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Back Pain Center

Exercises for Back Muscle Imbalances

author image Michelle Matte
Michelle Matte is an accomplished fitness professional who holds certifications in personal training, pilates, yoga, group exercise and senior fitness. She has developed curricula for personal trainers and group exercise instructors for an international education provider. In her spare time, Matte writes fiction and blogs.
Exercises for Back Muscle Imbalances
A fit woman is working on the cable machine. Photo Credit Estudi M6/iStock/Getty Images

Your back muscles work hard all day to hold your skeleton erect and perform upper-body movement. But when your day-to-day activities demand work from some muscles while others lie dormant, muscular imbalances can develop, which can lead to pain and injury. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, resistance training has a positive effect in reducing back injury. Targeting weak muscles through exercise and stretching overused muscles can restore balance to back muscles.

Muscle Imbalance Causes

Both activity and inactivity can influence spinal muscle imbalance. If you sit at a computer all day, you might experience rounding of the shoulders as chest muscles tighten and back muscles stretch. Your abdominal and gluteal muscles might become weak and your hip flexors tight from sitting, leading to pelvic misalignment that effects the spine. If you participate in sports like golf, tennis, baseball or other sports that use the muscles in an imbalanced way, you might experience imbalances between the muscles on the left and right sides of the spine. Whatever the cause, physical therapist Robert Donatelli, Ph.D., says strength training is the best way to promote muscular balance and prevent overuse injuries.

Iso-Lateral Cable Rows

Working the muscles on the right and left sides of the spine independently ensures that the dominant muscles do not bear most of the workload. To balance the right and left sides of the thoracic spine, set a dual or single cable pulley at chest height. Select a weight that feels challenging when you pull with one arm. Sit tall with your chest lifted and hips at 90 degrees. Draw your shoulder blades together as you row, pulling the grip to your lower ribcage. Slowly return to the start position. Repeat eight to 12 times on each side. If you are using a single cable, take care to stabilize the trunk, avoiding rotation as you draw your shoulder blades toward your spine.

Iso-Lateral Cable Pulldowns

To pull your shoulders back and down, use a dual cable pulley machine, or a regular cable pulley working one side at a time. From a seated position with the cable set at the highest notch, sit tall with your chest lifted and grasp a single-grip attachment. Draw your shoulder blades down toward the center of your spine as you pull the grip to your outer chest. Slowly return to the starting position. Perform eight to 12 repetitions on each side of your body.


To balance muscle tension from your pelvis to your upper spine, lie face-down on a mat. Extend your arms overhead and fix your gaze on your fingertips. Extend your legs, "shoestrings down," feet together. Inhale and lift your right arm and left leg, holding for two seconds at the top. Exhale and slowly lower. Repeat with your left arm and right leg. Perform eight to 12 repetitions on each side. Increase the difficulty by lifting both arms and legs simultaneously. Use dumbbells and ankle weights to add resistance.

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