“My left pec is larger than my right, what should I do about it?”
I get many questions about asymmetry and what to do about it. First, what do I mean by asymmetry? What I mean is that a muscle on one side of the body is a different shape or size than the same muscle on the other side of the body. For example, the left biceps is smaller than the right biceps. Most people don’t look but don’t see. If you look carefully at anyone, you will notice that there are many differences between the left and right side – limbs different lengths, eyes in different positions, muscles different sizes, ears at different heights, hips tilted, etc. Lets take an example, look at the left image below. Muscular and ripped, awesome physique! Many people would say a great physique like this would be their goal. Now lets look at it closer, look at the right image. I have marked it up to show the parts that are not symmetrical.
True symmetry in humans is actually quite rare. Very few people when standing relaxed are symmetrical. If you think you are, try this. Take your shirt off, close your eyes, relax, and have a friend snap a photo of you. Now look at that photo. Now, use photoshop and flip the image left for right and compare the images – you will probably be shocked.
Normally you don’t see these things because people rarely stay sill long enough in a standing symmetrical stance so you can notice them. What to do about this? First, if you are having joint or back pain because of it, you need to see a doctor and work with a physical therapist! If your concerns are cosmetic, read on. It is not always possible to correct asymmetry so a big part of posing routines in bodybuilding is learning how to pose using your asymmetry to your advantage. You always hear people joking before taking a picture, “wait, that’s not my good side” while they turn their head. Its no joke though, almost everyone has angles and poses which flatter them the most and its your job to find out what those are. Even if you never plan on entering a bodybuilding contest, it pays to know how to position yourself for maximum effect.
Now lets talk about correcting asymmetry. Personally I don’t bother trying to correct my asymmetry; however, I make sure that my workouts do not make it worse! Here is an example for chest. The bench press is a good exercise for symmetry because each pec must do exactly the same amount of work otherwise the bar will be crooked and the weights will slide off. A bad exercise for chest is a machine where the left and right sides are connected together so that the dominant pec can lift more than the weaker pec and thus make the asymmetry worse – an old fashioned universal machine bench press is an example of this.
If you do want to correct your asymmetry, remember that the last thing you want to do is injure yourself trying to correct a cosmetic asymmetry. Doing dumbbell flys with only one dumbbell is a recipe for disaster. Some muscles can safely be worked one at a time but others apply dangerous torques to the skeletal system that are just not present in everyday life. Safe would be doing single armed biceps curls on a preacher bench as no torques are being applied to the torso or shoulder. Dangerous would be one legged leg exercises or one armed chest exercises.
Scoliosis is a very common form of asymmetry and it can vary a lot in severity. As many people have noticed from my videos, I have scoliosis. Scoliosis is the side to side curvature of the spine as you look at the body from the front. It can be caused by a short leg, asymmetrical tightness in the joints, or a spine that is actually bent. Some people have is so severely that it requires surgery early in life but for most people, like myself, its much more mild and more of a cosmetic issue. Again, its definitely worth getting an appointment with a physical therapist because often the scoliosis can be reduced by some seemingly strange and unrelated stretches. If you see a physical therapist and they give you crazy stretches, DO THEM religiously for 6 months and see if it improves. You have to be careful about self treating this as you can get yourself into a lot of pain and trouble. If you have had a short leg all your life and decide that you are going to “fix” your problem by putting a 1/2″ lift in your shoe, you could be in for a very unpleasant surprise. After a few days you could develop crippling back pain and spasms. The body is very good at adapting but if your body has spent your entire life with a short leg and you suddenly make them the same length you could be in for a very unpleasant surprise. Anyway, the take home message here is not to self-treat scoliosis – see a doctor and get a prescription for physical therapy if you can afford it.