The Danger of Muscle Imbalances and the Importance of Symmetry

Symmetry is a beautiful thing. It seems to be nature’s preferred state, at least in the structure of organisms: two eyes for stereoscopic vision (the better to hunt you with), two legs of equal length for injury-free traversal of the environment, two hands, two arms. For all intents and purposes, the two sides of the body are approximate mirror images of each other, with corresponding muscles and ligaments and tendons. Our anatomical symmetry is obviously a product of evolution, because a balanced body simply works better. Kids born with right legs an inch or two shorter than the left are more prone to injury, just as cars with bigger wheels on the left will be more prone to disrepair. Objective human beauty is determined by symmetry of the facial structure, as if we’re innately drawn to balance. A balanced body structure, too, is objectively attractive, because it connotes strength and competence in matters of survival (war, hunting, protection). It becomes clear that if symmetry weren’t important for survival in this environment, it wouldn’t have been selected for, we wouldn’t be drawn to it, and plants and animals would have assumed entirely different forms. Maybe we’d be amorphous blobs just kind of oozing around (as opposed to the amorphous blobs with legs and arms that presently populate our planet).

But we’re not all amorphous blobs (not yet at least – the American populace sure is doing its darndest). Our bodies want to be perfectly balanced. They function best when everything – muscles, tendons, bones – are equally healthy and strong. When we make a movement, every muscle has to pitch in and do what it can (to the best of its ability). If a single muscle falters, the others have to pick up the slack, and the entire production is compromised. Sounds a bit like Communism, eh? It may not work in government, but it’s definitely the best way to govern your body.

Art de Vany talks about the X-look: a “symmetrical balance of mass in the shoulder girdle, upper chest and back, the calves and lower quads.” The X-look indicates muscle balance – a very, very good thing. Balanced muscles allow our bodies to function the way they’re supposed to function. Injuries become rare, strength and performance optimize, and you start to give off the positive evolutionary cues that say, “Hey, strong, capable human here! I can hunt, slaughter, and haul a deer back to camp, then pass on my superior genetics to my kids!”

But despite the obvious importance of maintaining muscle balance, people seem to have missed the memo. Oh, sure, things are getting better, and “functional fitness” is growing by leaps and bounds (take Crossfit, for example, which only gets more popular), but the average gym goer is still woefully ignorant of muscle balance. And if he or she is familiar with the term, they’re probably just focused on keeping their biceps symmetrical with no consideration of overall function. Just how prevalent are imbalanced muscles, really? Well, take a quick look at your gym’s inhabitants. You’ve got the old guys pouring buckets of sweat everywhere despite languishing on the chest fly machine for hours at a time. Or how about the over-the-hill bodybuilder who has somehow managed to keep up with some semblance of a routine while failing to keep up with the regular waxing and deodorant applications (there’s nothing quite like discovering a cache of curly black hairs in your gym bag upon returning home). Then there are the frat boys twisting their bodies into unnatural contortions just to target their medial tricep and get that pump going.

But my absolute favorite has to be the top-heavy, dreidel-shaped buffoons sporting massive chests and bulging biceps along with bird shoulders, chicken legs, and the back development of young boys. These guys are the perfect pictures of muscle imbalance. Still, they thrust these chests proudly forward and strut around the gym, pausing only to scratch their arms in contrived positions that show off their biceps whenever there’s a nearby mirror. Oh, and they love doling out unsolicited advice. They now know better than to accost me (especially when I’m lifting) with that nonsense, but I see at least a few guys fall for their “charms” daily. It might actually be funny if it weren’t so damn dangerous. For every newbie they pressure into working out their way – isolation exercises, for the most part – that’s one more human who’ll be plagued with chronic muscle imbalances, possibly for life.

Muscle imbalances can manifest with devastating consequences. Take lordosis, an abnormal inward curve of the spine, which is sometimes caused by weak hamstrings. Heavy squatters who focus solely on the quads without engaging the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings) often fall prey to lordosis of the spine. In fact, squats that ignore half of the lower body aren’t technically even squats; they are fundamentally flawed free-standing quad presses. Continue to overwork your quads without including your hamstrings, and you’ll probably end up with poor posture.

Muscle imbalance is also terrible to look at. The guy with huge arms and skinny legs might impress his buddies at the gym, but most casual onlookers will be horrified. The balanced, symmetrical X-look is far more aesthetically pleasing – even if we aren’t quite conscious of it, we are attracted to that body structure.

Muscle imbalances set you up for injuries. Like the boy with a shorter left leg, the guy with weak hamstrings is setting himself up for tattered cartilage and bad knees. The knee is designed to work with everything working in perfect harmony, but when your muscle balance is out of whack, undue stress is placed on the joint. Same goes for other areas of the body, too. In the real world, functional movements require the enlistment of multiple muscles. Carrying a buddy who sprained his ankle and is unable to walk requires leg, core, and shoulder strength. If you’re lacking in one area, the rest of your muscles will try to make up for it. That means muscles that are designed for one thing will have to do another (in addition to performing their original task) – and you know how opposing one’s natural inclinations usually goes.

What causes muscle imbalances? For one, poor form. Taking the squat example from above, it doesn’t mean much if you’re squatting (or deadlifting, or pressing, or doing any of the compound lifts) with poor form. At worst, you risk injury, and at best, you risk favoring one muscle group over another. A true squat is supposed to be a total body effort, with the quads pushing, the hamstrings pulling, and the glutes activating (not to mention the torso-lever supporting it all, which requires equally competent abs and lower back muscles).

Isolation exercises also contribute to muscular imbalance. As a rule, the leg extension machine doesn’t work anything but the quadriceps. Unless you’re a bodybuilder going for ridiculous quads, you should avoid this machine at all costs. Even if you supplement your “leg day” (arm, chest, back, and leg “days” are another pet peeve of mine, but more on that later) with some hamstring curls, calf raises, and glute pushes, you’re still contributing to muscle imbalance. Each individual muscle might be strong in its own way, but they don’t work together. Try to lift a heavy rock after a year of leg extensions, hamstring curls, and calf raises, and you won’t know how to coordinate each muscle to complete the movement. Isolation exercises don’t improve your performance in functional activities (sports, hunting, lifting heavy things in real world terms); they increase your ability to only perform that specific isolation exercise. A machine lover who can leg press a thousand pounds can’t squat the same amount, but a guy who squats a thousand pounds can probably double that amount on the leg press. The woman who curls a ton and loves the reverse back fly may have big biceps and a defined back, but I bet she can’t do fifteen pull-ups like the devoted Primal fitness buff might.

The very idea of “leg days” or “arm days” is counterproductive to real fitness and contributes to muscle imbalances. Did Grok have “leg days”? Did he ever spend a few hours just curling a heavy rock so his biceps would grow? No! The body is meant to function as a machine of interlocking parts, every single one of which is integral to overall performance. When we mentally separate our lifting days and focus on specific body parts, we start to think of our muscles as islands unto themselves, and eventually they’ll start to function like that – imbalanced and totally cut off from the rest of the muscles. What’s ironic is that the people who do this really think they’re balancing things out. If they only knew…

How do we promote muscle balance and fight muscle imbalance? Pretty simply, by exercising the right way. Luckily, Primal exercises are all about promoting proper muscle balance. Big, compound movements force us to use every muscle in our bodies correctly, and the best way to train for these big, compound movements is to just do them. Even if you’re worried about the size of your biceps, resist the urge to curl. Instead, just do a few more pull-ups and know it’ll all work out in the end. Also, be aware of your form, and get coaching (either in person or via videos/info on the web) on the more complex lifts to ensure you’re actively engaging all the requisite muscles.

And so, perfect Primal muscle balance is about symmetry on the micro level, between opposing muscles – the hamstring/quad, the bicep/tricep, the abs/back – and on the macro level – the entire body working in concert to perform a task. Total body muscle balance, then, requires individually balanced muscles. To isolate our muscles and go for an imbalanced look is to reject our essential natures – that of symmetrical beings constantly searching for balance in all areas of life – and invite ruin and chronic injury. To use our muscles as a cohesive, united force is to promote optimum health, freedom from injury, and better results.

On a final note, thanks to reader Sterling for a good laugh:

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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58 thoughts on “The Danger of Muscle Imbalances and the Importance of Symmetry”

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  1. Great post. Total body all the way!

    My back was overdeveloped from motocross (and not doing any other workouts). It had my posture pretty messed up for quite a while. Getting her in balance now though 🙂

  2. I couldn’t agree more with the importance of symmetry. Unfortunately I am probably the poster boy for imbalances. Most of mine come from two sources. Old injuries that lead to compensation elsewhere and even some scarring or adhesions in the injured area, and certain daily tasks that put me out of balance. Most of my imbalances are right/left and not so much opposing muscle groups.

    Examples: When I am in my car one leg is more externally rotated and flexed due to limited leg room. I tend to have my right arm extended in front on the steering wheel or my computer mouse. When I use my legs to climb something like a stair or up onto a rock I usually lead with my right leg which is stronger ans slightly larger than the left one.

    I have been trying to be more conscious of these things so I do them less often. I also am trying to do exercises that are single sided so the stronger or more limber side doesn’t compensate for the weak one.

    1. I feel your pain, literally.

      I competed in powerlifting (the world’s most stupid sport) from the age of 17 to 20. I am still suffering from all that at age 52!

      I developed scoliosis, my entire left side feels “stronger” than my right side and pulls me to the left constantly. My left leg is longer than the right, making walking seem un-natural.

      Years of chiropractic and massage did not improve this. I guess I’m going to suffer with this for the rest of my life.

      All because I was a stupid kid that got really bad advice from a bunch of know-nothing gym musle-heads.

      I wish I had read PBF 40 years ago.

  3. Another benefit of total body workouts is that you can spend less time working out and get better results. I’ve witnessed my evolution from weight machines to dumbbells to mainly body weight exercises and I have to say that I am fitter and look better while spending less time working out. Pull ups, push ups, sledge hammer exercises, squats and deadlifts with some running thrown in and I’m done in half the time. Of course following a PB diet helps a lot too.

  4. Thanks Mark. Very timely. I am trying to convert my “arm, chest, back, and leg days” training partner over to a primal style of training but as with most people who are still in the trance of Conventional Wisdom it is difficult. What makes it more difficult is we started training together before I went primal (about 6 weeks and 20 lbs ago!) He still looks fitter than I do at the moment but he is constantly at the chiropractor for his back and by his own admission can’t do anything requiring muscular endurance. Anyway, he has agreed to skip the gym this week and let me bring my kettlebell over to his place for a primal style workout. Oh well, if he catches on then great, if not, we may have to ditch training together and just socialize at other times (when his back doesn’t hurt to much 🙂

  5. Thanks for such a great and for me timely post. I wonder if anyone can talk about muscle imbalances that develop during pregnancy. I am pregnant and have been working out and plan to work out until giving birth. But, my balance and posture are changing day by day. Any tips on keeping proper alignment and exercise form during pregnancy?

  6. Great post Mark! I wanted to share a good workout plan that I have used successfully.

    Select two workouts A,B.
    Each workout has a hip/quad dominant move, 1 upper body push and 1 upper body pull. Do 3 workouts a week by alternating A & B.

    Sample Routine:


    Monday (A workout): Squats, pull-ups, standing military press

    Wed (B workout): Deadlifts, barbell rows, dumbell bench press

    Fri (A workout):


    Mon (B workout)
    Wed (A)
    Fri (B)

    Week3: Back to Week1 workout.

    Workout A has a quad dominant exercise and a vertical upper body push-pull exercise.

    Workout B has a hams/hip dominant exercise and a horizontal upper body push-pull combo.

    You can then perodize your workouts by changing the reps each week or so.
    Another idea is to switch to a different set of exercises after 4-5 weeks. This routine covers most muscle groups, is time efficient and productive.

  7. Such an important point to make! My right leg is 1/4 inch shorter than my left, and growing up I always had very week legs from lack of strength training. Now, at 27, I have cartilage damage to my knee cap and have trouble walking and standing–never mind running. Through physical therapy I learned the importance of balance: strengthen the quads but don’t forget the hamstrings. I started strengthening my hips, too, which I never knew played such a big role in mechanics. Just goes to show you that spot training is not injury prevention!

  8. Mark-

    Hey buddy, I found your blog off of Rusty’s Fitness Blackbook. I was one of the 2 guys in his Vacation Body Blueprint..

    Anyways I’ve been reading your site for a few months now but this is my first post. Love your principles and I’ve read a ton of your blogs.

    I had already adapted a paleo diet before reading here, but you definitely note some very excellent principles.. not to mention I think I’ve tried about 80% of your recipes so far lol.

    I’ve been Crossfitting for 4 months now and have dropped to 5% BF, while maintaining muscle and gaining strength… functional fitness is, without question, the way to go. I haven’t done a bicep curl in about a year and my arms are leaner and better working/looking than ever!

    Thanks Mark, we love your work!


  9. My comment is about posture. My son has really bad posture and I keep telling him that his neck muscles will start compensating and he will be all imbalanced and have neck problems if he keep hanging his head down and stooping so much. I think I am correct…now that I have read your post. For a while I just felt like the nagging mom…but I think that muscle imbalace from either over-training or sitting improperly or doing improper exercises can all contribute to muscle imbalance.

    1. Tell him a guy with more posture looks way hotter or better still have a female his age mention that. Health and muscle balance at a young age are not great motivators, for most anyway…

  10. I agree 100% with this article. I’m just in a predicament and would like your (and commenters) feedback.

    I only have one-arm, so pullups and other exercises that requires two arms are not an option. How “off set” will my symmetry by continuing to work out with only one-arm?

    Check out my site and you can see my CFFBish workouts. I feel strong and even at the point of feeling level all the way around my body.

    Thanks for a great read.


    1. Hi, I joined your site and left you a comment. I also have one arm and my right shoulder, pec and back area is quite shrunken and shoulder atrophied to skin and bone. I am using a wide fibre elastic band hooked over the shoulder to give a pec deck type of exercise. Also standing on strap and looped over shoulder lets me do shrugs and chest exercises. I have some old pics at


  11. Mark,

    Just to clarify, do you advocate the “low bar” position for the squats in order to better involve the hamstrings?

    I’ve been reading Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength and I am having trouble with that form (and the power cleans) so I’ve been doing normal Olympic squats along with the deadlifts and presses.

    1. Low bar squats will help you lift heavier (powerlifters use this with a wide stance). High bar squats will force you to be more upright and has slightly more quad emphasis. Try full range front squats, it will force you to squat properly.

  12. Great post as always. Symetry is the best thing to aim for in the gym. In my gym, the trend I keep seeing is big arms with equally big bellies. Just 1 tiny nitpick…
    The leg press machine. This machine is not as useless as you may think. In fact it works out the same exact muscles as a squat. Don’t forget, some people might not be well suited for the squat. Lyle McDonald wrote about this:

  13. Huh. I am pretty asymmetrical – my ribcage is deformed, one shoulder is higher than the other, and my left leg is just over 1/2″ shorter than my right.

    But the only problems I ever had were a bit of hip pain in the longer leg when I used to run heel-toe in shoes (now, barefoot, no more discomfort).

    However I was never an athlete or gym rat, and all exercise I have ever done has been ‘whole body’.

  14. This is one I struggle with. Genetically, one shoulder is slightly higher than the other. After having knee surgery, I also have a slight imabalance there. Trying to do a lot of stretching, but sometimes it just takes a chiropractor…

  15. You think Grok ever waxed his body to remove hair? No need to insult us hirsute dudes. Some women like it, too. If you want to look like a boy keep waxing.. I prefer the manly look.

    The general point of the article is good and I have long advocated training opposing bodyparts either together or sequentially for injury prevention. Pulling movements and pushing movements done this way prevent rotator cuff problems and shoulder tears.

  16. Super post thankee.
    Arse De Vany looks super for his he constantly tells everyone whose read his site for more than a few days.
    What it does show is that looking and being wonderfully healthy do not encompass an accordant level of humility.
    It’s pretty off putting.
    Might be a cultural thing too.
    A few Euros i know seem to find him a bit daft, self inflated and just plain silly whereas many Americans i know think it’s wonderful that he does nowt but say directly and infer hpw wonderful his methodology is and how his life is but one long list of superlatives.

    Vive le Sisson

  17. This is my first post because this issue of body form has been so crucial to me. The cheapest, most fail-safe method to a better balanced body is yoga! Real yoga. The kind that is more traditional and isn’t just about making it exercise. I mean this because poor yoga videos (like P90X’s YogaX) throw in arbitrary exercises, such as a few pushups, which means there’s no real plan, and don’t focus on the breath other than to tell you to remember to breathe. And you need to do it regularly to really get into it, more than once a week. It’s very much worth it to cut back on weights or sprints in order to ensure this. I’m sure Mark wouldn’t mind that for a time to get your body in order. And don’t overstretch, ease into it. Poor form and too much effort with stretching is at least as bad as the same with lifting. You can’t begin to appreciate how amazing a good yoga program is until you’ve gotten into it for a month or so. You might only feel like you’re stretching your hamstrings at first, but what you don’t understand is all of the other postures and stretches that open up to you when you get through the tightest tissues. If you have the money, find a GOOD yoga instructor. Most of the few I’ve met have been thoroughly unimpressive. A good video will do you fine (I use Total Yoga primarily). And remember, yoga (hatha yoga, the only kind people in the US are familiar with usually) isn’t just a set of postures, it’s a whole system for using natural means to improving your body, such as shankaprakshalana, which can do wonders. If you want to know more about the details of what’s going on with yoga, I highly recommend “Anatomy of Hatha Yoga” from H. David Coulter. It’s long, detailed, technical, and informative.

  18. Regarding the above post on yoga:

    Mark was is your opinion on Yoga? I am undecided on its role in an evolutionary/primal approach to fitness… Yes Yoga promotes balance and strength, but I bet Grok never stretched himself in all the positions a modern yoga session has you do?

    Is it helpful in that modern man is less limber/flexible/balanced than Grok, so that even though he didn’t practice it, we should? I guess it is a similar argument for fruit intake… Fruit intake is great for you, but modern fruit is so full of sugar that eating as much fruit as Grok did is potentially a bad idea, etc

  19. The one problem with yoga is that it promotes flexibility in areas that need more stability, such as the lumber spine. In some individuals it can do more harm than good.

    I know in my own case that 20+ years of being hunched over a computer has left me with tight psoas, a rigid T-spine and an anterior pelvic tilt (with mild lordosis, inward rotated femurs, knock knees and bum ankles as a result) so I’m doing very specific exercises to fix those things. I mainly do full body stuff, but when there are imbalances, these need special attention and can’t be addressed by simply following a full body workout or joining a yoga class. Just something to bear in mind.

    1. I ran across you comment over a year after you posted it, but just had to inquire on the off chance you’ll see it. The imbalances you describe fit me to a tee. I’m not entirely sure mine is a result purely from sitting at a computer all day (although, for the most part I do) but I have had knock-knees since I was a kid, and whatever is at the root of this imbalanced posture I have has been causing me more and more pain as I get older. I wonder if you could give me insight into what exercises you are doing (or did) and where you educated yourself about this topic.

    2. I was curious as to your description of your symptoms. You say that you spent years hunched over a desk, but usually these people are stuck in spinal flexion, not spinal extension (as is the case in people with lordosis, APT, etc). Comments?

  20. I have well developed legs but poor upper body strength… Mark, what’s your opinion of exercises like pullups/chin ups which work the upper body only, but work the entire upper body?

    Nora Gedgaudas recommends Pavel Tsatsouline’s material, he’s the Russian guy who promotes kettlebells. Andy opinions on that?

  21. Great post! I have been switching to body weight excercises for the lower body. This article makes me feel like I should give up all machine exercises? or am I reading too much? My question is, what kind of body-weight exercises can I do to replace these 3 machine exercises: 1) back rows, 2) lats, and 3) military shoulder press? (my shoulders are my weakest point -female). I never really thought of doing pull ups instead of bicep curls, that really appeals to me because the machine hurts my elbows doing biceps and triceps. I’ll have to go buy a pull up bar thing for my home.

    1. For back rows, you can do what I’ve usually called “reverse pushups”. But I think they’re generally called “supine pullups”. Lying on your back, pull yourself up to a bar that’s at about arms length from the floor.

      For lats, pullups. Probably a wider grip targets the lats more, but I’m no physiologist. These can be hard to start if you don’t already have the strength for it. You can keep a chair under you to help yourself up at first.

      For the shoulder press, handstand pushups. These suffer the same problem for beginners – they can be incredibly hard to do even one.

  22. I think Yoga is very primal and I believe most of the postures were developed by mimicking animals and their movements and you cannot get any more primal than that.

    When I was younger I was a little overweight and had a pot belly even when I was thin. But after studying yoga at an ashram with the guy who wrote the Complete Illustrated Yoga book, I can’t remember his name, I became lean had a flat stomach and a beautiful figure, I never got that with diet and exercise. I think it was the combination of the postures, deep breathing and meditation at the end of the workout. I was so bad– I would go across the street to Pinks and have 2 chili dogs and an orange soda after the sessions but still managed to be fit and thin afterwards.

    Fast forward to now and I have paid for my past mistakes but in reference to the article I have realized that one of my legs is a little longer than the other one. Because of my bone loss due to my kidney disease it feels as if it is getting more pronounced and I have balance issues and a lot of pain on the right side of my body. I am stretching and attempting to strengthen my quads and hamstrings and I hope by losing a lot of weight it won’t make my balance and pain issues worse.

    1. For me I don’t think Yoga is all that.

      For one I think yoga, like ballet or body building, has a select body type that does well in that discipline. If you look at the Yoga magazines all the people on the cover have the same body type. Yoga is selective to that body type it won’t give you that look.

      For second when will I be in a situation when being on my elbows with my butt over my head holding my own feet will be benificial?

      I know that’s not the whole point but I just don’t get it.

  23. just posted the same sentiment on mark’s bodyweight post… yoga is amazing! my arms are so toned and muscular since i began practicing it regularly. obviously, it depends on the type you do. i do power/vinyasa yoga, which is a faster type of yoga based on non-stop, flowing movements. however, the movements require strength, agility, flexibility and balance. why use weights and all kinds of equipment when you can just work with the weight of your own body? then again, it’s not my goal to resemble a huge body builder…

  24. I think that to ressemble a real primal lifestyle, you need to work with a combo (bodyweight along with resistance such as sandbags, logs…etc) Grok would of carried pieces of meat long with logs, branches back to camp!

  25. All in all I think your site is GREAT and love your book(I give it out my clients) I would like to point out couples of issues I have w/ machine/”isolation” and motor learning. Weight training is general, will make you beter in any activity. Squating is not going to make you better at lifting logs or any other activity but squating as far as motor skill is concerned. Leg ext. curl and hip and back machines would do a better job at deveoping these “squating” muscles for they are direct resistence to these groups. The skill of lifting something is the relm of motor learning. law. Strength is strength, if it comes from squats or direct exercise of the legs, butt, and back. But direct exercise will always develop those targeted muscles better for lack of a weak link, i.e., squating your low back is the limiting factor. Chris.

  26. It doesn’t follow that simply because you train particular muscles in isolation (which isn’t even possible with some muscles, even on the best designed machines, so much of this post is attacking a straw man), you’re neglecting others. No serious weight lifting advocate, and admittedly there aren’t very many of them, advocates training just some muscles and not all muscles.

    The idea that in real life you’re only as good as your weakest muscle involved in the motion you’re doing is true, but that doesn’t prove that training on machines is inferior. If anything, it supports it. Because machines allow a greater degree of (or complete) isolation, certain weaker muscles can be improved while not also engaging (but not improving if they’re already reached genetic potential) the stronger, cooperative (in a real life motion) muscles. This will “close the gap”, and thus make doing the motion easier and more smooth.

    Of course it’s ridiculous to train stronger muscles and neglect weaker muscles, but weight training per se doesn’t do that. The fact is that the only way muscles actually grow (ie: get stronger) is if they’re subjected to a level of force greater than what they can currently handle. In other words, if they’re exhausted. This is what induces the adaptive response. That’s what all that soreness and twitching you feel is days after a truly productive workout.

    If all you’re doing is “real world” exercises, and if you happen to have certain muscles involved in the movements which are further away from their full genetic potential than others are, you’re actually never going to decrease that gap because you’ll never be engaging that muscle long enough to exhaust it. Instead, the stronger, more (or completely) developed muscles will take over prematurely. I don’t know if that’s a physiological or a neurological issue (ie: the degree of precise motor control required to isolate a specific muscle without the physical restraints the design of a machine offer is beyond conscious human capacity), but either way, it’s what happens.

  27. To Indiscreet!

    If you happen to read this can you please provide an example of some of the specific exercises you are performing for your hip/back issue you have developed through a life of sitting! I as im sure with many other people here are dealing with the same issues…


  28. Another beautifully timed article, Mark.

    I had just noticed some muscle imbalances in my body, but they are mainly left/right imbalances. For example my right bicep is 1.5cm bigger than my left and my right pectoral appears bigger than my left as well. I put this down to my previous job as a bricklayer (Long hours holding a trowel full of cement).

    How would I go about evening these muscles up, extra set just on the lagging muscle?

    I perform all my exercises with barbells so it’s not like I’m favoring my right side with extra sets of dumbbell curls. Although perhaps I can add a set of dumbbell curls on my lagging side after my regular barbell curls.

    Ideas? Thoughts?

  29. Mark,

    I’m entertained by the fact that while I completely disagree with this “Grok” stuff (ever heard of paleofantasies?), I totally DIG what you’re saying about strength-training. Seriously. Compound exercise are where it’s at, and I’m saying this as someone who’s suffering a muscle-imbalance injury in the past. It’s my understanding that compound lifts also result in greater amounts of testosterone and, therefore, more anabolism.

    Chin-ups (and pull-ups) are among my favorite upper-body workouts, and I favor push-ups over bench press any day because you recruit more motor units (particularly in your core) doing a push-up. I’ll admit to doing some of the free-standing quad presses you’re talking about, but I balance it out with deeper deadlifts and power cleans. (The power clean is among my faves for its compound-ness—SO many joints involved!)

    Anyway, I just wanted to offer my applause. Great post!

  30. Hi – I too am curious about left/right side imbalances. I generally only use free weights as it seems that the machines don’t fit my smaller female frame well (5’1″). As I am also working on core and balance, I think the free weights are better for me.

    However, I have noticed in the last few weeks that my left side is feeling strained/tighter than the right side, and, being right-handed, wonder if I’m using the appropriate weight for my right arm but it’s too heavy for my left arm causing the left side to strain?

  31. I started strength training 2 years ago for basketball. I developed big toe pain right below the ball from sprinting so I got orthotics. They seemed to help at first but it kept recurring, so I went back to the chiropractor and got an X-ray, finding out I had scoliosis and leg length differences.

    I made the mistake of continuing to play basketball for about a year and I developed a significant strength imbalance between the hip adductors and hip abductors (abductors were overpowering). These imbalances were always there but sprinting with poor form made them worse.

    The symptoms of this were not only medial gluteus,hamstring, and gastrocnemius tightness, but a worsening of the toe pain, and eventually outer knee pain after running.

    I highly recommend anyone with less than great genetics (scoliosis and leg length discrepancies) to almost obsessively pay attention to what muscles you’re using during certain activities, and I wouldn’t recommend doing any high intensity exercising before talking to a physical therapist.
    If you can’t afford one (like me) you need to be all the more vigilant in becoming conscious of the imbalances you have.

    Core work I would say should be top priority for anyone with imbalances. I’ve been doing variations of the plank exercises, such as getting in the plank position and moving one leg forward, pausing and then returning it, then switch legs, etc. You’ll really feel it in your lower abs and that will do wonders for your posture.

    Another really important thing I never did before cork work that became easier after strengthening my lower abs, was engaging my spinal erectors and gluteus maximus during basically any activity.

    I’d highly recommend that if you have hip muscle imbalances (even if you don’t) to walk around more often barefoot or with FiveFingers on. It will force you to not only use your gluteus maximus, but you’ll more easily be tell if you’re overusing the outer or inner hips.

  32. I would strongly disagree with not doing isolated workouts. If you’re looking for maximum results per muscle group they need individual attention.

    With every muscle being strongly developed when you go and dead lift you will see the result, but you must work every group!

    There is no evidence to support claims against isolated workouts. Look at Arnold in his prime, he trained by doing a lot of isolated curls. YouTube his biceps workouts. Working the body as a whole will take much longer for results nit to mention you’re not 100% tearing your micro fibers in all muscles equally to isolated.

  33. Just coming through here and in response to Tony, I gotta say…first article is just meh. Second one, better presentation but extremely one sided view of the available research on the subject matter. On a side note, realize that both of these gentlemen are “putting down” one method to elevate their own insights and programs. Not the worst thing in the world, but just realize were they are coming from. Anyhow there are obviously “ranges” of normal variation, and you may be asymptomatic even to some degrees outside of those ranges depending on other lifestyle factors. For many pain relief once they seek care from say chiropractic occurs quite quickly. Structural rehab and corrective care is “next level” type of treatment. In other words is being asymptomatic good enough? Maybe, but if your looking to optimize performance or you look through life from the paradigm of wellness and prevention then you may want more. This is just one example of the other side of the coin in structural research….

    1. For anyone who might have some advice on muscle symmetry when the muscle imbalance is congenital (atrophy) – where the left and right side is not symmetric and a result from complications at birth (hydrocephalus). Can these muscles still be developed? Would such damage be permanent even if the muscles are strong and functioning well?


  34. Very late arriving at this post…sorry.
    Muscle balance is not just to do with appearance – excessive use of/focus on ‘mover’ muscles will lead to dysfunction of invisible ‘stabiliser’ muscles. This is the danger for posture. You can’t fix a postural problem by working on a muscle designed for movement – so your lower abdominals and lower gluteal muscles will help correct an excessive lordosis, not your hamstrings.
    Speaking from the innate bias of a Pilates teacher, it seems that CF are working on a similar principle to Pilates – a system of exercise to ready you for anything. The crucial difference is that Pilates emphasises CONTROL, sorely lacking in the CF video clips I’ve seen. Grok probably didn’t have to think about it, living as he did. With the disadvantages of 21st century living we won’t achieve efficient functional movement without exercise that strengthens with control.

  35. You really make it appear so easy with your presentation however I in finding this topic to be really one thing which I believe I might by no means understand. It seems too complicated and very wide for me. I’m looking forward in your subsequent post, I?ll try to get the dangle of it!

  36. I agree that imbalances occur with improper training methods, poor form and such. In my case, I’v practiced all the things that go into having a good body but one thing messes me up, curvature of the spine-I wouldn’t call it a humpback but it would be if it were much worse. When I”m ‘thin’ and in shape, my posture isn’t bad but, when I put on weight, my posture falls forward and so I slouch. Anyway, I also notice that my back makes me sort of twist if you will, one side slouches more than the other-if I”m concious of it-I can correct it but working out, I feel though that this has caused my right chest to lag behind my left. My upper righ pec is flat-as is the lower, but my left is perfect and I even have the left mid pec growing out where as the right mid pec is flat. It’s pretty fucked up and makes me lose interst furthering my training because I fear I’ll only make it worse. The only thing I can do is to be conscious and be careful not to make it worse and to lose the 100 fucking pounds I’v put on in the last 5 years of hell I’ve been through. I suspect that being leaner will make it less noticeable. But either way, it sucks being born this way and not having any say. Least I have a big penis though, that helps make up for some of the other short

  37. Great Post… Focusing on the postural alignment and symmetry will solve lot of life style related problems. Regular practitioners must read this article to reap maximum benefit

  38. my left hand is shorter than my right hand from the shoulder level itself. i noticed it after i had a broken ulna when i was 15 years old during a football match. after the plaster was cut, my hands were of uneven length and my left hand is not strong. still i am having difficulty with my left hand. i am not able to do push up. i cannot do pull up. i tried hard and now i can do only beginners push up only. is there any options for me to get my hands in even order again? now i am 27.

  39. For anyone who might have some advice on muscle symmetry when the muscle imbalance is congenital (atrophy) – where the left and right side is not symmetric and a result from complications at birth (hydrocephalus). Can these muscles still be developed? Would such damage be permanent even if the muscles are strong and functioning well?

  40. What about people who have knee and back problems. It’s hard to find exercises when they can’t do squats or lunges due to knee problems .

  41. Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon everyday.

    It’s always exciting to read through content from other authors
    and practice something from other websites.