Muscular Imbalances – Part I

The following article appeared in the February 1997 issue of Clean Power:

As powerlifters, we utilize our neuromuscloskeletal systems to the maximum every time we step out onto the platform. However, due to varying types of programs and ways of training, we arrive at that platform with different strengths, possible injuries or nagging problems, and achieve different outcomes. One of the questions I get asked a lot of is how to take care of tendonitis or a nagging and prolonging muscle problem. There are several reasons why these occur. In the next few articles, I will discuss how these problems develop and how to prevent these problems from occurring and what to do when they do occur. One of the major reasons these problems occur is due to muscular imbalance. What I mean by this is that various muscle groups are out of balance to one another. Muscular imbalance refers to not only length of muscle, etc. but also relative strength to one another. For example, take the shoulder complex. We have many muscles that surround the shoulder and allow it to do the actions it needs to. How many of us have seen the “benchers” that walk around with their shoulders and chest rounded forward with their arms internally rotated (turned in) at their sides, yet exhibiting huge pectorals and anterior deltoids? This is what I am talking about in regards to muscle imbalance. These “benchers” would still be able to bench what they were doing and more if their shoulders were back and not rounded. What caused this forward translation of the shoulders/chest area? By developing the pectoral (major and minor), anterior deltoid, latissimus dorsi (lats) muscles to such a strong degree, they caused the forward translation of the shoulders/chest area. These muscles (except the pec minor) are all internal rotators of the shoulder. By making them so strong, they naturally rotate the shoulders in. These athletes have neglected to train the upper and middle back muscles that help keep the shoulders and chest back. These would be the scapula (shoulder blade) retractors, such as middle trapezius and rhomboids, the humerus (upper arm bone) extensors, such as rear deltoid, infraspinatus, teres minor, triceps long head, and the humerus external rotators, such as infraspinatus, teres minor, rear deltoid. These muscles need to be trained as hard as the pecs and ant. delts. If they are not, the athlete will develop a muscular imbalance in the shoulder complex that can lead to:

  • tendonitis/myofascitis of the rotator cuff
  • forward translation of the shoulders/chest area that can predispose an athlete to early degeneration (wear & tear – arthritis) of the shoulder joint
  • cervical and thoracic dysfunction’s
  • periphiral (outside the spinal cord) nerve entrapments of the brachial plexus
  • even set up the athlete for a shoulder dislocation (because of the forward translation) should the appropriate force be applied to the shoulder joint.

It is extremely important to develop not only the prime movers of a lift, but the antagonist muscles as well. The antagonist muscles are those that oppose the action of the agonist. For example, the triceps and biceps are antagonists to each other, they do opposite actions. During a tricep pushdown, the tricep is the agonist and the bicep is the antagonist. I will continue this discussion of how to take care of tendonitis or a nagging and prolonging muscle problem in the next article. I will discuss treatment options for muscle imbalances and overtraining and how it affects the neuromuscloskeletal system.

Please send your questions for the Sports Medicine Committee to:

Dr. Michael Hartle
3835 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Ft. Wayne, IN, 46804.

If you would like a personal response, please send a SASE with $2.00 to cover additional postage and other expenses. I also welcome your comments on the committee/column.