February 23, 2020 at 12:00PM by CWC
New York City-based trainer Tatiana Lampa, NASM, is a different kind of fitness expert. As a certified corrective exercise specialist, she prides herself on helping clients train with injury prevention at front of mind. And, a lot of times, she says that means identifying any muscle imbalance in the body that come along as her trainees get stronger and stronger. Then, making a plan of action for restoring balance.
“More often than not, people will notice their imbalances at the gym,” says Lampa. “Once they start to work out they’ll realize that one leg is stronger than the other, or one arm is significantly weaker. I hear a lot of people say, ‘I have really bad balance’ or ‘my right arm is so much stronger than my left because I carry my kid in my right side.’” You’ll always have an underactive and an overactive side. For example, if you find that your right arm can handle a 20-pound bicep curl, but your left arm isn’t strong enough yet, your right side is overactive while your left side is underactive. That’s where Lampa comes in.
Lampa’s ultimate guide for tackling imbalance in the body
Step 1: Identify the cause of the imbalance
Once you identify the part of your body that feels wonky, Lampa says it’s time to do a bit of detective work. How did it get there? What movement patterns are throwing your body out of whack? “These imbalances form because we typically favor one side or we prefer to do certain exercises versus others,” she says. “A great example that can cause an imbalance is how you carry your bag. Which shoulder do you favor?” Go ahead and adjust that behavior so you won’t continue forcing more effort on one side of your body. If you tend to throw your gym bag over your right shoulder, make sure you let your left in on the fun once in a while.
Step 2: Treat the overactive muscle with plenty of stretching and recovery
“The overactive muscle needs to be stretched out, which can be done with a foam roller, massage tool like the Theragun, and active stretching,” says Lampa. That means making sure that if your right hamstring, like mine, is astronomically stronger than your left, go all-in on hamstring stretches on that particular side of the body.
These leg stretches will get you started:
3. Treat the underactive muscle with consistent strength training
The underactive muscles need the opposite treatment of the overactive ones (read: a lot of strength-based movement). Keeping with the hamstring example, my left leg would need its fair share of toning, according to Lampa.
If one of your hamstrings is stronger than the other, treat it to these moves:
Step 4: be patient
“If someone is consistently working on his or her imbalances I would say three months minimum to see a change. It definitely doesn’t happen overnight but you will see a progression,” says Lampa. Just make sure you’re tailoring that strength training and stretching to your particular imbalances and treating yourself with compassion, and the specialist says you can’t go wrong.
As a corrective exercise specialist, Lampa loves eccentric exercise for boosting strength and flexibility. And these are the most common mistakes she sees at the gym.