Monday, November 12, 2012

Muscle Imbalance

Muscle Imbalance - I know I've written about this before but sometimes it seems like things don't really sink into my head until after I've heard it and read about it and experienced it multiple times.

I went for an hour-long run on Saturday and had a bit of time to kill while I was waiting for Erik so I went into the gym and did a little core and leg work.  Now, I'm not stupid. I know if I haven't done something for a long time, I need to take it easy, no matter how I feel while I'm doing it. So I did take it easy.

I did 2 sets of single-leg press, 1 set of step ups, 1 set of walking lunges, a single 30 second back bridge and plank, some crunches and some stretching.  That's it. Seems reasonable doesn't it?

Um, no.  I guess not.  On Sunday, I could barely walk - my legs felt like I'd run a marathon. WTF? Seriously?? I guess I need to start with 2-5 walking lunges instead of 15? Argh.

I think the first inkling that I might be in trouble was during the stretching after I did the lunges - I was feeling twinges and twangs every time I moved my legs - especially the adductors that run down the insides of the thighs.

Now, I do know I have a muscle imbalance - not only left vs right, but also my weak gluteus medius and hip flexors sometimes cause tight ITB and shin pain, respectively.

This site has a really good chart that shows the opposing muscle groups and how they affect one another if one is weak and the other tight.

" ...‘muscle imbalance’ occurs when opposing muscles provide different directions of tension due to tightness and/or weakness."

 So I pulled out my books and started surfing the net to find out good exercises to work the glute med and other related muscles.

This led me to some sites that discussed muscle imbalance, which led me to sites that discussed diagnosing and treating muscle imbalances. Along the way, I found lots of sites that had some good info and suggested exercises.

Here are some of the sites, in no particular order.

After perusing these (and other) sites, I was eventually led back to my book, Core Performance Endurance, by Mark Verstegen.

It has been awhile since I cracked this book open.  As much as I liked it, and the website,  I found it complicated and a little confusing.  I prefer plans that are a quick read and easy to follow.

However, it does have some good sections.  First off - it shows a couple of quick tests you can do at home to check for muscle imbalance.

1. Stand in front of a mirror with good posture. Now lift your right leg, knee bent, so it forms a 90 degree angle, and keep your foot flexed.  Hold that pose for one minute.

* Look to see if your hips are level, or if the left hip is jutting out to compensate for the right leg being lifted.

* Is your right shin straight up and down?

* Is your upper quad parallel to the ground?

* Is your "down" leg straight, foot planted flat, and rolled in toward the arch?

* Is your raised foot, parallel to the ground with toes pointing up, not down?

* Can you maintain a straight line from your nose, down through your chest, belly button, inseam?

* Can you hold this position comfortably, without fatigue for a full minute?

2. Try the same thing with the left leg.  

You should be able to hold that position, equally with both legs. In my case, my right leg is stronger than my left.

If you are dropping one hip to compensate for the raised knee, you have weak core stability.

3. To really see this weakness, try a one-legged squat.  In particular, watch that you are keeping your hips level.

When I do a one-legged squat, not only is my hip jutting out to compensate, I can barely drop down any distance.

Another important thing to watch for in the squat, is that you knee isn't bending inwards. One of the video links above, discusses this in more detail.

Naturally, the book goes into a lot more detail about what to look for, and explanations as to why it's happening. 

They have some information on their website on how to correct a muscle imbalance.


Next, the book has a specific plan to follow. It's way too complicated to post here but I will briefly describe the "parts."

First of all, there are two levels, each with 3 stages (which I guess you could call 6 levels in total). The examples I will give you are all Level One, Stage A.

There are 3 types of workout days - Power, Strength, and Regeneration days.

Power and Strength days both start with a 7 minute warm up called "Movement Prep" which is meant to activate your muscles and get them firing before you start your workout.


Power days have 3 parts, taking a total of 30 minutes plus your intended S, B, or R workout (they recommend 18-26 minutes).

7 min - Movement Prep (as described above)

10 min - Prehab - 5 exercises that target hips, torso, shoulders (strengthen and stabilize)

12 min - Elasticity - 2 X 3 exercises (train your body to be reactive, "springy")

Then your cardio workout - most likely a swim, bike, or run.

They call cardio - ESD - Energy System Development.  It doesn't seem to matter what you do, but the plan gives you a suggested interval workout based on your heart rate.

On a Power Day, the ESD workout would be 18-26 minutes with a 5 minute warm up and cool down then 30 second intervals at 80-90% of max HR, with 90 second easy active recovery between. You start with 4 intervals and build to 8.  Again, this could be done with any cardio activity.


Strength Days have 3 parts, taking a total of 27 minutes plus the ESD (21-37 min)

7 min - Movement Prep

21-37 min -  ESD - This time you go straight to your cardio workout (SBR or ?). A 5 min warm up and cool down, then 3 minute intervals at a moderate pace (65-75% of max HR) with 5 min active recoveries. You start with 2 intervals in Stage A, and move to 4 in Stage C.

20 min - Strength Circuit - a variety of strength exercises mostly using hand weights of bands etc. Stuff you can do at home.


Regeneration Days have 2 parts, with the time varying, plus your ESD (20-40 min)

General Self Regeneration - a variety of targetted exercises depending on your needs - trigger point with tennis ball, foam roller, flexibility (stretching).

Self massage - again using the tennis ball or foam roller

20 - 40 min - ESD - this is meant to flush out your system after the workout. You should do 5 min of Movement Prep first, then 20-40 minutes of light intensity exercise (60-65% of Max HR)


So that's a brief overview of the program - there are many pages of explanations, information, descriptions, suggestions for adaptation and scheduling, and colour photos of all the exercises.

I guess I'll try it. Can't hurt, right?


Torn Hamstring said...

Great article on muscle imbalance. I have had a number of issues with this muscle imbalance. It really is a very common problem. I think another key is developing the 'inner core' to help stabilize the back and hip muscles.

Patrick Mahoney said...

Core, core, core, core and then some more core. Plus stretching and foam rolling. And this is where gym work and yoga really helps an endurance athlete.

But what's funny is I rarely met anyone who would prescribe to this. Either they didn't agree or just didn't have the time. I get the latter but not the former.

It wasn't until I started using a coach that came from elite track cycling that I was finally able to embrace my inner gym rat.

jimmy jam said...

They call cardio - ESD - Energy System Development. It doesn't seem to matter what you do, but the plan gives you a suggested interval workout based on your heart rate. library of information