5/22/2008

Muscle Imbalances: Which to Stretch? Which to Strengthen?

By Cary Raffle
Almost everyone has muscle imbalances. A few simple observations and movement tests tell a fitness professional which muscles are tight or overactive and need stretching and which are extended or underactive and need stretching (these are included in your fitness assessment). Below are a few of the more common observations and indicated stretches and strengthening recommendations to give you an example.

Observation
Shortened Muscles to Stretch
Extended Muscles to Strengthen
Feet turn out, shin splints, pain on bottom of foot (plantar fascitis), Achilles tendonitis*
Calves, Quadriceps, IT Band/TFL

Anterior Tibialis (shin), Gluteals, Medial Hamstrings
Shoulders round, soreness in mid/upper back, forward head
Chest, front of Shoulder, Lats, Neck, Upper Traps
Middle and Lower Traps and Rhomboids
Excessive forward lean at hip
Hip flexors and Quadriceps
Gluteals, Hamstrings, Abdominal Core

*Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasicitis are medical conditions, you should consult a doctor for diagnosis and possible treatment.
Once you understand which muscles are shortened and which are extended, be sure to adapt your program accordingly. If your calves are tight, you probably don't want to work them too hard until you complete several weeks of stretching. If your hamstrings are extended, you probably do not want to keep stretching them and extend them even more. Overstretched muscles can also be uncomfortable, they tend to have a low level or soreness that some people mistakenly believe is a call for stretching.