How to work out to develop muscle evenly?
April 20, 2005 12:55 PM   Subscribe

I've started working out in the past two months in order to gain weight and muscle. It's definitely working, but I need help developing the muscle more evenly.

I've always been thin, but after losing way too much weight when my jaw was wired shut earlier in the year, I joined a gym to do weights (machines as well as free weights) in order to put on the poundage and develop some strength in the process. Already I'm seeing definite results, but it's very noticeable that my right side (particularly upper arm/shoulder) seems to develop muscle faster than the left. (If it's relevant, I'm exclusively left-handed for writing/eating, but right-handed or ambidextrous for everything else.)

I've started doing my sets on the weight machines by side rather than together (e.g., instead of doing 3 sets of lat pulldowns with both hands, I'll adjust the weight so I can do three sets just with my right, then just with my left). Any other tips for helping the ol' muscle development even out a little?
posted by scody to Health & Fitness (8 answers total)
Best answer: If you're lifting the same weight with both sides, one side might just appear to be getting stronger because it was weaker before. I don't know of any physiological reason why your body would favor one side over the other in terms of muscle development if everything else is equal. Assuming you're correct, it might just take time to stabilize muscle growth because they aren't used to the stress you're putting them under.

I would first recommend you get off the machines. Free weights exercise not only the major muscle groups, but also the stabilizer muscles (to keep the weights from going all over the place when you just want them to go up-down). This doesn't exactly solve your problem, however.

Instead of adjusting reps, try changing the weight--so, same reps for both sides, different weight for the weaker side. Also, try exercises that isolate the muscle groups you want to bulk up. Lat pull downs are good for shoulders, as you know. Some dead-lift dumbell exercises will help, too. Try fly-lifts for one arm: holding a dumbell in one hand and keeping your arm relatively straight, lift your arm up to slightly higher than parallel to the floor, hold for a beat, then slowly (S-L-O-W-L-Y) drop it back down to your side. Repeat.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:11 PM on April 20, 2005

Usually, muscle development will bilaterally even out over time barring any injuries or wrong technique. (I used to have a weaker right arm from dislocation/torn ligament, noticeable for about 2 months until i moved onto supersets--- then tada no imbalance)

For example, your lat pull downs, just do them standard 2-handed and over time they will balance out.

However, if you see significant difference, (I think 10% difference in max? at higher weights? was the number... sorry don't know what qualifies as 'significant') I would first look at my form and exercise i am doing. And just do couple of extra REPS (not sets) on the weaker side at the end of each set. (As told by my Physical Therapist at the time.)

I personally think, after only two months of weight lifting, you should have been working on high-density type of lifting-- so if you move on to deep-fatigue type exercises you should see more growth and your muscle imbalance going away.
posted by countzen at 1:21 PM on April 20, 2005

Best answer: I'm right handed, but left-bodied - when i lift a lot, my left side is noticeable stronger, if not bigger. My solution was to almost exclusively use dumbbells so I could work the weak side a little more each rep.
posted by notsnot at 1:52 PM on April 20, 2005

what notsnot said,

include a health dose of dumbells in every muscle group you exercise, it helps keep you balanced because there's no real way to cheat, whereas with bars you can push harder with one side or the other.
posted by slapshot57 at 2:02 PM on April 20, 2005

Anyone have a good online resource for techniques with free weights? I would like to stop using machines and use them, but any amount of Googling I do just gives me a lot of spammy sites.
posted by xmutex at 3:59 PM on April 20, 2005

xmutex - try EXRX. Under each muscle group, they list different exercises you can do with both barbells and dumbbells, with video and text instruction. They also have workout templates, in case you're not sure which set of exercises to try.
posted by vorfeed at 4:22 PM on April 20, 2005

vorfeed, thank you for that link! I'd been looking for something like that after a trainer friend poo-poo'd my freeweight routine.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:22 AM on April 21, 2005

Best answer: Also: be careful not to over-workout the "weaker" side. Your muscles need time to recuperate in order to grow. So if you are consistently doing more reps (or heavier weights) for your "weaker" side, those muscles may not have time to recuperate and rebuild, thereby causing all of that extra work to be counterproductive. Don't ever work out if your muscles are still sore. That usually means waiting at least two days between workouts.
posted by sic at 5:43 AM on April 21, 2005

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