For those who care about buffness

strength balance in opposing muscle groups

i was asked a very good question by ArnoldCat:
“why are my pushing muscles so weak compared to my pulling ones”.

so as much as i thought the answer could simply be “well you are an aerialist, you mostly have pulling power”, it raises a new question.
can the pushing muscles in question ever match the strength of the pulling ones?

take the triceps as an example. it’s larger than the biceps. yet the bicep is the one who develops fast and hard, and atm my biceps are pumping twice the weight the triceps can. moreover, the triceps are dog slow to respond to traditional training methods.

so since the muscle is larger, why isn’t it matching the biceps more easily? and will it ever match the strength of the biceps?

there isn’t much acurate research on the web. but i did find a couple of good pointers:

“Muscle balance ratios differ between muscle groups and are affected by the force-velocity of these different muscle groups at specific joints” (Bell, 2007, p.1)[2]. In an ideal situation, isokinetic dynamometers would best facilitate for measurements, but from a practical perspective most trainers will employ a 1-RM testing for each individual muscle group (Bell, 2007)[2].

As cited by Bell (2007)[2],the current standard for muscle balance ratios, recommended for the agonist-antagonist muscle groups are:

Muscle Groups
Muscle Balance
Ratio Weight(example)

Ankle Inverters & Everters

Ankle Plantar Flexors & Dorsiflexors

Elbow Flexors & Extensors

Hip Flexors & Extensors

Knee Flexors & Extensors

Shoulder Internal & External Rotators

Shoulder Flexors & Extensors

Trunk Flexors & Extensors

Balance checks

For each of the following exercise the right and left limb 1RM scores should not differ by more than 10%.

Hamstrings (leg extension)
Quadriceps (leg curl)
Arm Curl
One arm military press
Single leg press

The following table (Dintiman 1998)[1] is reported values for joint agonist-antagonist muscle ratios at slow isokinetic speeds.
Joint Movement Ratio
Ankle Plantar flexion/dorsi flexion 3:1
Ankle Inversion/eversion 1:1
Leg Extension/flexion 3:2
Hip Extension/flexion 1:1
Shoulder Flexion/extension 2:3
Elbow Flexion/extension 1:1
Lumbar Flexion/extension 1:1

Where there is an imbalance then you need to devote more training attention to the muscle group of the weaker limb.

and again here, a more simplified version from men’s health (please use w caution, these ppl have no idea what they are talking about most of the time!):

Use the general guidelines below to check your muscle balance. The strength ratio for each set of muscle groups represents the amount of weight that the first muscle group should be able to lift compared with the second muscle group. If one group is proportionally weaker than it should be, you have to hit it first in your workouts until it catches up.

Muscle group: Quadriceps (front of thighs)
Opposing muscle group: Hamstrings (back of thighs)
Ideal strength ratio: 3:2
Sample exercises: Leg extension, leg curl
Sample weights (lb): 90:60

Muscle group: Biceps
Opposing muscle group: Triceps
Ideal strength ratio: 1:1
Sample exercises: Arm curl, triceps extension
Sample weights (lb): 45:45

Muscle group: Front shoulders
Opposing muscle group: Rear shoulders
Ideal strength ratio: 2:3
Sample exercises: Cable front raise, cable bent-over rear-shoulder raise
Sample weights (lb): 20:30

Muscle group: Internal shoulder rotators
Opposing muscle group: External shoulder rotators
Ideal strength ratio: 3:2
Sample exercises: Cable internal rotation, cable external rotation
Sample weights (lb): 30:20

Read more:

what ppl have to realise, is that yet again, this will not work for everyone. these are merely rough GUIDELINES as far as i am concerned. we are all physiologically different, so a single program will not work for everybody.

i guess the muscles and their relative strength compared to their antagonist will vary depending on many factors, such as mechanical advantage, origins/insertions, geometry of the muscle etc. so perhaps even if a muscle is larger, it might not actually lift as much as its antagonist purely because it’s at a disadvantage in terms of movement and mechanical action? there are no hard rules here i don’t think. just individual cases.

my tip to remain balanced would be to work muscles in opposing pairs. so biceps/triceps etc. making sure that if you’re targeting your 1RM you do so for both muscles and give it all your might.
then you have to take into account whatever strength is gained from functional training outside the gym. for an aerialist whose strength resides in pulling and w tight pecs, i would adjust the workout to target back muscles at 2:1 (for number of reps, not weight) in an attempt to rebalance and improve posture.

oh and stretch these pecs man!

2 Responses

  1. James

    Thanks so much for this article!!!

    I’ve been trying to find these ratios online for a year off and on.

    I’ve found “flexor… extensor… yadayada…at the joint…blah blah torque… blah…” but I needed that translated into muscle groups and exercises.

    I have tendonitis at the elbow and possibly the knees (along with old cartilage).

    My hamstrings and triceps are about 40% stronger than their opposing groups.

    I’m getting the “tennis elbow” from chest press exercises. I often work out the chest almost exclusively, because that’s what I lose the quickest. My chest is strong but small anyway. My bicep is week but looks fine. All this has resulted in pain in the tip of the elbow where the tricep begins and at the forearm near the elbow. I’ve also got wrist pain

    I’ve read that forearm and bicep exercise are crucial in avoiding tennis elbow. I’m doing wrist flexion/extension exercises.

    Besides icing after a workout, I’ve heard good things about the tennis elbow strap (around the forearm) as well the brace that surrounds the elbow.

    If you have any more articles or thoughts, I’d really appreciate it.

    07/04/2013 at 6:46 pm

  2. zaki

    Hi James,
    thanks for your comment.
    i got tennis elbow for some time from doing too many pull ups. luckily for me it went away of its own after a while. HOWEVER, i would like to suggest you use slings or straps, and wrap your wrists in them when you do pull ups. so instead of hanging from the bar, you’re hanging from the straps. this promotes a more natural wrist movement during the pull ups and will save you from tendinitis. this goes for both elbows and wrists btw.
    this doesn’t mean you are too “weak” to hold on to the bar (like some ppl have told me! haters have got to hate!), but rather means you are smart enough to evolve and adjust so that your body can keep going for longer.

    an OT suggested the said forearm band but i found it incredibly difficult to place it where it should be (the location is paramount, you might make it worse by putting it too high/low on your forearm) moreover it was hard for it to stay in place as soon as i exercised so i binned it!
    so imho, go easy for a couple of weeks (i know, i hate it too but sometimes you just have to stop to come back stronger) and then train smart. be creative. i will post a video soon of what i mean by straps as many ppl suffer from this, and unnecessarily so.

    what other chest exercises are you really fond of? i guess bench presses might prove difficult w straps and same w push ups, but push ups for example you can use handles or tubes for to ease the wrist angle.

    regarding the opposing group ratio, am glad someone else wondered about that and that you found the article above useful. discrepancies are unavoidable am afraid, tho having said that, i seem to have hit a perfect 50/50 for my arms. but i reckon this wont be true from next week as things rarely stay static for long 😀

    have fun!

    07/04/2013 at 9:35 pm

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