Fix Muscle Imbalances and Tone Your Whole Body
Image: Randi Berez
Nearly every major muscle in your body has a corresponding muscle group that carries out the opposite function. Take your biceps and triceps: Their even matchup lets you bend and straighten your elbow without any thought. That's how it should work, at least.
Unfortunately, everyday habits (like sitting at a desk), repetitive workouts (say, that marathon you're training for or your three-times-a-week spin class), and even your wardrobe (those skyscraper heels) threaten these partnerships.
The result: One of the muscles becomes stronger and overpowers the other, a common condition known as muscular imbalance.
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Like any team, when there's a weak link, others have to compensate. "The danger of muscular imbalances is that they alter your natural movement patterns," says Karen Joseph, owner of Fountain of Fitness in Valrico, Florida. "Over time, they can pull bones and joints out of alignment, which often leads to pain and injury." (Search: Injuries caused by muscle imbalances)
They can also worsen poor posture and wreak havoc on your figure, says New York City-based personal trainer Melissa Paris. (Tight hip flexors, for example, can tilt your hips forward and give the look of a stomach pooch.) Correcting them, she adds, helps elongate your silhouette and--even better--can make you look five pounds lighter.
Back in the day, the fix seemed simple: Isolate the pair and strengthen the weak muscle while leaving the other one alone. Experts now say it's far more complex. "Regional interdependence--how the position of one body part affects all others--demands that if one area of the body is out of balance, so is the rest of the body," says Indianapolis-based physical therapist Bill Hartman.
That's because muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones are all connected through an intricate system--known by trainers and doctors as the kinetic chain. When one piece of the puzzle is off, it starts a chain reaction through the rest of your body. So your back pain could actually stem from a problem with your shoulder, your knee, or even your shin.
That said, knowing what imbalances you may have can help you ID what's causing your pain, says Jordan Metzl, M.D., author of The Athlete's Book of Home Remedies. "Even better, spotting them early can mean preventing future injuries." Take these self-tests, which focus on four common female imbalances. If an area is out of whack, work our fix into your total-body routine at least three times a week.
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