Muscle Balance: Getting it Right
Allen Jackson, Chadron State College, Dr Larry W. McDaniel, Dakota State University, and Dr Laura Gaudet, Chadron State College, discuss concepts related to weight training to develop a balance between agonistic and antagonistic muscles.
For anyone who has experienced the distinct pleasure of introducing resistance training to a group of young athletes, you will immediately recognize the concern about getting them started in the right direction. For every person who has walked through a weight room, there usually exists only one expert on the subject of resistance training. In reality, the body responds, develops, and is maintained according to some very basic neurological and biomechanical principles, thus the importance of discussing the concept of resistance training through muscle balance (Gluckman, 2008).
Many of us have witnessed the young athlete who primarily trains in front of the mirror or "trains to the mirror." A young person, with little knowledge about training the overall body, may be reluctant to get involved in a program that allows for training strategies and technique that will improve performance and protect against injury. It is almost comical how young people, who set out on a scheme for self-improvement, ignore the advice of a trained professional while seeking the advice of an older sibling or peer. Most of these novice lifters tend to focus on the upper-body and target muscles that enhance the body from the anterior perspective. We have all witnessed the "bench presser" or the "curling machine" solely intent on developing the upper torso, as well as the "big guns" (arms).
Is this the overall goal of the head coach or weight lifting instructor? Are we willing to settle for a mediocre training program, because some of our prodigies are so caught up in the hype about the strength that they are willing to fall victim to muscle imbalance?
If resistance training is not performed properly, the consequences may result in complications as individuals mature into adulthood and old age.
To put this concern into layman terms, precision muscle balancing technology is unique unto itself. It involves a new therapy for the treatment of musculoskeletal imbalances. Such imbalances may cause conditions in later life such as tendonitis, bursitis, osteoarthritis, neuritis, scoliosis, hammer toe, and other distortions of the human body (Alexander, n.d.). Tendonitis problems encompass the aches and pains many of us experience from time to time. Through proper resistance training, a holistic approach to health may assist in the reduction of or elimination of several physical discomforts experienced as our life progresses.
The concept of muscle balance through resistance training may certainly assist in the prevention of posture problems and pain as we age. The focus of developing muscle balance consists of eliminating the strength imbalance between two opposing muscle groups, for example, our flexors and extensors. For the young athlete, muscle imbalance in the legs may be a limiting factor in the development of overall speed. Coaches and trainers must be cognizant of muscular balance testing to compare the strength of opposing muscle groups. Muscle balance is important in the prevention of injuries and may assist in the development of maximum speed and improved muscular performance. If not addressed, through a well thought out and disciplined training program, muscle imbalances can slow down and possibly result in injury to the young athlete (Mackenzie, 2008).
Testing for structural balance is not a new concept to the field of physical training. Several trainers have worked with techniques to test for structural balance in young athletes. One of the goals of any well-structured resistance training program has been to balance the health and fitness needs of the athlete. These strength-enhancing needs for the development of antagonistic muscles have been identified as 10 different components of fitness: strength, speed, power, anaerobic and aerobic endurance, agility, balance, coordination, flexibility, and body composition. There is a need to balance the body to strength and muscle development. To assess the differences between muscle groups or develop strength within agonist and antagonist muscles, this process involves more than the performance of a 1-RM or an exercise prescription that includes only 1 or 2 exercises per body segment. "Muscle balance ratios differ between muscle groups and are affected by the force-velocity of these different muscle groups at specific joints" (Bell, 2007, p.1). In an ideal situation, isokinetic dynamometers would best facilitate for measurements, but from a practical perspective, most trainers will employ a 1-RM testing for each muscle group (Bell, 2007). As cited by Bell (2007), the current standard for muscle balance ratios, recommended for the agonist-antagonist muscle groups are:
The human body exhibits the unique ability to adapt to various strains or stresses accumulated over years of faulty muscle recruitment (Schurman 2008). Many who exercise with weights experience muscular imbalances due to ill-advised information from novice trainers. The information found in this article may assist the novice trainer or lifter to assist in the processes of identifying structural imbalances and devise modifications to training programs, thus achieving greater muscle balance in many areas of the body.
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About the Authors
Allen Jackson, M. Ed. is an Assistant Professor of Physical Education and Health at Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska (USA) who is well known for his presentations & publications at international conferences focusing on Leadership, Curriculum, and Health.
Larry W. McDaniel Ed.D. is an Associate Professor of Exercise Science at Dakota State University Madison, SD. USA. Dr McDaniel was a First Team All-American football player (USA Football), a Hall of Fame Athlete, and Hall of Fame Wrestling Coach.
Laura Gaudet, PhD is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Counselling, Psychology and Social Work at Chadron State College, Chadron NE. Dr Gaudet is well known for her publications and presentations at international conferences focusing on various topics in the field of psychology.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: