How to Identify Absolute Strength Imbalances and How to Fix Them

How to Identify Absolute Strength Imbalances and How to Fix Them

Absolute strength imbalances are common to all types of clients. The degree of which depends on that particular client’s training history. These imbalances can hamper a client’s ability to reach their fitness goals and increases the risk of injury. Therefore it’s critical that functional fitness coaches understand what absolute strength imbalances are and learn some simple program design methods to correct them.

(Note: Wanting to take a deep dive into absolute strength and learn from a sample 5-week program? Download our free guide to the essentials of absolute strength.)

Absolute strength imbalances are essentially an imbalance in strength ratios in the lower body or upper body muscular structure. Perhaps the best way to visualize an absolute strength imbalance is by taking a look at a client’s one repetition maximum lifts. Let’s take a look at the ‘ideal’ lower body strength ratios first. Here’s an example of what an ideal ratio would be in lower and upper body strength with the back squat, deadlift, front squat, weighted pull up and close grip bench press.

Ideal Lower Body Strength Ratio

Back Squat: 100 lbs
Deadlift: 125 lbs
Front Squat: 85 lbs

Ideal Upper Body Strength Ratios

Weighted Pull Up: 100 lbs
Close Grip bench press: 90-95 LBS

When analyzing these numbers, focus less on the individual movement or weight and more on the ratio of comparison between the lifts. As you can see from the above list, a measure of lower body strength is determined by using a ratio comparison of the back squat, deadlift, and front squat. At the same time, a measure of upper body strength can be found by comparing the weighted pull-up and close grip bench press load amount. When it comes to idea lower body strength a client should be able to deadlift about 1.25 the amount of their best one rep maximum back squat. In addition, their front squat should be about 85% of their best one rep maximum back squat. When it comes to ideal upper body strength balance clients should be able to close grip bench press 90% of their best weighted pull up.

However, very few clients are ‘ideal’ in their strength balance ratios. For example, let’s take a look at a sample client who is better at squatting then pulling in their lower body strength balance.

Imbalance: Squat Better than Pull

Back Squat: 100 lbs
Deadlift: 100 lbs
Front Squat: 95 lbs

As you can see, this client’s ratio of strength is far from balanced. They may be better at squatting due to genetics or mechanical structure or lack exposure to pulling weight from the ground. Regardless of the reason, these client’s are likely what a coach would describe as ‘quad’ dominant. Quad dominant means that their glutes, back, and hips don’t work as much their quadriceps muscle. As a result, these clients are more prone to back and hip injury as they get further into their training. A simple fix for this type of client would improve their hinging and hip extension ability. In addition, static core development would be recommended.

But what happens if the opposite is true and the client is better at pulling then they are at squatting? Well, let’s take a look at an example ratio of a client with this in mind for lower body strength balance.

Imbalance: Pull Better than Squat

Back Squat: 100 lbs
Deadlift: 150 lbs
Front Squat: 80 lbs

This client can deadlift 1.5 times more than their back squat and can only front squat 80% of their back squat. To improve this and avoid the potential for injury, the coach needs to improve the client’s knee flexion and work on the client’s technique as well as their mobility.

Now let’s take a look at two cases of upper body strength imbalances you may encounter as a functional fitness coach. First, a client who presses better than they pull

Imbalance: Press Better than Pull

Close Grip Bench Press: 100 lbs
Pull Up: 90 lbs

The method of fixing this is by improving upper pulling around the scapula and strengthening the upper back musculature. Then finally let’s look at a client who pulls significantly better then they press load.

Imbalance: Pull Better than Press

Pull Up: 125 lbs
Close Grip Bench Press: 95 lbs.

The method of fixing this is by increasing the client’s shoulder flexion, extension strength and overall pressing ability both in both static (strict press) and dynamic environments. (push press).

To summarize, absolute strength imbalance in both the upper and lower body can be determined by looking at a client’s one rep max. When assessing your client’s strength balance, refer to the ideal numbers located in this blog. If you have discovered an imbalance begin correcting it by programming what was suggested for the various imbalance types.

When the client’s strength is in complete balance, the client is better able to utilize their entire body with different loads in various planes of movement and significantly decrease the risk of injury or pain. Imbalances can only be fixed over time, and need to be included in a client’s program. Learn how to program absolute strength progressions and learn from a sample 5-week program in our free guide Programming for Absolute Strength.

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