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Left/Right Strength Imbalance

Hey guys,

My training partner is struggling right now with his bench press. While benching his left side looses strength first before his right side which ends up resulting in his right side coming straight up while the left side is either lagging behind or doesn’t come up at all. This happens with both barbell and dumbbell benching.

He has no problems doing high rep push ups or dips an his form is good (body tight, back arched, squeezing the bar ect…). I’ve searched through the forum and could not find anything similar to this. We have no idea how to work on this problem. Any ideas on what might be causing this? and how this can be fixed?

This is caused by what you named the topic of this thread, Strength imbalance. It happened to me when i first started lifting and on the bench press as well. How long has your partner been lifting for? It could be his left tricep, pec, shoulder. Just have him keep lifting and eventually it will balance out. It sounds as if the left side is just suffering fatigue first. Im sure fresh and warming up at say 135 (or whatever you warm up at) this isnt a problem.

Well the cause is obvious. Chronic masturbation. Luckily for ‘your friend’ it can be fixed.

The problem is partly muscular and partly neurological. The muscular aspect will take a little longer to fix but is somewhat easier to accomplish.

Completely abandon barbell benching for now. Bilateral movements will only create further neurological imbalances. Use dumbells exclusively until the problem is rectified and then slowly start incorporating a few sets of barbell work if that is a movement you plan to use in the future.

When using dumbells you need to find a weight that allows to have complete control but it also needs to be heavy enough to force your body to do some work. To fix the muscular difference you’ll have to stop doing extra reps with the strong side. When the weak side fails you will end the set. If you are doing 3 sets of db press you can choose to add one extra set of single arm presses. DO NOT go to failure on this set. You can also do this with a machine press. Same rules apply. I do not suggest that you do the machine press every time. Use dumbells for the majority of the work.

To fix the neurological aspect you’ll need to learn how to fire the muscles properly. You can work on this in and out of the gym. A good way to establish a mind/muscle connection at home is to flex the target muscle hard and hold it for a count. It doesn’t have to be a long count but you don’t to rapidly contract and relax either. Hold it long enough so you can flex it hard enough to fire as many fibers as possible. Use common sense when deciding how often to do it.

In the gym you’ll have to really focus on keep the stress on the muscle while still lifting explosively. The pec deck can be a useful tool to establish a good mind/muscle connection because it isolates the pecs well. This should be a supplemental movement. Do the pec deck with your scapulae retracted and squeeze the chest muscle at the end of the movement.

Read about benching pressing and retracted scapulae to avoid injury and help keep the emphasis on the pecs and not the deltoids.

[quote]phishfood1128 wrote:
This is caused by what you named the topic of this thread, Strength imbalance. It happened to me when i first started lifting and on the bench press as well. How long has your partner been lifting for? It could be his left tricep, pec, shoulder. Just have him keep lifting and eventually it will balance out. It sounds as if the left side is just suffering fatigue first. Im sure fresh and warming up at say 135 (or whatever you warm up at) this isnt a problem. [/quote]

Yeah when we are warming up everything is 100% fine, but once we start getting deep into the workout the left side starts to give out. He has been lifting for about a year.

[quote]BONEZ217 wrote:
Well the cause is obvious. Chronic masturbation. Luckily for ‘your friend’ it can be fixed.

The problem is partly muscular and partly neurological. The muscular aspect will take a little longer to fix but is somewhat easier to accomplish.

Completely abandon barbell benching for now. Bilateral movements will only create further neurological imbalances. Use dumbells exclusively until the problem is rectified and then slowly start incorporating a few sets of barbell work if that is a movement you plan to use in the future.

When using dumbells you need to find a weight that allows to have complete control but it also needs to be heavy enough to force your body to do some work. To fix the muscular difference you’ll have to stop doing extra reps with the strong side. When the weak side fails you will end the set. If you are doing 3 sets of db press you can choose to add one extra set of single arm presses. DO NOT go to failure on this set. You can also do this with a machine press. Same rules apply. I do not suggest that you do the machine press every time. Use dumbells for the majority of the work.

To fix the neurological aspect you’ll need to learn how to fire the muscles properly. You can work on this in and out of the gym. A good way to establish a mind/muscle connection at home is to flex the target muscle hard and hold it for a count. It doesn’t have to be a long count but you don’t to rapidly contract and relax either. Hold it long enough so you can flex it hard enough to fire as many fibers as possible. Use common sense when deciding how often to do it.

In the gym you’ll have to really focus on keep the stress on the muscle while still lifting explosively. The pec deck can be a useful tool to establish a good mind/muscle connection because it isolates the pecs well. This should be a supplemental movement. Do the pec deck with your scapulae retracted and squeeze the chest muscle at the end of the movement.

Read about benching pressing and retracted scapulae to avoid injury and help keep the emphasis on the pecs and not the deltoids. [/quote]

The masturbation has been a problem…I mean it’s just not appropriate mid workout…

How would we do this while on the 5/3/1 program which we are currently doing? Would he go for the prescribed reps and then stop and do some unilateral work for the one arm? We don’t have a pec deck machine as we train in my basement and I don’t own one.

[quote]dolarhyde wrote:
BONEZ217 wrote:
Well the cause is obvious. Chronic masturbation. Luckily for ‘your friend’ it can be fixed.

The problem is partly muscular and partly neurological. The muscular aspect will take a little longer to fix but is somewhat easier to accomplish.

Completely abandon barbell benching for now. Bilateral movements will only create further neurological imbalances. Use dumbells exclusively until the problem is rectified and then slowly start incorporating a few sets of barbell work if that is a movement you plan to use in the future.

When using dumbells you need to find a weight that allows to have complete control but it also needs to be heavy enough to force your body to do some work. To fix the muscular difference you’ll have to stop doing extra reps with the strong side. When the weak side fails you will end the set. If you are doing 3 sets of db press you can choose to add one extra set of single arm presses. DO NOT go to failure on this set. You can also do this with a machine press. Same rules apply. I do not suggest that you do the machine press every time. Use dumbells for the majority of the work.

To fix the neurological aspect you’ll need to learn how to fire the muscles properly. You can work on this in and out of the gym. A good way to establish a mind/muscle connection at home is to flex the target muscle hard and hold it for a count. It doesn’t have to be a long count but you don’t to rapidly contract and relax either. Hold it long enough so you can flex it hard enough to fire as many fibers as possible. Use common sense when deciding how often to do it.

In the gym you’ll have to really focus on keep the stress on the muscle while still lifting explosively. The pec deck can be a useful tool to establish a good mind/muscle connection because it isolates the pecs well. This should be a supplemental movement. Do the pec deck with your scapulae retracted and squeeze the chest muscle at the end of the movement.

Read about benching pressing and retracted scapulae to avoid injury and help keep the emphasis on the pecs and not the deltoids.

The masturbation has been a problem…I mean it’s just not appropriate mid workout…

How would we do this while on the 5/3/1 program which we are currently doing? Would he go for the prescribed reps and then stop and do some unilateral work for the one arm? We don’t have a pec deck machine as we train in my basement and I don’t own one.

[/quote]

Hmmm depending on how bad the imbalance is it may not be a good idea to try and stick to a regimented program while simultaneously trying to fix the problem. I don’t have any experience with a 5/3/1 program but I assume that it, like any other program, expects the users to be able to execute the movements properly. What I mean is that if your friend cant execute clean reps even as failure approaches than that needs to be fixed before progress can be made on that kind of program. This is just my opinion of course. I just think that, when looking at the big picture, it will take longer to make progress if the imbalance isnt sorted out as early as possible.

Don’t completely abandon the program but use common sense when it comes to working around the current limitations. Poor form is a big limitation in a program that relys on serious strength progression.

I had a similar problem when I started lifting, for both my dumbbell and barbell presses.

With 5/3/1, using BONEZ217’s suggestions, you might do something like this:

Barbell Bench Press 5/3/1
Flat Dumbbell Press 3x10
One-Arm Flat Dumbbell Press 1x10 (NOT to failure)
Pec Deck 2x15 (light weight, focusing on chest contraction)
Dumbbell Row 5x10

Standing Barbell Press 5/3/1
Seated Dumbbell Press 3x10
One-Arm Seated Dumbbell Press 1x10 (NOT to failure)
Pushdowns 2x15 (light weight, focusing on triceps contraction)
Pull-Ups 5x10 (or 50 total reps)

Make sure your form with the main lifts is very good. That means no excessive leaning back and locking out properly on the standing barbell presses and having your scapulae retracted and elbows tucked (not parallel to your body, but not perpendicular) on the barbell bench presses.

Do not take your 3rd set of the 5/3/1 exercises to failure. Take them past the prescribed number of reps if you know those reps will be easy (often, when people first start 5/3/1, they can get 8+ reps on their 3rd 5 rep set), but stop your set when the weak side starts to lag behind the strong side. If you stop the set when the left side reaches failure, it will eventually catch up to the right side, which is still being worked out, just not to failure.

Remember to do the chest and triceps contraction exercises explosively on the positive and squeeze your chest or triceps at the “top” of the movement. Keep you scapulae retracted and chest out on the pec deck and keep your upper arms still on the pushdowns. You could also do skullcrushers or machine arm extensions.

You can flex the problem muscles after each set, after all the sets, after the workout, or at home later. Since the problem is with pressing, the problem muscles are his pec and/or tricep.

To BONEZ217: I hope I organized your suggestions to fit the OPs 5/3/1 routine template well. I’m familiar with 5/3/1, so I thought I could help fit it together.

[quote]JustinC wrote:
I had a similar problem when I started lifting, for both my dumbbell and barbell presses.

With 5/3/1, using BONEZ217’s suggestions, you might do something like this:

Barbell Bench Press 5/3/1
Flat Dumbbell Press 3x10
One-Arm Flat Dumbbell Press 1x10 (NOT to failure)
Pec Deck 2x15 (light weight, focusing on chest contraction)
Dumbbell Row 5x10

Standing Barbell Press 5/3/1
Seated Dumbbell Press 3x10
One-Arm Seated Dumbbell Press 1x10 (NOT to failure)
Pushdowns 2x15 (light weight, focusing on triceps contraction)
Pull-Ups 5x10 (or 50 total reps)

Make sure your form with the main lifts is very good. That means no excessive leaning back and locking out properly on the standing barbell presses and having your scapulae retracted and elbows tucked (not parallel to your body, but not perpendicular) on the barbell bench presses.

Do not take your 3rd set of the 5/3/1 exercises to failure. Take them past the prescribed number of reps if you know those reps will be easy (often, when people first start 5/3/1, they can get 8+ reps on their 3rd 5 rep set), but stop your set when the weak side starts to lag behind the strong side. If you stop the set when the left side reaches failure, it will eventually catch up to the right side, which is still being worked out, just not to failure.

Remember to do the chest and triceps contraction exercises explosively on the positive and squeeze your chest or triceps at the “top” of the movement. Keep you scapulae retracted and chest out on the pec deck and keep your upper arms still on the pushdowns. You could also do skullcrushers or machine arm extensions.

You can flex the problem muscles after each set, after all the sets, after the workout, or at home later. Since the problem is with pressing, the problem muscles are his pec and/or tricep.

To BONEZ217: I hope I organized your suggestions to fit the OPs 5/3/1 routine template well. I’m familiar with 5/3/1, so I thought I could help fit it together.[/quote]

You know much more about it than I do, so hopefully the OP can put the info to good use.

JustinC, if we don’t have a pec deck is there another similar exercise he could do? Could he do dumbbell flyes instead and focus on the contraction with those?? All we have is a bench, a barbell with plates up to 300lbs, dumbbells up to 50 lbs, and a power tower for pullups and dips. We workout in my basement.

Thanks for the help guys, I will relay this information to my training partner and we will go to work on it today (today is bench day).

Just because there’s no pain right now doesn’t mean that something isn’t going on besides simple weakness. My training partner and I have both had a similar problem - he has a chronicly inflamed supraspinatus, and I have a tight pec minor and weak scapular retractors which put my rotator cuff in a bad position. It only hurts when I do something I shouldn’t, but I had no pain for literally months of benching and overhead pressing.

I would say drop pressing with a bar altogether for the time being. Instead of doing 5/3/1 for bench and ohp, for the next 8 weeks, just do pushups and db bench/floor pressing (regular and neutral grip, high reps and light enough that he can keep his back together), and maybe neutral grip overhead pressing with dumbbells. Do lots of upper back, and lots of rehab stuff like face pulls and scapular retractions with hold. Make sure to do a good shoulder warmup too, the diesel crew ultimate shoulder warmup makes my shoulder feel better.

Oh, and inverted rows, those make my shoulder very happy.

Sorry for the rambling, I’m basically just detailing what I’m doing for my shoulder, but in my opinion, it’s better to take time off pressing with a bar before you end up in pain and are forced to take time off- I certainly wish I had.

Dolarhyde, my understanding is that dumbbell flyes aren’t as good because at the top of the movement, much of the weight is taken off the pecs. However, that seems to be all your friend can do, so he should do just what you suggested: focus on the contraction a lot. Maybe flexing his pecs between sets can help. The purpose is the learn how to voluntarily and actively use your pecs so that they fire properly during your pressing exercises.

Your friend could also try flat dumbbell presses with the dumbbells pressed together (squeeze them together as hard as possible) and focus on the contraction of his pecs throughout the movement. Keep your shoulder blades pinched and chest up throughout the movement. I’ve never tried these myself, but a friend of mine does them every chest workout and I remember CT suggesting them. See if they do the trick if the flyes don’t.

I’m dealing with the same issue, but I did stumble upon this article:

Pretty much what everyone’s mentioned so far, but may be worth a read.

[quote]JustinC wrote:
Dolarhyde, my understanding is that dumbbell flyes aren’t as good because at the top of the movement, much of the weight is taken off the pecs. However, that seems to be all your friend can do, so he should do just what you suggested: focus on the contraction a lot. Maybe flexing his pecs between sets can help. The purpose is the learn how to voluntarily and actively use your pecs so that they fire properly during your pressing exercises.

Your friend could also try flat dumbbell presses with the dumbbells pressed together (squeeze them together as hard as possible) and focus on the contraction of his pecs throughout the movement. Keep your shoulder blades pinched and chest up throughout the movement. I’ve never tried these myself, but a friend of mine does them every chest workout and I remember CT suggesting them. See if they do the trick if the flyes don’t.[/quote]

The latter are called squeeze press, I think, they are certainly good for feeling your chest…

CT has also recommended decline db flies so that the chest doesn’t become relaxed at the top of the movement.

That’s assuming that its a weakness in his pressing muscles, though, and it seems like, if that were the case, that he would show this imbalance when doing pushups or dips.

What I wrote above may be over-cautious, I don’t know, I can only speak from personal experience, but it’s what I should have done as soon as I started noticing similar symptoms. Instead, I kept on benching, and ended up having to take two weeks off of all pressing.

My understanding was just that the OP’s friend’s left arm was lagging behind his right in strength. This is probably due to the fact that, before he began lifting, he preferred using his right arm rather than his left to do anything. 1 year’s lifting experience might not be enough to fix this problem. I definitely had a weaker left arm lockout until my first couple years of lifting, granted those were the “dumb lifting” years that most teenagers have.

If it’s a shoulder stability or imbalance issue, his friend would probably complain of shoulder pain and would probably have bad posture. Granted, anybody could benefit from more upper back work - rows, face pulls, bentover lateral raises, etc. Maybe some scap push-ups.

So Dolarhyde: If it’s purely a strength issue, try BONEZ217’s suggestions. If your friend has shoulder pain when his left arm lags, do the extra upper back work like Tom8658 suggests. Adding 2-3 sets of face pulls or bentover lateral raises to your upper body days probably wouldn’t hurt anyways.

Just remember: everything you add needs to have a purpose. I would say 5 exercises per workout is the absolute maximum.

Thanks guys he tried the following last night.

Barbell Bench Press 5/3/1
Flat Dumbbell Press 3x10
One-Arm Flat Dumbbell Press 1x10 (NOT to failure)
Flyes 2x15 (light weight, focusing on chest contraction)
Dumbbell Row 5x10

Everything went well and he was able to finish all the reps. I will have to get back to you guys in a few weeks or so to report back if this is helping the problem.

He doesn’t have shoulder pain or any other pain at all. He used to play baseball in high school and plays a lot of tennis currently. Could being a right handed tennis player have contributed to this?

[quote]dolarhyde wrote:
He doesn’t have shoulder pain or any other pain at all. He used to play baseball in high school and plays a lot of tennis currently. Could being a right handed tennis player have contributed to this?[/quote]

Just because there’s no pain doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong with the shoulder, it just means it hasn’t developed into a true overuse injury or impingement yet. I did two cycles of 5/3/1 on a poorly aligned shoulder before it developed into a painful injury - the pattern of specific weakness and tightness in my shoulder was always there, it just took a while to actually get injured.

All that to say, be careful and use your head. Having a bum shoulder SUCKS.

On my off days after upper body workouts, I usually do some shoulder prehab. I would assume it’s helped because I haven’t been injured. It won’t cut into your recovery and takes 15 minutes. Although it may or may not be related to the problem you originally posted, adding some shoulder prehab is usually a good idea.

Do things like:

shoulder dislocates (that overhead broomstick shoulder stretch)
YTWLs (start with 2.5 lb plates)
bentover lateral raises
scap push-ups
L-flyes

There are plenty of articles on T-Nation about shoulder health. Doing 2-3 exercises for 2-3 sets twice a week will save you wasted time in the future.