T Nation

One Arm Higher Than Other. Imbalance Present on All Lifts


Hi all. To start -I apologize for the length of this, but I am an advanced lifter, with a complex program and no doctor/physio/chiro has been able to help me.

I’ve been lifting for 8 years now and used to compete as a bodybuilder. Approximately 3 years ago I started to develop very bad pain in my right elbow and right shoulder. Around the same time I also noticed that many of my lifts appeared to be asymmetrical. To this day I still have not been able to resolve this issue (The pain or asymmetry)

What seems to happen when I lift is that the barbell is crooked mainly on the horizontal plain. In other words, this is not a strength difference, but rather the bar is more forward on the right side and back on the left. The bar starts in that position before I do a single rep. If I just stand straight and hold a barbell in resting position to do curls, rows, whatever it will be slightly off.

At rest, if I just raise my arms over my head, the right hand is higher…giving the illusion that my right arm is longer than the left.

So when this issue first begun I tried to de-load and perform the lifts symmetrical and just could not. I noticed that I would be crooked trying to just curl a 30lb bar or bench press the bar itself. At that point, I became concerned and visited a sport med doctor, several Chiros and Physios. We’ve covered all the following and still the issue is present:

->Lots of soft tissue work

->Lots of strengthening of the lower traps and serratus anterior

->Lots of strengthening of mid trap area, while stretching pecs,lats,subscap

->Ultra sound of shoulder, no tears, but tendonosis of supraspinatus(right side)

->Took X-ray of Spine, no Scoliosis present

->We’ve noticed that the arch in my right foot is slightly flatter than the left - but I was told that the difference is less than 2-3mm. I wear orthotics for this and was told this could not be the root of my issue.

->Legs measured - same length

-Arms measured - same length

Now I’ve attached some photos for you guys to see what I mean. And i’ve also included some of my lifts which show the imbalance.

Here is what I’ve noticed so far myself:

-While training back, my tricep long head, rear delt and teres major seem to engage much more while compared to the left. They are also bigger than the left. However, my left infraspinatus and lat are bigger on the left.

-The day after training back my right teres major and tricep long head are always knotted up. I feel like they are compensating for SOMETHING and are always sore. I think that is why my right elbow hurts.

-My left pec is bigger than the right, while the right front deltoid is bigger than the left. During Benchpress and Dips, my right elbow always flares out more than the left.

-If you look at the pictures with my arms overhead, it appears that the entire right shoulder is moved higher than the left - giving the illusion that my right arm is longer than the left.

-I don’t recall ever having an acute injury…but I guess something must have happened which messed up my right side. Any ideas on what this could be? I’ve been struggling for this for a very long time and have stopped lifting for a while now since my right elbow and shoulder pain has gotten so bad

Pics and Vids are below:

Raising arms up front:

Raising arms up back:

Pull up video -

Lat pull down video -

Bench press -

( Less obvious in this, but if you look closely the angles of my forearms are off)

Shoulder press -


Ok, you’ve given lots of good info and visuals.

You mentioned trying to strengthen the serratus and mid/lower trap. What did you do? Did you think it worked? Did you get stronger or more “connected” to those muscles?

3 years ago, did you play physical sports with your arms over your head? Or have a few beers and get into a wrestling match with a drunk buddy or something dumb? Ever spend any time on crutches?


I’ve got no citiations of references for this, right now. But;

Somewhere in your neck/shoulder/arm pit is your “Long Thoracic Nerve.” This connects your brain to your lat/serratus/low trap (gross over simplification). If you damage this “Structure,” it’s like hitting your funny bone. You lose control of those muscles. I don’t know exactly what happens, but lat/serratus/trap just stop working. As a result other muscles (front Delt/teres group/infraspinitus/supraspinitus) try to do the job of supporting your shoulder. They don’t do it very well, so your right shoulder is in the wrong position. Little muscles get overworked, pulled on and develop tendonitis. You compensate by adjusting your forearm angle, and the elbow has problems. Stuff moves crooked.

X Rays and ultrasounds show no damage because no muscles are torn or injured. Soft tissue work and stretching feel OK, but then you lift weights and inflame the sore tissues again. It’s very frustrating.


I haven’t played any sport in the past 4-5 years. I really don’t really recall any instance where I could of sustained a big injury.

For Serratus and Lower traps, I tried many things. Serratus push ups, serrarus punches, wall slides, Ys, band pull aparts from overhead, scapula pull ups. I made a program where I would do a few sets of these every other day and I also would activate these muscles prior to working out. I did this for maybe 10-12 weeks. I was still never able to lift symmetrically.

I seem to have the ability to activate the serratus and lower trap if I want to. But perhaps they are not doing their job and activating unconsciously like they should while I am training. Another interesting point if that prior to strengthening my serratus and lower trap, It was obvious that the sertatus and intercostals were much less developed on the right side. I remember preping for a show and once I was very lean, I was like “wtf?.” They have developed since tho and look very similar now.

Could the rotator cuff muscles have any role? Did some research myself and the infraspinatus and teres minor are supposed to pull the humerus head back and down. Perhaps a previous injury there with present weakness could be causing this?


If your shoulder isn’t in the right position, all lifts are just practicing bad mechanics.

Can you feel the sensation of using your rotators to “pull the humerus head back and down”? Can you feel this motion rotating your humerus and changing the position of your elbow? Can you use the rotators to lower your shoulder?

Maybe you “forgot” how to use some muscle?

I used many of the moves/motions you mentioned, but I didn’t know how to “twist” those rotators to control my elbow and forearm. As a result all my Y’s and wall slides and pull Aparts were done with a slightly bent winged out elbow, a crooked wrist and a slightly internally rotated shoulder.

This move with this handle finally made it Click for me.

When I set up, my right elbow was slightly bent and kinda flared out to the side. It wasn’t straight enough to really “shrug down.” By really focusing on straightening my arm/elbow I became aware of how my right arm and shoulder were internally rotated and higher than the left, causing my elbow to stick out to the side.

To get my arm straight, I had to learn to “twist” my shoulder into the right spot, to get my elbow lined up. This move was easy enough and light enough that I could figure it out.

I also did lots of light dumbbell bench presses. Like 4 sets of 25 with 15 pound dumbbells. About halfway through, I’d start to get tired and notice that my right wrist was kinda cocked funny, because my elbow was sticking out to the side and my forearm wasn’t vertical. From there, I could use the same “twisting” of the shoulder muscles to tighten down and get my elbow in the right alignment.

This is another move that really worked well for me. This guy is going too fast and too sloppy. But with the chest support and 2 hands on the handle, I was able to “feel” that my right arm was not doing what it needed to do. And then figure out how to “twist” my shoulder down with the rotators so I could actually use the lat and lower trap.

I know you’ve probably done 1 million reps of B.S. just like this, but for me it was Crucial to have both hands on the same bar at the same time to figure out the “twisting” into eachother motion.


I appreciate your detailed responses bro. I am at work for the next few hours, so I cannot manually give this a try, but I will later tonight at the gym.

The scapula pulldown video that you posted is an exercise that I also did. I recall video taping myself, but the right side of the bar was still higher/more forward compared to the left. Perhaps it is some sort of poor habitual set up that has ingrained itself into my central nervous system - coupled with a weak/inhibited muscle. I seem to do it subconsciously without any weights tho. Just raising my arms overhead and observing the position of my shoulder/forearm/wrist reveals that something is off.

I can’t really feel myself use my rotators to change the position of the humerus. I’ve mastered full control of the scapula from what I can tell. Easy to retract, protract, depress and elevate. The only group of muscles that I haven’t really emphasized would be the rotators.

Still…it really makes me think you’re on to something with using the rotators to control my elbow and forearm. My left forearm is noticeably more developed than the right, and the bicep and tricep muscle bellies just seem to be fuller and longer on that side. Right side forearm is much smaller and the bi/tri area just seems to have a shittier shape. All seems connected to the mechanics of the shoulder.


No problem man. This was a problem for me for a long time.

Here’s another crappy video of the cue "rotate your elbows into your body for upper back tightness."

This could be another way to visualise and connect. Maybe you would be double overhand, maybe doing rows or shrugs, but the elbow rotation would be similar.

Another cool video
About 2:45 he mentions twisting and cranking. Maybe nothing, but maybe useful.