Correcting Shoulder Muscle Imbalances

Correcting Shoulder Muscle Imbalances

(Last Updated On: April 18, 2019)

Correcting Shoulder Muscle ImbalancesThe main purpose of our new XTRAIN series is to help get you into the best shape of your life and to have fun while doing it, but we also want to help you to prevent injuries, improve posture, promote better overall health and correct muscle imbalances.

Muscle imbalances are common in most people, even in world-class athletes. The front of the legs (quadriceps) is quite often stronger than the back of the legs (hamstrings). In the back, the upper trapezius is usually stronger than the lower trapezius. Front delts are stronger than rear delts.

We usually favor working muscles we can see and that means we quite often overdevelop muscles on our front side. Our shoulders are a classic example of this. Your shoulder joint is probably the most versatile and heavily used joint in your body. No wonder that 30% of all strength training injuries happen to this joint.

Your Shoulder muscles can be divided into three groups:

1. Anterior Deltoid – located in the front of each shoulder
2. Lateral Deltoid – the middle part of your shoulder
3. Posterior Deltoid – Back part of your shoulder

Interestingly, a study that compared the shoulder strength of bodybuilders to sedentary people found that the bodybuilders had anterior deltoids (front) that were 500% stronger than people who didn’t work out. They also had lateral deltoids (middle) that were 300% stronger when compared to the sedentary group. But get this! The body builder’s posterior delts (back) were only 15% stronger!

Muscle imbalances between the front and rear delts can partly be explained by the over-emphasis of exercises that work the anterior delt and the lack of selecting exercises for the posterior delt. Pressing movements like bench presses and pushups are among the favorite and most used exercises by most people who work out, but as far as the shoulder muscles are concerned these exercises usually favor the anterior delts.

To really work the posterior delts you need to mainly select isolation exercises that specifically work this area of the shoulder. Many people just skip exercises for the rear delts because of time constraints and lack of interest in working such a small muscle they know little about.

Even people that workout a lot, like bodybuilders, and regularly perform exercises for the rear delts will tell you that the posterior delt is a very difficult muscle to work. You have to pay attention to strict form when working your rear delts so that other larger muscles don’t take over and power the movement. This is the reason why we just focus on rear delts as the only upper body muscle we work after training the lower body in several of the XTRAIN workouts. Just make sure you use a weight that is not too heavy.

So Why Should You Care About Your Rear Delts?

Most of us lead a lifestyle at work and home that is a lot more sedentary than our ancestors did. We spend a lot of our time slouching in our chair with our arms in front of us typing on our computer. This can lead to poor posture as our shoulders become acclimated to this poor posture position.

On the other hand, having well defined symmetrical shoulders not only looks good, but they will also help to reduce injuries, improve your posture and even make your waist look slimmer!

Modern workout trends like kettlebell workouts and metabolic training can contribute to shoulder imbalance problems because they use a lot of movements that put additional stress on the shoulder muscles and joints. Many of these movements place the greatest emphasis on the anterior delt. This can lead to an even greater muscle imbalance between the anterior and posterior delts and may also lead to an overuse shoulder injury.

The bench press and the shoulder press account for the highest percentage of injuries in strength training programs. Not surprisingly, both of these exercises involve the shoulder muscles. An injury to a shoulder joint can interrupt your training program for weeks and even months. All the more reason to make sure you XTRAIN and work on your shoulders muscles imbalances.

Deltoids  Training Tip

When you do a dumbbell lateral raise the more you lean forward the more emphasis you place on the back of your shoulder. A 10 – 20-degree tilt is a nice angle to work the area between the middle and rear delt. Also, make sure to turn your pinking upwards at the top of the movement like you’re pouring a picture of water to hit the rear delts just a little more.

Bend your body to 90 degrees and you’re mainly working your rear delts. And here is another important tip. If you can’t pause the weight at the top of the movement for a lateral raise or a rear delt and hold it  for at least the first few reps, then the weight is too heavy and chances are you’re using other larger muscles in the back to power the movement instead of the delt muscles you should be trying to work.



2009. J Strength Cond Res. 23(1): 148-57
The Strength Training Anatomy Workout II, Frederic Delavier and Michael Gundill


Related Articles By Cathe:

The Part of Your Shoulders You’re Probably Not Training Hard Enough

Building Strong and Beautiful Shoulders: is Your Shoulder Workout Balanced?

Are You Making These Mistakes When You Do Overhead Presses?

Rounded Shoulders? It’s Probably Weakness in These Two Muscles

Hunched Shoulders – What Causes Them and How to Correct Them?

The Best Exercises for Broader Shoulders

Narrow Shoulders? What’s the Best Training to Make Them Look More Defined?

Problems Caused by Rounded Shoulders and How to Correct Them

Common Shoulder Problems: Keeping Your Shoulders Healthy When You Lift Weights

Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs:

STS Strength 90 Day Workout Program

All of Cathe’s Strength & Toning Workout DVDs
Total Body Workouts
Upper Body Workouts

8 thoughts on “Correcting Shoulder Muscle Imbalances

  1. That last paragraph is interesting. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel the exertion in the proper muscle but more in the “traps” and neck and get neck pain or a headache after doing shoulder work…

  2. Many exercisers forget to focus on the shoulders and concentrate on the biceps and triceps instead. Another forgotten area is the rotator cuff. People don’t even know it exists until they get injured and have to start physical therapy. Rotator cuff injuries are very common and very painful. I remember Cathe had rotator cuff exercises in Slow and Heavy. I hope we get some rotator cuff action in Xtrain.

  3. One of the things you will see in XTRAIN is that we have included exercises for several muscles that are not normally worked, including the rotator cuff’s muscles.

  4. Those are great news. Thank you! I have been adding extra shoulder exercises to my routines due to a past injury. The rotator cuff plays such an important role in the shoulder that it can’t be left out when trying to correct shoulder imbalances. I often forget my rear delts as well and they are so weak in comparison to my other muscles. I placed my order for Xtrain last night and I’m happy to hear I won’t need to add extra exercises for areas like the rotator cuff and rear delts because they will be included in the series.

  5. Can you supply some sources for this statement?

    “Modern workout trends like kettle bell workouts and metabolic training can contribute to shoulder imbalance problems because they use a lot of movements that put additional stress on the shoulder muscles and joints.”

    Kettlebell training (using proper form and application) has actually been used in the rehabilitation of shoulder injuries and improving shoulder stability. Just Google the TGU or bottoms up press.

  6. Yes, kettlebells can be used for rehabilitation. Dumbbells, bands and exercise machines are also used to rehabilitate shoulders and other joints too. This article doesn’t state anything to the contrary. The point of the statement in the article is that the latest trends in working out, like metabolic training and kettlebells are placing additional stresses on that shoulder joints that were not common several years ago. Just holding on to a dumbbell or a kettlebell will put stress on your shoulder joint. When you raise, swing or press either a dumbbell or a kettlebell the shoulder joint and related muscles are always used. Since modern metabolic workouts use a lot of swings and presses to keep the heart rate up the shoulder joint comes under a lot more stress than when compared to traditional aerobics that don’t use weights. Proper form helps to prevent injuries, but it does not insure that you will not develop problems. All the more reason to make sure that you focus on correcting muscle imbalances in your shoulder.

    No two people are built exactly the same and what may be good form for one may not be good form for another. Anatomical differences like the width of your clavical or the length of the forearm can change how you should do an exercise. The thicker you supraspinatus tendon the more likely it will rub on your acromion causing shoulder pain during some exercises. This is why in a dumbbell shoulder press with you elbows pointing out some people will experience pain in their shoulders even using perfect form. But by bringing their elbows so they point forward they put less stress on their supraspinatus and can often do the exercise without pain.

    This article does not knock kettlebell training or any other type of training. The articles purpose is to make you aware of the vulnerability and muscle imbalances of your shoulder joint so that you can take steps to correct these imbalances. This will help you to avoid training injuries and to get more out of your workouts no matter whether it be kettlebells, dumbbells, bands, machines or a barbell workout.

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