Do you have a muscle imbalance with one arm or leg that is weaker than the other?
The reality is, we all have muscle imbalances. Some are more pronounced than others. Luckily, there are a few different tactics we can implement to fix this muscle imbalance.
But before we get into some of the protocols…
Assessing The Why: Why Do You Have A Muscle Imbalance?
We must be very cerebral with the way we assess our movement.
Oftentimes, the muscle imbalance (weaker limb) will feel uncoordinated and awkward, and there will be poor mind-muscle connection.
If this is the case, we want to try to figure out WHY. Is there something that you are doing differently on that side? Before we worry about trying techniques (such as adding volume) to even things out, you must first do everything you can to try to increase this balance.
If you are performing a movement differently on your weak side, adding more volume will just exacerbate that problem. It will make it worse over time by strengthening the “wrong” muscles in the movement pattern (i.e. your body will just get better at working around the imbalance).
One of the best tools you can use to assess your movement is to film yourself doing tough reps on both limbs. In many cases, you will notice inconsistent positioning and/or execution from one limb to the other.
This technique is best used by novice or intermediate trainees. Advanced trainees in the earlier phases of the training block (i.e. weeks 1-3, before we ramp up effort) may also be able to utilize this.
Also, note that it should be used only on the FINAL SET of the exercise.
Perform the designated “reps from failure” on the weaker side. This is ubiquitous across all sets in the protocol (not just the final set). Doing the weaker side first is key to this approach.
Then, whatever reps you achieved on the weaker side, match the same number of reps on the strong side (even if it’s easier). Make sure to rest for optimal performance. There is no benefit in rushing rest periods (especially before doing the weaker side).
After the FINAL SET with the strong side, rest briefly, then return to the weak side and aim to complete an additional tough set.
The one limitation (and criticism) of the above approach is that it could psychologically limit the potential output of the weak side. Essentially, by doing it first, it doesn’t have the “pressure” of trying to match the strong side.
You *may* realize you’re capable of more than you think if you have a higher number that you have to hit. Enter Technique #2…
This technique uses a more advanced protocol, and thus would be best used toward the end of the training block (weeks 4-6) when we tend to emphasize harder efforts that are closer to failure.
Note that this protocol ONLY works on movements that are short-overloaded (i.e. hardest at the contracted position). It would be a poor choice for single-leg movements, such as RDL or split squats. Learn about the differences between short and lengthened overload here. You can also learn about why these differences matter.
Perform the designated “reps from failure” on the strong side first.
Then, match reps on the WEAK side. This will *usually* mean achieving as many FULL RANGE OF MOTION reps as possible, then completing the necessary number of “partial reps” to match the strong side. Here’s more on partial reps (:
***In the case that the “reps from failure” for the strong side are listed as ~1-2 reps from failure, you may find that you can match reps by going closer to failure on the weak side and may not need to add partial reps, yet. But in subsequent weeks, as the strong side works to failure, you will certainly need to implement the partial reps to match reps appropriately.
This protocol can be implemented on ALL SETS, as opposed to just the final set.
Don’t Worry, It’s Normal
Remember that muscle imbalance and disparity between limbs is normal. Through proper focus, use of video, diagnosis, and increased movement execution over time, you will be working closer to being more balanced and symmetrical!
If you’re struggling to gain muscle, improve your physique, and/or achieve your goals, you should slide to our Paragon Training Methods Programs page and give our workouts a try.
@bryanboorstein, our Paragon Programming Expert, has been training for *25* years. Bryan’s passion for workouts, lifting, and research studies is unmatched and our workouts really are something special. We’ve changed thousands of lives around the globe – we’d love to change yours.