T Nation

How to Address an Imbalance in Symmetry?

This is kind of a newbie question. I thought it would be fairly simple but…I was wrong. So about 10 years ago I had microdiscectomy back surgery to correct a herniated disc at L4/L5 that was impinging on the sciatic nerve. The operation was a success but there was some residual damage to the nerve. Over the years since it has gotten better to the point that I don’t even notice it anymore but this is where I ran into a problem. When I decided to start working out again about six months ago, I took my measurements so that I would have a baseline. My right calf, the side affected by the disc issue was 15 1/2" while the left side was 16" which I strongly suspect is a result of the residual nerve damage. No problem I thought, I’ll just do calf raises with my right leg until the right calf catches up to the left. So for four months I diligently did one-legged calf raises with my right leg. Then I measured again. My right calf looked noticeably better. And it measured 16". Success! Or so I thought. Then I measured the left calf. 16 1/2". WTH? Even though I did no work on the left calf at all, it had grown exactly as much as the right so they are still out of balance. I can only assume that everything was getting some sort of growth stimulus from other exercises like squats or dead lifts or something. Whatever it was, I still have the problem so I’m hoping somebody here has some advice for how to address this. Maybe it’s just keep doing what I was doing and eventually it will even out, I don’t know.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading on this and I’m not really finding an good answer. Like a lot guys just starting out (or even guys who have been lifting for years for that matter) I have some specific weak points that I’d really like to address. I knew from what I see in the mirror as well as the comments of some friends that my arms needed work and I confirmed it with those handy online calculators that allow you to calculate your ideal measurements. When I started working out in January my arms, cold flexed, measured 15". After four months of working out they were 16" and looked much better. Now I’ve been cutting for about 8 weeks and they are 15 3/4" but I’ve lost 16-lbs so I figure that’s a fair trade off…10-lbs to go. Where I’d like them to be is 17". My lats and traps, while not as easily measured, are in the same boat. I think that is pretty typical when starting out. What’s confusing me is that most of the things that I’m reading online warn against focusing on a particular body part and instead recommend focusing on complex, multi-joint exercises like the bench press, overhead press, squat, and dead lift. Now those are all excellent exercises and I include them all in my routine but I don’t see how that’s going to fix the imbalance of my arms, lats, and traps. At any rate, here is my typical routine:

Tuesday, Saturday

  • bench press
  • overhead press
  • dips
  • pull-ups
  • dumbbell rows
  • shoulder shrugs with trap bar
  • EZ-bar curls
  • skull crushers

Wednesday, Sunday

  • good mornings
  • squats
  • dead lifts with trap bar
  • leg extensions
  • leg curls
  • leg press
  • calf raises

Due to my back issues I keep the weight relatively light and the reps high (~12) for the squats and dead lifts and use the leg press for the heavy lifting. There are only so many hours in the day and I’m not sure how much I could add to what I’m already doing. Maybe the answer is “be patient” and if so, so be it, but any advice would be appreciated.

Yep. Also, there’s a kind of “crossover” effect when training one limb that benefits the other even if it’s not trained. It’s one reason why, if you have one arm or leg injured, it’s recommended to train the good side when you can. This article talks a bit more about it.

But really a half-inch isn’t a super-uncommon discrepancy between sides for some people. Especially if you have lingering nerve damage, that may not be something you can really train around. On the brightside, I can pretty much guarantee you’re the only one who notices the difference. It makes nearly no perceptible difference to people going about their daily business.

When you want to make a bodypart bigger, train it directly. The overwhelming majority of coaches agree on that.

What’s your current height, weight, and general bodyfat (chubby, lean, ripped, etc.)?

What you listed isn’t a workout, it’s just exercises on certain days. We need to see the exact sets and reps for each movement to give feedback. But, even from what you’ve said, I don’t know why you start leg day with good mornings (pre-fatiguing the lower back) unless it’s a necessary warm-up type movement for your back issues and not something you go hard on. Even then, it’s iffy.

Consider following a better-designed routine. There are tons out there. This is just one to think about: https://www.t-nation.com/workouts/waterbury-method It uses lower reps, but not really heavy weights, so you may be able to handle it.

Thanks for the feedback Chris.

To answer your questions, I’m currently 57 years old, 5’ 9.2", 198-lbs, about 16% body fat. I started in January at 210-lbs with a 39" waist. I initially made no changes to my diet and within a few weeks had come down to 205-lbs with a 38" waist. Then I increased my calories and protein and my weight started going up until at 16 weeks I was 216-lbs, still with a 38" waist so it didn’t appear that I had put on body fat. At that point I wanted get leaner so I changed up my diet and started losing weight while just trying to limit muscle/strength loses, not make any gains. Now I’ve come down from 216 to 198 and my waist is 35". I’m working on dropping 8 more pounds and another inch from my waist and at that point I’ll look in the mirror and reevaluate.

I’ll check out the link. I’m not familiar with how to describe a routine really. Right now I do 3 sets of 12 reps for all of those exercises, occasionally four sets if I feel good. I’m not set on any particular routine though and I’m certainly open to change though generally speaking I’m happy with the results I’ve gotten in the past 6 months. I’ve made changes as needed, adding some exercises, removing others, changing sets and reps to see what I feel comfortable with. I was going heavier with 5x5 sets/reps but I began to notice that as I was getting stronger and lifting heavier, my joints were taking a beating and my wrist, my shoulder, and my back were really starting to bother me after workouts. That’s when I changed to 3x12 with lighter weights and I feel a lot better and don’t have any more pain issues. Are you saying that you don’t like good mornings in general or just because it’s at the beginning of my routine? I like the exercise itself because it nicely simulates the real life motion of bending over such as I would do when picking things up while working in the yard or shoveling snow. That used to result in a sore back both while I was working and the next day. Now I can work much longer before my back bothers me if it does at all and I’m not sore the next day. You’re probably right that nobody but me notices the calf imbalance. And it was more noticeable when I first started but not so much now. To be honest there seem to be literally hundreds (thousands even?) of routines out there and every other article wants to tell you why this or that routine, exercise, form, whatever is wrong and you should be doing this other one so it’s really confusing. And in real life, I find it damned near impossible to stick to a hard and fast program that requires adherence to set routine. Maybe it’s leg day but the boss needs me to work late or it’s chest day but the wife wants to run errands or whatever so I get home and do an abbreviated workout, whatever I can fit in the time I have available or I to skip it and do it the next day. I need a certain amount of flexibility.