Muscle Imbalances – My Twisted Shoulders

Happy Friday!

This post was originally going to be about some training methods that I use at home on days when I can’t get to the gym. So  a couple weeks ago I had some pictures taken, just so that I would have some sort of visual reference for you guys.

However, looking through the pictures, I realized that that particular post was going to have to wait. Instead, today I need to focus on something I saw in these pictures, something that deserves a little lot of attention.

As I was perusing through my pictures, trying to find the best ones to post here, there was something that caught my eye, and not in a good way. I’ll take you back to the pull-up bar, which I referred to in this post as well. This bar was given to my boyfriend for Christmas, and I must admit I’ve done a pretty good job at hijacking it. I mean, what’s his is mine, right? RIGHT?

Typically, I do a mix of traditional pull-ups, chin-ups, and neutral grip pull-ups, so you’ll see a mix of these in the pictures below. Now let’s examine the problem. I present to you, Exhibit A:

This is at my hang position, clearly, although I think in this picture I’ve actually just begun the pull. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Hey Steph, Cute Pink Shorts! What’s so bad about this? And my answer to you is: Read on.

Now here at my top position, it also doesn’t look too shabby. Nothing to write home about, anyway. Moving on… Wait for it…

I’ve enlarged this one a little bit so that you could see what I’m talking about (and please excuse the blur… I’m like lightning, the camera just can’t keep up with me). What we’re looking for here, in case you can’t see it, is the fact that my left shoulder is jacked up to about my ear lobe, and the rest of me is all twisted because of it.

What does this mean?

Compensation, Muscle Imbalance, you name it.

Technically speaking, my Left Upper Trapezius has clearly kicked into overdrive and has taken control of this lift, most likely compensating for weakness elsewhere, such as my middle trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, and most likely rotator cuff, among others.


I think the most important thing to note here is that I don’t typically walk around with my left shoulder up to here, and that my start and end positions didn’t show this posture. Some other views of different points in the pull/release also didn’t show this, meaning that it’s most likely a very quick compensation, and one that I maybe never would have realized had I not seen it on film.

So why does it matter? Who cares if I’m all twisted like Quasi Moto while I do a pull up?

Well for one thing, I can almost guarantee you that it’s not just when I’m doing pull ups. I’ve been told that I overcompensate with my upper traps while doing push ups, and since these pictures, I’ve started to notice it with many of my overhead lifts once fatigue starts to set in.  The main reason I care about this is because muscle imbalance not only makes you look a little funky while lifting, but can also cause serious injury and discomfort.  Compensation and imbalances in the shoulder can cause rotator cuff dysfunction, biceps tendon injury, thoracic pain, neck pain, or a whole other slew of injuries that I won’t get into here.  Imbalances between quads, hamstrings, and glutes can lead to knee pain, hip pain, low back pain… and on and on and on.

So what do I do to fix this? Well, as I noted above, it seems likely to me that this is due to weakness  in my mid-upper back, and that is where I will begin my correction. Since these pictures were taken a couple of weeks ago, I have added more “pulling” lifts (different variations on rows) to my upper body days, increased time spent on thoracic mobility exercises daily, and focused more on my form, especially on overhead lifts. I’ve gotten to the point now where I can feel those upper traps kicking in when I get fatigued on a pull-up set, and that is now the point where I stop.  Why stop?

Finishing a set just to finish will get you nowhere if you don’t have proper form. (And may just leave you really, really injured)

So, my charge to you is to keep this in mind next time you are working out/training/exercising/zoomba-ing or whatever YOU do to stay active and healthy. Keep your eyes on the mirror, not only at the end points of your movement, but throughout. Ask someone to snap a few photos especially during that mid-range movement, so that you can see if you too have any funky  movement patterns that have gone unnoticed. You may be able to save yourself from injury down the road, or at least correct faulty movement patterns before they become too ingrained to change.  I’ll keep you guys updated, and hopefully eventually show some mid-range pull-up pics without this little shoulder twist I’ve got going on!

Does anyone have any movement patterns they are working to fix? Have you seen things in pictures of yourself that you didn’t previously see? Do you have any other suggestions for me to fix my twisty pull-ups?

6 thoughts on “Muscle Imbalances – My Twisted Shoulders

  1. Great post!! Really makes me worry about all the crap I might be missing on my own lifts because I don’t film many of them at all!

    I had to cut waaaaay back on my traps training because like yours, my traps overpowered my other back and RC muscles during rows and even overhead presses (towards the end of a set). I’m just lucky I caught it!! :-X

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I was really surprised when I saw these pics because I had NO Idea I was doing this!! It’s great to get an outside perspective sometimes to catch the little things.

  2. Dang that is so interesting. Now I really want to start taking pictures or videos of some of my lifts to see if I have any imbalances inhibiting progress! Looking forward to hearing how your progress to overcome the imbalance goes 🙂
    Hope you have a great weekend!

    1. Thanks, I definitely recommend some pictures at some point, it can really help to catch some of the little things! And like I said before, it’s a very quick movement that I’m doing here, one that I haven’t even noticed while doing pull-ups in front of a mirror, so the camera definitely helped.

  3. a picture’s worth a thousand words right?! i should take photos of my pull up position, i’d be curious to see what’s happening. i’ve been spending a lot of time lately on a really tight rectus femoris that has gotten muuuuch better with some split stance work and active flexibility..boring but necessary! and a weak hamstring that always needs some love now and then. haha good times.

    snatch grip deadlifts are AWESOME for firing those mid traps – not sure if you’ve ever used them, but they’re also a great warm up for conventional deads because you won’t be able to load the bar as much. great way to get your correctives done before beasting your DLs! i noticed a major difference when i started programming them – now i can literally feel my mid-traps firing when they’re supposed to. might be fun to try 🙂

    1. Ah yes, my hip-flexor flexibility work will be never-ending I’m afraid! And I will make it a point to add these into my training, I haven’t used them before so it’ll definitely be good to get a new DL variation in there, and some major mid-trap training to boot! Thanks for the great suggestion!

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