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Your body is made up of muscle pairs. When you move, the main muscle that is responsible for the movement is the prime mover or agonist muscle. As it moves, a second muscle acts as an opposing force to resist the movement. This is the antagonist muscle. When you strength train, it is important to train both your agonist and antagonist muscles equally.
When you perform a strength training exercise your prime mover muscle does most of the work. For this reason, it becomes stronger than the other muscles, including the antagonist muscles. For example, when you do a biceps curl, your biceps are the main muscles that are activated, while your opposing muscles, in this case your triceps, are activated to a lesser degree. For this reason, it is important to train your biceps and triceps separately to make sure they get the same amount of activation. When an antagonist muscle is stronger than the antagonist, you risk muscle imbalance.
Muscle Imbalance Risks
If you have a muscle imbalance, some of your muscles are tighter than others. When this happens, your stronger muscles end up doing more work because your tighter muscles are too weak to act effectively. This can lead to inflexibility and overuse injuries such as hamstring or hip strains and patellofemoral pain syndrome, a knee pain caused by an imbalance in your quadriceps and glute muscles. If you have core imbalance, you can suffer from improper posture and lower back pain. You can avoid these injuries, or help reverse them, by making sure you train both your antagonist muscles equally.
Upper Body Exercises
The main antagonist muscle groups in your upper body are your chest and back and your biceps and triceps. To work your chest, try chest presses, flies, pushups and pullovers. Counteract these exercises with various rows, including incline, seated and bent-over rows for your back. You'll also need to exercise your posterior deltoids and trapezius muscles that oppose your chest. For these muscles, try reverse flies. For your biceps, you can use various biceps curls, including incline, barbell, hammer and concentration curls and for your triceps use dips, triceps extensions, kickbacks and even close-grip push ups. If you are exercising your deltoids or shoulders with overhead presses, the antagonist muscles would be the latissimus dorsi. You can strengthen these with lat pull-downs or bent-over rows.
Core and Lower Body Exercises
Many people train their abdominals with various crunches and leg raises but neglect to train the opposing erector spinae or back muscles. Perform back extensions to keep your core balanced and your back pain-free. For your upper legs, try lunges and squats for your quadriceps and leg curls and deadlifts for your hamstrings. Don't neglect your lower legs. Train your calves with raises and presses and stretch your tibialis anterior or shins with reverse calf raises and presses.