By Guillermo Escalante, MBA, ATC, CSCS; Photography by: Robert Reiff; Model: IFBB Pro Ben Pakulski
Two camps of bodybuilders co-exist side-by-side at the gym: Those who train each and every muscle group for symmetry and proportion, and those who want a big chest and arms with tight abs so they look great with their shirt off (but not necessarily in shorts at the beach). Trying to make the point to a bodybuilder (whose primary aim is to impress someone) that training for a balanced physique isn’t just about looking good will likely fall on deaf ears. Even more important, after years of working the beach muscles, you greatly increase your risk for all kinds of injuries.
No one’s ever going to tell you, “Wow, your rotator cuff is freaky strong,” or “The size of your posterior deltoids and rhomboids are impressive!” We get that. But in the long run those areas are just as critical to train as your pecs and arms.
Balanced training simply means to train all bodyparts equally (or perhaps more intensely if they’re already lagging) to ensure that they develop proportional size and strength. Instead of continually training the stronger/bigger bodyparts for even more development, a balanced training approach focuses on training the lagging parts so that there are minimal proportional weaknesses in the physique. According to Kelly Bautista, a licensed vocational nurse at Kaiser Permanente (Anaheim, CA) and winner of the 2005 and 2010 NPC USA lightweight bodybuilding titles, “Training for symmetry and proportion not only gives you the illusion of a larger physique but also helps to keep your body free from injury.” To illustrate the point, Bautista adds, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so training the disregarded muscle groups will help take your strength to another level in all of your lifts.”
It’s not uncommon for bodybuilders to completely disregard smaller muscle groups, such as the internal and external rotators of the rotator cuff or the scapular stabilizers of the shoulder. The four relatively small rotator cuff muscles are critical in positioning the head of the humerus (the upper arm) into the shoulder socket to prevent shoulder dislocations or the impingement of other important shoulder structures. Since your cuff muscles work in tandem with your shoulder musculature, when you strive to build bigger and stronger delts without a corresponding increase in the size and strength of the cuff muscles, the result is that those muscles will no longer work as well together, therefore increasing your chance of injury. Even worse are those lifters who disregard (or perhaps pay significantly less attention to) a large muscle group altogether. As described in “Muscles, Potential Injuries and Fixes of Unbalanced Training” shown here, muscle groups (both large and small) are often disregarded by bodybuilders. The table recommends exercises you can implement to train the commonly neglected muscle groups and points to visible postural abnormalities and potential injuries that may result from an unbalanced physique (when applicable).
While many lifters do attempt to train for balance by incorporating all of the muscle groups in their training split, they still don’t recognize that they’re not paying enough attention to the more commonly neglected muscle groups. For example, performing 16 sets of chest exercises and only 12 sets of back movements will, in time, lead to a significant muscular imbalance. Similarly, implementing rotator-cuff exercises 2–3 days per week (i.e., on shoulder day, chest day and back day) would create more balance than training the rotator cuffs only one day per week. Approaching your training in a balanced fashion will help you to avoid common injuries and could even take your strength and physique to another level.
Muscles, Potential Injuries and Fixes of Unbalanced Training
Muscle(s) Neglected Potential Visual Changes Potential Injuries Exercise(s) to Implement
Rhomboids, middle trapezius Rounded/forward shoulders Shoulder impingement, rotator-cuff tear, rotator-cuff tendonitis, long head of biceps tendonitis Rows and pulldowns with emphasis on squeezing the shoulder blades together. Also see posterior deltoid exercise.
Lower trapezius Lack of development on the lower traps, which lies between the middle back and the lower/inner portion of the shoulder blades Shoulder impingement, rotator-cuff tear, rotator-cuff tendonitis, long head of bicep tendonitis Prone on incline bench forming a “V” by lifting arms straight from the floor to shoulder level while keeping the elbows locked.
Rotator cuff internal rotator (subscapularis) N/A Shoulder impingement, rotator-cuff tear, rotator-cuff tendonitis Keeping the shoulder down and elbow by your side and at 90 degrees, rotate your hand from just outside your body toward the midline while holding a pulley (not a dumbbell!) with weight or resistance band.
Rotator cuff external rotators (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor) N/A Shoulder impingement, rotator-cuff tear, rotator-cuff tendonitis Keeping the shoulder down and elbow by your side and at 90 degrees, rotate your hand from your midline to out beside you while holding a pulley with weight or resistance band.
Posterior deltoids Rounded/forward shoulders N/A Reverse flyes using dumbbells or pec-deck, ensuring you keep your elbows and arms elevated.
Hamstrings Increased lordotic curve (a larger than normal curve in the lower-back region).
Hamstring strains Romanian deadlift, lying leg curl, seated leg curl, single-leg curl, glute/ham raise machine.
Multifidus (deep inner back muscles) N/A Lower-back strains Segmental back extension, rotational back extension.