I have a client I have been working with for over 3 years now. He is very strong and in good overall condition. For the most part, we focused on increasing his general strength and conditioning, weight loss, and functional conditioning.
We have been very successful. He lost about 30 pounds of fat. He can handle the slopes better (he snowboards during the winter), and he has the endurance to last.
Four workouts ago, I decided to have him do an exercise I call the iso-squat row. This is an exercise where I have the client hold a weight in one hand while leaning forward standing on the opposite foot. I then will have him perform a mini squat, and while he comes out of the squat, he will perform a row with the hand holding the weight. The purpose of the exercise is not so much to improve strength in either the squat or row, but to challenge the stabilizer muscles around the ankle, knee, and hip. There is constant mutli-plane movement the trainee has to counter-balance against. This counter balancing calls into play to a larger degree the aforementioned stabilizer muscles.
He did the exercise just fine with his left leg. When he used his right leg, he could barely stay balanced. He had to stop and start a couple of times.
Noticing the discrepancy between the twos sides, I made him do this exercise the next two workouts. Same result. The right side was far less stable than the left side.
Today I changed it up a bit. I had him do an iso-squat-lateral raise on a dyna disk. This is another exercise that performs the same function. And sure enough, that discrepancy was noticeable again.
From now on, I will make sure I add one, maybe two or more stabilizer exercises for his trouble spots. Isolating the unstable areas and focusing on them will make them stronger.
That’s the blind spot of regular strength training lifts. The stronger side will always make up for the weaker side. The body can call on the strong stabilizers to hide the weak stabilizers. As a matter of fact, training this way can further exacerbate the imbalance between the weak and strong muscles.
Even though I know better, I got away a bit from making my clients do stability work. It has a lot to do with the influence of proponents of exercise machines. They believe that strengthening the large muscles is plenty enough to strengthen the smaller stabilizer muscles, and that stability training is a waste of precious work out time. They are very persuasive writers, and their writing made me value the need for stability less than I should have.
There is no doubt to me that everybody has some kind of muscle imbalance. We all have an injury of some type we had to deal with. These injuries create the imbalance problems. For example, the client I mentioned earlier tore his meniscus in his right knee a few years ago. He needs surgery, but he has been able to work out and both build and maintain a high level of strength until he does. However, the injury is the reason he has the stabilizer weakness on his right side.
I have some stabilizer weakness on my right leg too. I have a tinge of patella tendinitis and chondromalacia in my right knee, and when I do an exercise like the iso squat/row, I have more trouble balancing on my right as well.
Rotator cuff injuries, ankle sprains, overstretched hips. They all can create imbalances that need to be addressed, and even if someone has no injuries, he may have an imbalance because of work related patterns.
The message is this: We all need stability work as well as a good strength training program. For as valuable as strength training is (I am a strong proponent of strength training…I believe it is as close to the fountain of youth as you can get), stability training has a place in your exercise program as well.