Strength training- danger of overtraining one muscle group and ignoring the rest

Exercising, Pain or Injuries, Strength Training

Many gym goers focus on only certain particular part of their bodies during strength training. This is very dangerous because it will result in muscle imbalance- and on the long run, increases the risk of injury on other underdeveloped muscles. Example:

1. Focusing on the biceps and ignoring other parts such as shoulders (deltoids), chest (pectorals) and back (trapezius). The aim is for a muscular looking arms.

2. Focusing on the stomach by doing a zillion push ups either on the floor, using the weight machine or a stability ball but ignoring the back muscles and lower back (erector spinae)- dangers of lower back injuries because push ups will strain the lower back (the bending and impact) and a weak lower backs make it very susceptible to injuries

3. Focusing on the pectorals (chest) but ignoring the shoulders and back muscles- ever notice guys that seemed to have defined chest muscles but is hunched in a very funny way? And their shoulders form a reversed “V” shape? This is because the focus is too much on the pects and ignoring the back/shoulder muscles.  But ignoring those muscles, the person will be more prone to getting his rotator cuff (back joints) and shoulder muscles injured when he keep lifting those heavy weights.

For purpose of illustration, let me focus more on how dangerous it is to focus on bicep muscles and igoring other part. I will use a real life example- my own brother.

I was surprised when my brother told me recently that until today, he had not been able to execute a full push up. When he does his push ups, he could not bend his elbows but instead, bends his lower body. He did this for years prior to joining the gym. Still, that time, he was able to do the mock up push up on his knuckles. Still, it is not a proper push up but achieving the feat on his knuckles made him stronger in the sense he could lift heavier objects.

Then he joined a gym and I would have thought that he would be good at his push ups now. He confessed that even though he is very good with the Les Mills Body Combat exercises, he really struggled during the warm down because there are always the push ups.

My brother is a cardio junkie- as off now, he had lost 6 inches off his waistline and dropped about 18kg through cardio.  He used to be an inactive sedentary guy and initially took up jogging before joining the gym.  He is not really into weights but tries to do the bicep curls and is now managing at 30 pounds of weight per hand. And yes, he admited that he had neglected weight training in other areas of his upper body.

The reason why a person cannot do push ups

If you can’t do push ups, it means the following one or more muscles are weak: shoulder muscles (deltoids), chest (pectorials) and/or triceps.

You need to work to develop these muscles and not just doing biceps curls to have a great looking arm.

Danger of Doing Only Bicep Curls and Ignoring Other Muscles

You run into a higher risk of injuring your shoulder joints- that is why you always hear of active sports people dislocating their shoulder or rotator cuff joints. Another common occurance is when a person carries heavy things (like groceries) and suddenly dislocating the rotator cuff joint because the muscles around there are too weak to support the movement.  It is an extremely painful condition and it can render a person inactive for months.  Bear in mind that your back, chest, rotator cuff and shoulder muscles work together to hold your upper body and your hands together. So each time you lift a heavy weight, those muscles work together to support the weight- it’s not only the job of your biceps.

You need the muscles to be strong and flexible in order to absorb the shock of heavy load, a fall or certain jerks and changes in movements. When you do bicep curls but never worked on other muscles, you would tend to jerk the movement- especially if you happen to try to be a hero and try to lift a much heavier weight than you can manage. Too much of such jerks on an overdeveloped portion will give you lots of shoulder stiffness after the exercise- so if you have been wondering why you suffer from shoulder or back stiffness each time after you do your bicep curls- this could be the reason. Another big contributor is also if you have not stretched enough.

This danger became very obvious to me when I was travelling a few years ago- and I had to lung heavy bags and stuff up and down the cars, buses and trains and sometimes walking long distances on the backpack. I realised how my shoulders were strained to the max and that if I were to continue- I will risk injuring or tearing a muscle. So, I started strength training on the muscles that I’ve mentioned- went to travel again- and noticed what a difference it makes. I was able to lung heavier stuff without feeling my shoulders and back muscles will tear due to the strain.  And for the first time in my life, I am finally able to perform push ups- well, it’s not perfect bend of elbows or on knuckles- but at least, I could accomplish it.

But the push up test is a very good indicator on where you stand in terms of shoulder, back, triceps and chest strength.

How to go about developing other parts of your muscles

For starters, do weight training focusing on the shoulders & rotator cuff muscles (middle, upper and lower deltoids), back (trapezius), triceps and chest (pectorial) muscles. My brother told me that it was difficult for him to do the bench press because at certain angles, he found it very hard to manage the barbell.

In that case, start with the weight machines. Weight machines are designed help with the biomechanics- ie when you use the weight machine, the force your execute throughout the movement is constant. This is because at difficult angles, the weight machine is built in such a way that it allows your body to use less force. Whereas if you use free weights, you will find certain angles very tough. Once you built enough strength, you can then move on to free weights.

The following are list of exercises you can do. The links will bring you to you can see the illustration of the machine used:

Caution: Do weight training after light cardio to warm up the muscles. After the weight training, follow up with stretches for the upper body

1. Shoulder Press

2. Bench Press using machine

3. Machine Peck Deck

4. Lat Pulldown

5. Seated Upper Row

For the complete list of exercises for the upper body with illustration and explaination, please refer to under Upper Body category. It also contains alternatives such as using your body weight, resistance/ exercise bands and stability ball.


For each machine, do 8 to 12 times each set. What I mean by 8 to 12 times is- the range of weight you lift/pull/push with continous proper posture between 8 to 12 times. If you cannot lift the weight after the 7th time or less, it is too heavy for you.  If you still can manage continously for 14 times or more, the weight is too light for you.

After doing the weights, rest for about 1 to 2 minutes. Then repeat another set. Don’t move to the next machine yet.

Rest for 2 days before lifting again (I find that after 2 days, the muscles recover better and stronger compared to alternate day).

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