Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How To Even Out Uneven Pec Muscles? Your Questions Answered!

Young Arnold Stressed Symmetry In His Physique
Got a Question for The Frugal Fitness Guru? Email Mike:

Your Question:
Hey Mike, i know you must get alot of messages everyday from all different people but my is a really personal and worry to me, i have been working out for about 6months now and i have got bigger and more toned and i use alot of your workouts, my chest is my best part of my body but my left pec is a different shape to my right, by this i mean my left pec is all round whereas my right pec is is round and then the bottom of it is flat and seems more toned then my left, at first it wasn't that bad but now its so noticeable and i know your a top lad at the gym and you was the first person i thought about asking as you know so much, what do i do? HEEEEEELPPP PLEASSSEE MIKKKEEE !!!!!!  

Mike's Answer:
I've actually gotten this question a few times from different people over the years, and dealt with a similar issue in my first few years of weight training. It's a very common situation for a lot of people so don't feel embarassed and it can be improved with a few workout modifications. While it obviously doesn't look ideal, more improtantly it can also predispose you to poor(er) exercise technique and/or injury (such as tendonitis, bursitis, or rotator cuff tear...all things you want to avoid I assure you) so it's something that you want to start correcting as soon as possible. From my experience, I'd recommend implementing three things to help rectify the situation:

1) First off, you need to take a good hard look at your exercise technqiue. Your situation is very common for those that are much stronger on one side and tend to lift or position themselves crookedly on the bench or mat, which will put more stress on one side of the body. If you do that for every set, every workout, every week, etc it will add up to one side of your body being stronger and more developed than the other. You need to check your form in the mirror or with a spotter to make sure that your barbell bench press is not uneven, that your pushups aren't leaning to one side, and that your positions during mat exercises (such as donkey kicks, quadripeds, and planks) aren't crooked. Also take into consideration that straining to lift heavy weight or lifting in a fatigued state often results in poor form including putting more weight on one side of your body. Try to avoid maxing out or doing too many chest exercises in a fatigued state unless you can use excellent form. Also, take note of your posture when you are seated and standing, and make sure you are not slouching to one side or leaning too much onto one side, etc. Do some chest/shoulder stretches (shoulder abductions) and some scapula retractions (pull your shoulder blades together and hold) to help improve this.

2) Secondly, you may want to switch for the most part to dumbbell and cable exercises instead of barbell exercises, tricep dips, and pushups. When you use barbells, machines, or bodyweight exercises it is much easier to overcompensate with your stronger side and make the strength disparity even larger. You can distribute the weight on a bar or machine to one side more than the other very easily, even if it only appears to be a subtle difference. When you do pushups and dips, especially in a fatigued state, it is very common to lean more on your stronger side. It is much easier to see your right and left side strength difference by doing dumbbell presses, dumbbell flies, cable chest presses, cable flies, etc. Because each side is independent, you will see right away when one side has reached failure and can no longer continue the exercise. When your weaker side starts failing, end the set without continuing with the stronger side. If you can't lift anymore on 1 side and keep lifting on your stronger side, you will just be making things worse so never continue the set. I personally think you get a lot more out of dumbbell and cable exercises than barbell bench press, pushups, and dips, especially in terms of pectoral muscle activation.

3) Lastly, you can do some extra chest exercises on the lagging side at the end of your regular workout. I wouldn't recommend doing a huge amount extra, but an extra 1-2 sets of chest press machine or single arm dumbbell chest press should help to make a difference. You could even do a set of single arm chest flies on that 1 smaller side, holding a dumbbell in a relaxed position on the non-lifting side just to keep you balanced on the bench. Since it is the end of your workout, you shouldn't be doing very heavy weight for this little extra on your weaker side and make sure form is good. This is just a temporary strategy and shouldn't be needed after a couple months tops while your weaker/smaller side catches up.

Follow these three tips and you will be well on your way to evening out and improving your physique, posture, and lifting performance. It may take several months for major improvements to take effect, but it can be done and you'll be glad you took care of it.

Michael J. Schiemer B.S. CSCS CPT
NSCA Certified Personal Trainer & Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Owner of FRUGAL FITNESS Boston, MA & Worldwide
Author of The Frugal Diet and The Frugal Workout Books & E-Books 
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