When you put together your workout plan to strengthen your body, there’s one thing that should be front and center, irrespective of your goals: balanced training. Many people overlook this crucial component of fitness and pay for it with an injury or unbalanced strength gains.
What does it mean to train in a balanced manner? It means working all muscle groups evenly, including those in the anterior and posterior chains. For a balanced workout, you show all muscles and movement patterns similar love and attention, unless you already have a strength imbalance you’re trying to correct and are focusing on the underdeveloped muscles. A balanced workout plan targets all of your muscles equally and helps you avoid injury.
Why is unequal muscle development a problem? Muscles come in two “flavors:” agonists and antagonists. Agonists are muscles that contract to perform a certain movement, while antagonists are the opposing muscles that relax to allow that movement to take place.
Working agonists more than the antagonists can lead to strength imbalances but also physique imbalances. Do you want a well-developed front side but a weak and flabby backside? Yet it’s more than an aesthetic issue. Muscle imbalances also increase the risk of injury and make you less functional. Poor functionality makes you less efficient with your movements.
Train for Functionality
When you train in a balanced manner with functionality in mind, you can easily do those everyday movements with ease, such as pivoting your body, lifting objects safely, or carrying a heavy item up a flight of stairs.
How do muscle imbalances create problems? When one muscle group is stronger than opposing muscles, the stronger ones must work harder to compensate for the weaker ones. The better-developed muscles have to take up the slack. Even if they can do that, forcing them to work harder increases the risk of overuse injury. It’s one reason people develop muscle strains.
What Does It Mean to Balance Your Training?
You can lower your risk of physique asymmetry and overuse injuries by striking a balance with your workouts. You might enjoy working your pectoral muscles, biceps, quadriceps, and other muscles in the front of your upper body. Yet you must also devote as much attention to the muscles in the posterior chain, such as your back muscles and glutes, and hamstrings. Strengthening these muscle groups is essential for optimal athletic performance, injury prevention, and overall health.
Why Are Muscle Imbalances So Common?
Desk jobs are a common cause of muscle imbalances. Thanks to the time people spend sitting in a chair, they often have a weak posterior chain and tight hip flexors, the muscles that help you bend forward at the waist and raise your knees. Sitting causes your muscles that flex the hips to shorten while the opposing muscles, the glutes in the back, and the hamstrings that lift your leg behind you, lengthen and weaken.
To make the problem worse, most people train the vanity muscles, the ones they can see when they look in the mirror, more than the muscles in the back. The neglected muscles are those that make up the posterior chain. That’s why most guys and gals need to work on strengthening their hamstrings, glutes, and back muscles more to even things up with the muscles in the anterior chain muscles, those in the front.
Strengthen Your Posterior Chain
Many of the exercises people do for their lower body, like squats, emphasize the quadriceps, the muscles in the front of the thighs more than the hamstrings in the back. However, you need strong hamstrings to protect your lower back and prevent injury. That’s why most folks also need targeted exercises for their glutes and hamstrings, like glute bridges, hip thrusts, step-up exercises, and cardio that engages the posterior chain, such as sprints. Don’t rely solely on the big compound movements, like squats and deadlifts, for your posterior chain. Unless you include focused glute exercises, like hip thrusts, you won’t maximize glute gains.
Strengthening your posterior chain and correcting muscle imbalances between the front and the back will also improve your athletic performance. If you play any kind of sport, you need strong glutes and hamstrings to propel yourself forward and to jump. You use these skills when you sprint and when you leap into the air when you play volleyball or basketball.
There’s another benefit of training in a balanced manner. A balanced strength-training routine ensures you’re not just working major muscle groups, but also addressing the smaller muscles that often get neglected. These smaller muscles have a role to play too; they stabilize your body when you work the major muscle groups. So, make sure you’re moving, strengthening, and stretching your muscles from different angles to reduce the risk of muscle imbalances.
The Bottom Line
When developing a workout plan for the body, keep balance in mind for symmetry, functionality, and a lower risk of injury. Many people neglect this vital element, but the truth is that to achieve functional fitness, you must train all muscle groups in a balanced way to optimize your results. Even things up by working your anterior and posterior chain equally so all your muscles get the training they need.
Professional athletes understand how important a balanced training routine is. To get in the best shape possible, you should too. After all, you want results, not injuries. So, make sure you’re training smartly and giving the muscles in the back of your body as much focus as those you can see from the front. You’ll be glad when you look in the mirror and when you do your daily activities with greater efficiency.
- Stack.com. “You’re Probably Neglecting Your Posterior Chain. Here’s How to Train It”
- WebMD.com. ‘Plyometrics”
- “The Push and Pull of Balanced Strength Training.” https://cooperaerobics.com/Health-Tips/Fitness-Files/The-Push-and-Pull-of-Balanced-Strength-Training.aspx.
- “Fitness training: Elements of a well-rounded routine ….” 22 Sept. 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/fitness-training/art-20044792.
- “The Posterior-chain Workout – ACE.” https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5012/the-posterior-chain-workout/.
- “The effects of agonist and antagonist muscle activation on ….” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19471955/.
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