Great physiques are attained through hard work, dedication and a never-ending passion for self-improvement, and if you’ve been lucky enough to win the genetic lottery, a world-class physique could be in your future. Taking the time to meticulously work on your body shaping craft is a rewarding endeavor and one that will serve you well cosmetically and in health.
The name of the game is bodybuilding, and in its truest form, the goal is to build and perfect each muscle group to its fullest, ensuring that proportion, symmetry, and balance are the underlying components of each session in the gym. With that said, striving for that perfect physique gives you advantages that may be a secondary thought at first, but one that will keep you in the game longer. Those advantages include skeletal alignment, improved posture, and improved proprioception all leading to being able to present your physique onstage to your fullest potential.
Muscle Balance for Skeletal Alignment/Posture
Correct posture has many benefits. One of which is a healthy back. Knowing how to correctly perform exercises that involve lifting a weight off the floor is probably the single most important factor in limiting the instances of lower back injury. A training program that focuses on working all parts of the back (upper and lower) will significantly increase your chances of maintaining form when performing such lifts as dead lifts and bent over barbell rows. Strong lats, traps, and rhomboids are great, and when fully developed are very impressive. However, if the majority of your training focused on only those muscle groups, the lower back muscles (spinal erectors) will be much weaker and cause a curvature in your lower back leading to poor posture and possible nagging pain.
On the reverse side of your body, a common problem with weight trainers and posture is overdeveloped pec muscles in relation to those aforementioned back muscles. This overdevelopment will not only cause upper back pain and discomfort but also a “slouch” look when standing relaxed. The shoulders get pulled forward, and even if you work on your flexibility in that area, the only way to truly treat this is by correcting the imbalances between your anterior and posterior muscles.
Muscle Balance to Prevent Injury
Probably more so than the upper body, muscle imbalances in the lower body have caused more injuries to athletes and trainers because, for the most part, we are on our feet when initiating movement and our lower body tends to be extremely powerful. Underdeveloped glutes cause the pelvis to tilt forward towards more powerful quadriceps causing lower back pain. Many bodybuilders have built impressive quadriceps and put little emphasis on developing their hamstrings. This scenario poses a threat to the health of the knee-joint.
What seems to be the problem is that the primary movers (and the ones that are the show piece muscles) get more attention than the secondary movers because bodybuilding is all about displaying muscularity. In the quest to achieve this, many smaller, less recognized muscles get less than the attention they require. It’s usually not until a significant injury has been experienced that these other muscles get attention and get worked with the same frequency and priority as the others.
Muscle Balance for Proprioception/Presentation
The mirror is a bodybuilder’s best friend. It allows you to track your progress and it also becomes one of the most important tools at your disposal for getting ready to take the stage. As mandatories are practiced, and posing routines are perfected, each movement is calculated according to what you see in the mirror. There’s only one problem; there are no mirrors when you get up onstage to help you adjust your posture and positioning while your flex. This is where muscle balance comes into play. When each muscle is developed equally, the body moves efficiently and correctly. This is a big help when it comes to proprioception and knowing where your limbs are in the space around your body. Each of the mandatories requires that your limbs be in certain positions, and if a muscle imbalance is present, that limb will tend to move towards the more powerful, developed muscle. This can lead to a bodybuilder into not being able to fully display their physique at their best. Probably the pose that will show muscle balance/imbalance the best is the relaxed pose. We all know there is nothing relaxed about this pose, but this is when posture, skeletal alignment, and proprioception are displayed at their best or worst. Knowing how to use your muscles, both antagonistic and agonist groups in synergy, with no group overpowering another, may determine the outcome for you in the placings.
If developing a balanced physique was easy, then every competitor and trainer out there would have a shot at winning a title. The harsh truth is that it’s not, and due to genetics there may be muscle groups that prove to be very stubborn and resistant to growth. If you find yourself in this position, don’t worry, you are not the only one. Persistence and patience will be your best attributes, and if at the very least all you get is stronger in a particular area, at least you are giving yourself a chance at being injury free. Continue training hard for a well-balanced, symmetrical physique, and you’ll soon find yourself getting bigger and stronger in all aspects of your training. A well-constructed body is a healthy body and a body that is capable of bringing home all the hardware.
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Norris, Christopher. “Spinal Stabilisation: 4. Muscle Imbalance and the Low Back,” Physiotherapy, Volume 81, Issue 3, March 1995, Pages 127-138.
Watson, A.WS. “Sports Injuries Related to Flexibility, Posture, Acceleration, Clinical Defects, and Previous Injury, in High-Level Players of Body Contact Sports,” Int J Sports Med 2001; 22(3): 222-225.