You know about balancing everything from your checkbook to your work life. But how about your muscles? Yes, they can become just as imbalanced as your finances can if you're not paying attention.
"There are certain things you see consistently," says Robert Gillanders, an endurance athlete and physical therapist in Washington, D.C. "Women tend to lack stability and are more likely to be hyper-flexible, while men tend to lack flexibility."
Such imbalances can cause pain in the neck and back, bulging discs, shoulder impingement syndrome and more, says Chris Estafanous, a physical therapist in Washington.
"It starts like little aches and pains and becomes chronic," Estafanous says. "Because your brain begins to process an abnormal movement as normal movement, and because the body wants to prevent pain at any cost, it will start compensating."
Some imbalances come down to differences in gender and genetics. But muscles are also affected by one's lifestyle and the physical activity and workouts we engage in.
"In my experience, people will do exercises they like, rather than exercises they need," Gillanders says.
For example, the hyper-flexible woman goes for yoga, and the already-tight-shouldered man goes for anterior (front) body strength training. Runners of both genders may do nothing except run -- increasing calf and hamstring tightness and decreasing strength in the upper body and core.
Together with a physical therapy regimen, Estafanous and Gillanders teach clients ways to improve habits in their workout routines and at their jobs. "For example, pretty much everyone needs stronger glutes," Estafanous says. "It's the power center of the body."
One exercise he often does with clients is the "clamshell," in which you lie on your side with a resistance band looped above your knees, then open and close your knees. This strengthens the gluteus medius, which in turn prevents muscle imbalances in the leg that can lead to knee pain and injuries.
Another exercise is a glute squeeze. Lying facedown on the floor, place a pillow between your feet and squeeze the pillow while at the same time engaging your glutes. Hold for three seconds, and repeat 30 times. It's a small movement, but after 30 reps "your glutes will be on fire," Estafanous says.
Another typical muscle imbalance involves a tight front-shoulder and chest area. "I usually do a one-arm doorway stretch, and then a two-arm, to stretch that area," he says. He also incorporates poses such as one he calls "camel," in which you rest your knees on the floor and elbows on a chair, stretching the front body while strengthening the back.
Carol Shuford, a National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer, says it is necessary to make sure the back body gets as much work as the front. "For every push exercise, you should do a pull exercise," she says. So if you do bench presses and biceps curls, you should spend equal time doing rows and triceps extensions. "Or you will look like a caveman," she says.
"If you keep doing the same thing every day -- like running -- it's almost the same as sitting at a desk 10 hours a day," Shuford says. "You will get muscle imbalances and overuse injuries."