Ever notice how one arm can crank out more curls than the other? Or that it’s easier to do single-leg squats on, say, your right leg?
“That’s because many of us have structural imbalances where one side of the body is stronger than the other,” says Adam Rosante, a strength and nutrition coach and the founder of the online training program and app Strong(h)er. Rather than shrug it off and move on, muscle up. “Your goal is to create an even balance of strength—and therefore a balanced-looking physique,” Rosante says. (These five drills can help you ID your body imbalances.)
When one side of the body is stronger than the other, it creates a pull on your alignment that you’ll start to feel in the joints, he says. In fact, things like back, shoulder, and knee pain can all be signs of a muscular imbalance. (For example, these six imbalances can all cause back pain.) Create symmetry, and you’ll not only reduce the aches—and prevent injury—but move so much better too.
Rosante designed the following routine to uncover—and even out—any strength disparities. Here’s how: You never put down the dumbbells or pause during the entire workout. This method, called complex training, is meant to tax a muscle’s staying power so the weak links are obvious. (Also try this Anna Victoria workout to help balance your body.)
Choose dumbbells that are doable by your weaker half, and do this routine three times a week on nonconsecutive days, he says. When you sense that a weaker muscle has come up to the strength level of its counterpart, pick a heavier pair of dumbbells. Weak side? Not anymore.
How it works: Perform a dynamic warm-up: March in place for 30 seconds, windmilling arms forward for 15 seconds, then backward. Then do 10 push-ups followed by 30 seconds each of jumping jacks, skaters, butt kicks, and high knees. Then do the exercises as indicated, back to back. That’s 1 round. Complete 3 to 5 rounds as fast as possible.
Total Time: up to 45 minutes
1. Sumo Dead Lift
Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out, holding a weight in each hand with palms facing thighs. Squat down, sending knees out over toes.
Drive up through heels to return to start. Squeeze glutes at the top.
2. Bent-Over Row
Stand with feet hip- width apart, holding a weight in each hand, arms by sides. Press hips back and lower torso until chest is almost parallel to the floor. Let arms hang toward floor, palms facing each other, to start.
Bending elbows and driving them behind you, row dumbbells to hips. Return arms to start.
Scale Up: Do a triceps extension between rows, extending arms behind you at the top of the row and then bending elbows again before lowering dumbbells.
3. Curl to Arnold Press
Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a weight in each hand with arms by sides, palms facing thighs. Bend elbows and curl weights up, rotating wrists to finish with palms facing shoulders.
Press weights up, rotating wrists to finish with palms facing away from you, arms overhead and biceps next to ears.
4. Overhead Get-Up
Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a weight in each hand. Press weights overhead with biceps next to ears. Maintaining upright torso, lower to knees, one leg at a time.
Stand back up, one leg at a time.
Scale Down: Keep arms by sides.
5. Lateral Plyo Lunge
Stand with feet hip- width apart, holding a weight in each hand with arms by sides.
Step left foot out to left, pressing hips back to lower into a side lunge.
Press off left foot to return to center, explosively jumping straight up off the right leg, bringing left knee toward chest. Switch sides; repeat. That's 1 rep.
Scale down: Skip the jump.
6. Floor Press
Lie faceup on floor, holding a weight in each hand by sides. Keeping backs of arms on floor, bend elbows 90 degrees so knuckles point to ceiling, palms facing each other to start.
Press dumbbells straight up toward ceiling, fully extending arms and keeping wrists above shoulders. Lower to return backs of arms to floor.
Scale Up: Add a skull crusher between presses, bending elbows at top of press to lower dumbbells outside of ears, then extending arms up again before returning to start.
7. Dumbbell Burpee
Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a weight in each hand, arms at sides. Crouch down and place dumbbells on floor, palms facing feet, maintaining a firm grip.
Jump feet back to plank. Jump feet back to crouched position.
Explosively jump straight up with arms by sides.
Scale Down: Skip the jump.
Scale Up: Jump up and over to one side—even add an obstacle to clear, like a bench, a box, or a medicine ball.