Muscle Imbalance

What it is & how to fix it
By Joel Harper

Do you have knee, hip, back, shoulder, and/or ankle discomfort? If so, you may have a muscular imbalance. New clients are sent to me all the time with some sort of ailment, and they want to be cured without going under the knife. I don’t blame them—and most of them don’t need surgery. Often their discomfort is just a symptom of their underlying muscular imbalance. My goal is to get to the root of the problem and fix it.


One-sided activities. A good example of this would be a pitcher in baseball who uses one side of his body very differently than the other. Or you may simply sit crooked all day at your desk, leaning toward one side more than the other. Your body is not designed to do this for long periods of time—it can cause you to be extremely out of alignment.

Sleeping on one side all night without rotating sides. This causes one shoulder and the same side hip to be consistently compressed while the other side is left open. If you do this hour after hour it will cause a serious imbalance in the neck and back.

One leg longer than the other. This will lift one hip, causing it to carry more tension and, in turn, possibly throwing your back out of alignment.

One muscle stronger than the opposing muscle. A lot of people work their abs more than their lower back. You can’t have a strong core without strengthening your back. They work as a team. Working them equally is much better for your posture and helps prevent injury.

Overuse or repetitious movements. Tennis players do the same movements over and over, usually from their stronger arm. This will cause the same muscle to be worked to its fullest and could build tension, causing problems with the elbow as well as a long list of other potential issues.

Not working muscles equally and from different angles when you exercise. With every client I focus on working the muscles equally and from different angles. It is difficult at times, because everyone I train has body parts that they want to work on more than others. But, when you do this properly, it creates a well-balanced and efficiently functioning body. If you happen to ever be in an accident it causes less impact because you are more centered.

Not stretching properly. I see people doing stretches wrong all the time. This can cause minor tears and pulls and aggravate your muscles and joints.


Listen to your body. If a particular spot is aggravating you, that is your cue that something is wrong. Find the cause and fix it—usually it is a knot that is causing the irritation.

Find your weak muscles. Exercise them from every angle. Your muscles need to be moved from every single side.

Do imbalanced exercises. Go right arm to left leg. This will help strengthen your stabilizing muscles and improve your balance.

Exercise, then stretch. I am a big believer in proper stretching immediately following each exercise to create long, lean muscles.

Be a stickler for form. Don’t get sloppy when you are in a hurry—that is how you can get hurt. Make sure you are exercising correctly.

Pull your feet back flat when stretching your calves. Make 100 percent sure that when you pull your toes back it is flat and equally across your foot. To make sure you are doing this correctly, put the soles of your feet against a wall. This will stretch your muscles out equally on both sides of your Achilles and calves.

Always use the opposite hand. Whenever you are doing a one-legged stretch, always use the opposite hand to pull your toe back.

Be proactive. Properly train injured areas often to prevent issues down the road.

My goal is for you to be flexible, strong, and balanced. This way you can use your muscles efficiently and never get injured.


Joel Harper is a personal trainer in New York City working with everyone from Dr. Oz and Olympic medalists to 10-year-olds just getting started. He created the best-selling YOU: book series and the popular Fit Pack DVD. Visit him online at