Balance Imbalances for Improved Mobility

* It should be clearly stated and understood by the reader that this is not a medical resource and should not be utilized to diagnose, treat, or amend any cardiovascular, metabolic, or physical health ailments. Individuals with any known contraindicating medical history or injuries should warrant appropriate considerations prior to employing anything found in the following material.

Have you ever woken up to random, one-sided back soreness? Or maybe you started pouring a cup of coffee only to notice a sharp pain in your elbow? The list could go on with many common ailments felt throughout the body. You think, “I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary yesterday. I went to work and sat for 10 hours staring at a computer screen, and moved a bit to go to the bathroom and pick up lunch. Then, I went to the gym for an hour, before going home to sit more to relax from a stressful work day.”

While your mind thinks you didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, your body thinks differently. Our bodies were made to flex, rotate, extend, reach, pull, push, and to move in every way possible. If we keep our bodies in a cocoon of only certain movements, we’ll be limited to those movements. I like to take the example that Martin Rooney gives: “If you put a fly in a jar it will jump out of the jar with relative ease, but if you put a top on that jar the fly will only be able to jump to the lid. Once you take the lid off the fly will only be able to jump to the height of the lid, because we limited its capacity of movement.” Our bodies are the same. If we don’t access all of our ranges of motion in every joint in every plane, our bodies won’t reach their full potential.

Often, when we repeat movements daily we become more efficient at those movements — but at the cost of the opposing movement. Let’s say I bench press three times a week without doing any upper body pull movements (e.g., rows or pull ups). What would happen? At first, I would probably get stronger on my bench, but that would come at a cost. Eventually, my shoulders would round forward, my pecs would tighten, my scapulas would rotate posteriorly, and I probably wouldn’t be able to scratch my back. All of this would lead to eventual shoulder pain or injury. One of the best ways to avoid this imbalance is to create balance by doing pulling movements as much as you’re doing pushing movements. Pulling exercises won’t necessarily fix your shoulder pain, but moving your joints in every range of motion will prevent imbalances that are caused by moving only one way.

All of these examples must serve as a reminder that “WE ARE WHAT WE REPEATEDLY DO.” When you wake up with any type of muscular or joint pain, consider what you have been repeatedly doing day in and day out. Also, examine the types of food you’re eating, how you’re sleeping, what’s going on in your life emotionally, how hydrated you are, and how well you are recovering from the pain. A lot of the answers to your pain can be answered by your lifestyle.

You can do the best workouts in the world every day, but if you sit for 16 hours drinking a liter of diet soda looking at a screen, pain will eventually catch up with you. Through your fitness career you are going to run into a lot of imbalances throughout your body that will cause discomfort or pain. Let those serve as reminders that your body is working too much in one way and you may need to create balance by using opposing movements. When you have joint pain, move the joints above and below to help free up motion (e.g., for elbow pain, move the wrist and the shoulder). Always remember why we train: so we are capable of doing what we want, and to feel pretty good all of the time.

Common ImbalancesFixes
Hip flexor tightness / low back painGlute strength, hamstring strength
Anterior shoulder painRotator cuff/trap strength, move scapula
Hamstring tightnessPelvic movement, hip flexor strength
Neck painProtraction retraction neck, trap mobility
Tennis elbowMove wrist and shoulder in every range of motion

* These are suggestions to common imbalances. See a physician or physical therapist for treatments.