to Back Training
The primary advantage of a front to back program is you'll be stronger doing the second exercise. A muscle is stronger if immediately preceded by a contraction of the opposing muscle group. In other words, if you do a bicep curl first, then do a tricep curl, your triceps will be stronger than if you just do a tricep curl alone. If your back is weaker than your chest, do bench presses first and then pull-ups to help your back catch up.
The secondary benefit of front to back training is that you'll save time in the gym. You'll do two sets (one front and the other back) between rest periods. By cutting down on how often you rest, you'll get out of the gym sooner. A typical workout can be over in 30 to 45 minutes.
Try these two simple tests and see if your body's in balance.
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