Gaspari Nutrition

Ron Harris


Reunions, reflections, and fixing muscle imbalances
11/25/2012

Friday night was my 25th high school reunion, and as usual; events like this got me thinking about how much things have changed since then.

Since this blog is about bodybuilding, I will try to focus on that aspect. When I was in high school, lifting weights was all about building a suit of armor and transforming myself. I always say that there are two types of guys who get into bodybuilding. Some are simply athletes who fall into it once their team sports days are over, mainly because they have a natural ability and good genetics for it. They are by far the minority, I would guess they make up ten percent of bodybuilders at the very most.

The rest of us got into bodybuilding out of some deep-seated insecurities. I don't even need to sit down with a therapist to figure out what mine were. I was always one of the shortest, skinniest, and least athletic kids in my grade from kindergarten on. My talents were clearly not physical in nature. God gave me above average intelligence, creativity and wit, and talents in art and writing, but He did not see fit to grant me anything in the physical sense aside from my health and a lack of deformities.

The world of kids is like a Bizarro version of adult life. When we grow up and enter the 'real world,' attributes like brains and creativity can set you apart and contribute to success on many levels, financially being just one. But as kids, you live in a Stone Age version of reality where physical prowess, athletic ability, and good looks are all that matter. And so it was that I started lifting weights at age 14 with two main goals: to get noticed by girls, and to get respect from the other boys. I was invisible to girls, and a target for bullies. More than anything else, I wanted to change those two things.

As the years went by, my confidence grew along with my body. I married a beautiful woman and became a father, and slowly that chip began to slide off my shoulder. Training was no longer done with the 'I'll show you!' attitude of a bitter kid out for some sort of stupid revenge against imagined slights and injustices. It became my passion, my escape, my meditation, and a very real way of improving myself every day. My self-esteem was bolstered, and eventually I came to peace with who I was and the life I was living. I let go of a lot of the ridiculous ways of thinking that had made it difficult for me to have any happiness. To do that, I had to let go of idiotic grudges and bitter feelings I had about the days of my youth. I also accepted that high school wasn't as bad as I had sometimes made it out to be, not by a long shot. We were all just kids struggling to figure out who we were and what our place in the world was going to be. Some of us were more popular or had better luck with the ladies, but what does that matter a quarter-century later? In the grand scheme of our lives, high school is just a footnote.

When I walked into my 25th high school reunion, I was genuinely happy to see everybody in that room. It was a large graduating class of well over 500 kids, so I didn't know everybody that well. And truth be told, there were plenty of people I did know who I wish had shown up, but didn't for whatever reasons. But it was still such a blessing to be able to see all these 'kids' I had gone to school with way back in the 80's, all grown up and most with kids of their own now. We have all done a lot of living since 1987, and I bet everyone in that room had experienced countless ups and downs in that time, triumphs and tragedies. I know I sure have. I just feel grateful to be alive and healthy, to have some small measure of success, and to have a wonderful family. I appreciate being able to see all my old classmates, each on his or own journey in life. I have no animosity toward any of them for any slights or mistreatments real or imagined, and I hope none are harbored toward me either. None of us are those kids from 1987 anymore.

Now, because I should include some info you can use after making you read all that sappy, sentimental, nostalgic crap; here is a question I get all the time about muscle imbalances.

Q.

I am planning on getting back into weightlifting fairly seriously and I have one problem. My left pec seems much more developed and filled-out than my right pec. I have a feeling that I favor my left side more than my right when working my chest. This could be due to a shoulder injury I had during football a few years ago to my right shoulder. My shoulder is fine now but I feel I may have developed bad habits during that time favoring my left. Are there any exercises that I could do that would just favor one side of my chest to make up for the imbalance?

A.

If it makes you feel any better, and it should, your problem is remarkably common. You wouldn’t believe how many guys write to me about some type of uneven development, and in many cases there isn’t even a past injury to point the finger of blame at. I can also assure you that in most cases, the imbalance isn’t even noticeable to other people. But you should know that we bodybuilders are usually are own worst critics. We spend so much time studying and scrutinizing our physiques in the mirror that we often obsess over flaws so minor that you would have to point them out to others in most cases for them to even be able to see them. But I’m not trying to blow you off here with a ‘don’t worry about it’ type of response. Clearly you are worried about it or you wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of contacting me in the first place. I don’t think your problem will be too difficult to fix. What you must do immediately is to cease performing all movements for the chest where your arms are both working together at the same time. This includes barbells and any type of machine that doesn’t permit independent motion of the arms. With barbells in particular, it’s very easy to favor your stronger side and use it to take up the slack of the weaker side. A person that uses mainly barbells could go for years with a fairly significant strength imbalance between the left and right side and never even realize it. Most of the time, the resulting imbalance in size isn’t enough to notice, so it never becomes an issue. What you should do right away is to switch to using dumbbells and machines that allow each arm to move independently, such as the Hammer Strength isolateral pieces. Dumbbells are often a rude awakening for those that have used primarily barbells for years, as they often discover just how much stronger they are on one side than the other. The good news is that it doesn’t take too long for the weaker side to catch up. In your case, I would do two sets using only the right side, then two additional sets using both arms. That way, the weaker side gets to be worked ‘fresh’ on each exercise and is pre-exhausted before moving on to two more sets where it is worked in conjunction with the stronger side. By following this pattern throughout your entire chest workout, the weaker side is forced to work much harder than it ever has. The stronger side will basically be maintaining while the weaker side grows. This strategy should be followed until the time comes when your pectoral development has evened out to your satisfaction, at which time you may consider integrating barbell movements back into your program. Until then, try alternating these workouts:

Workout A

Incline dumbbell press Right side 2 sets 8-12 reps

Both sides 2 sets 8-12 reps

Flye machine Right side 2 sets 8-12 reps

Both sides 2 sets 8-12 reps

Flat Hammer Strength Iso-lateral press Right side 2 sets 8-12 reps

Both sides 2 sets 8-12 reps

Workout B

Flat dumbbell press Right side 2 sets 8-12 reps

Both sides 2 sets 8-12 reps

Incline dumbbell flye Right side 2 sets 8-12 reps

Both sides 2 sets 8-12 reps

Incline Hammer Strength Iso-lateral press Right side 2 sets 8-12 reps

Both sides 2 sets 8-12 reps

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