Eliminate Muscle Imbalances to Improve Performance and Stay Injury-Free

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Julius Peppers Band Pull-Apart

You can strength train all you want to get strong and big. But if your body doesn't have balanced strength, you are putting yourself at risk for injury.

Balanced strength refers to equal strength on the left/right and front/back sides of your body. For example, if your hamstrings are weak in comparison to your quads, you are at an increased risk for an ACL injury, because your quad exerts too much force on the ligament. The same is true throughout the body.

To stay injury-free, you need to perform specific exercises that improve balance in certain muscle groups. Below, I outline four exercises that will help improve common muscular imbalances in athletes.

Band Pull-Apart
The Band Pull-Apart is an excellent exercise to strengthen the upper back and scapula retractors. Many athletes have rounded shoulders because they have a tight chest from performing too many pressing exercises. Also, sitting in a classroom or office with a hunched back can contribute to rounded shoulders. The result is a tight mid-back with little mobility, causing major muscle imbalances that put stress on your back and shoulders. Perform the Band Pull-Apart during your warm-up to correct this imbalance.

  • Assume athletic stance with arms extended in front of chest, holding mini band with slightly-wider-than-shoulder-width grip
  • Pinch shoulder blades together and pull band apart until band touches chest; hold for one second
  • Slowly bring arms to start position
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 4x25

Reverse Lunges
Most sports are played on one leg. The problem is that your favored leg probably develops more strength and coordination. If you go to cut or land from a jump on your less favored leg, it might not respond as expected, leading to potential injury. Single-leg exercises like Reverse Lunges help overcome this problem, while also increasing overall lower-body strength and stability.

  • Assume athletic stance holding dumbbell in front and near chest
  • Take large step backward into lunge position, with weight on front heel
  • Keeping front knee behind toes, lower until back knee almost touches ground
  • Drive forward into start position; perform rep on opposite leg
  • Continue in alternating fashion for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 3-4x8-12

Glute Ham Raise
The Glute Ham Raise is one of the best exercises for strengthening the backside of the body, which is particularly important for quad-dominant athletes—especially female athletes—because it strengthens the hamstrings and prevents knee injuries. Glute Ham Raises also make sure your hamstrings and glutes work in unison to keep the backside of your body strong and injury-free.

  • Assume position on glute ham machine with legs locked in place
  • Raise torso upward until chest is parallel to floor
  • Drive knees into foam pad until they are at 90-degree angle and body is upright
  • Lower with control; pause for one second and repeat

Sets/Reps: 3-5xMax - 2

There you have it—three awesome exercises to help you improve muscular balance. Send any questions or comments you have to Joe@MeglioPerformance.com.

For more information on the ACL please see the STACK ACL Guide.

Source:  Band Pull-Apart video courtesy of Jason Ferruggia

Joe Meglio is a strength and conditioning coach at the Underground Strength Gym in Edison, N.J. He is STACK's Expert of the Month for February 2012. Mentored by one of the brightest minds in the strength and conditioning industry, Zach Even-Esh, Meglio has worked with athletes at the high school, college and professional level. He specializes in training baseball players. Besides being a strength coach, Meglio competed in his first powerlifting meet in 2010, setting the New Jersey state record for Squat, Deadlift and total in his weight class and division. He graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University in May 2011, following his final season as captain of the baseball team. For more information, please go to MeglioFitness.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock