As a strength and conditioning coach with over two decades of experience, I can confidently say that a well-balanced strength training program is essential for achieving optimal performance, overall health and staying free of injury.
Many people make the mistake of focusing solely on one aspect of fitness, such as strength or cardiovascular endurance, while neglecting other important components.
However, a balanced approach that incorporates strength, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, and mobility training will not only improve athletic performance but also reduce the risk of injury and promote longevity.
This same line of thinking is prevalent within strength training too. Recreational or uninformed lifters become too tunnel-visioned in their views and range of exercises chosen (commonly working the muscles they can see of a Saturday night out), to the detriment of overall structural balance.
More experienced lifters can fall for the same trap, but with a slightly wider field of view (think powerlifters who don’t do a wider range of accessory exercises to go with their squat, dead and bench work).
This is where a focus on Structural Balance becomes important.
The importance of structural balance training is frequently emphasised in fitness circles. But what exactly is meant by this term?
In the 1980s, Charles Poliquin popularised the concept of structural balance. This theory asserts that achieving balance among all the various muscles in the body is key to optimising progress.
The late Charles Poliquin (right of shot) at a seminar we attended with him in 2015
There are several ways in which muscle balance can be achieved:
Factor #1: The agonist muscles should be in harmony with the antagonists (The biceps should be at a proportional and appropriate strength level to the Triceps for example.
Factor #2: The smaller stabilising muscles should be in balance with the larger prime movers.
Factor #3: The left and right sides of the body should be symmetrical in their development.
Factor #4: Filling in the gaps should be a focus of training, building strength of movements in less conventional directions of force expression (This is my point, not from Charles).
In case you’re wondering at this point, here are Poliquin's structural balance ratios, most of which can be found online.
UPPER BODY RATIOS
Close Grip Bench Press: 100% Incline Bench Press: 91% Parallel Bar Dip: 117% (bodyweight plus additional weight) 6RM 1-Arm Dumbbell Press: 30% per arm Lying Triceps Extension: 40% Supinated Chin-ups: 87% Scott Barbell Curls: 46% Standing Reverse Curls: 40% 8RM Flat Powel Raise: 10.6% 8RM Bent-over Dumbbell Trap-3 Raise: 10.6% 8RM Seated Dumbbell External Rotation: 9.8% LOWER BODY RATIOS
High Bar Back Squat: 100% Front Squat: 85% Deadlift: 1.25% Power Clean: 66% Power Snatch: 51% 8RM Peterson Step-up: 46% Triple Jumpers Step-up 8RM: 30% Full Snatch: 66% Close Grip Bench Press: 66%
*All done with a 4010 tempo and strict form, except the Peterson Step-up, which can be done with a 2010 tempo, and the Olympic lifts, which don’t require any unusual tempo prescriptions. Just perform them as normal.
Strength training is particularly important as it provides a foundation for other physical activities. Building strength improves bone density, joint stability, and muscular endurance, all of which contribute to better athletic performance and a reduced risk of injury.
A well-balanced strength training program should include exercises that target all major muscle groups, such as the chest, back, legs, and core. It is also important to vary the types of exercises and equipment used, as well as the intensity and volume of the training. This variety goes a long way towards achieving structural balance too.
A well balanced strength training program should include a balanced mix of the lifts referenced in the structural balance standards above, or subsidiary exercises of.
Charles developed this system with athletes in mind and some of what is in there is far and above what general populations need to do, but the same general focus on working versions of these movements holds.
Just doing this will train you in the direction of good function, and achieving these numbers is as objective as we can get in saying you are a ‘well balanced human’.
I then recommend 10-20% of training time spent on exercises that you might otherwise not see much of, to build a level of intrinsic resilience that will support more effort on the ‘big lifts’ that everybody loves.
These ‘alternative activities give the added benefits of de-loading commonly stressed tissues while working on others that get missed. This can play a major role in injury reduction.
Flexibility and mobility training are also crucial for maintaining a well-rounded fitness program. Stretching and foam rolling exercises help to increase joint mobility, reduce muscle tension and soreness, and improve overall flexibility.
When we examine this in just a little bit of depth, there’s a litany of ‘bad things’ that can be caused by not paying attention to stretching and mobility.
Tight hamstrings leading to poor deadlift mechanics and subsequent back injury.
TIght high rotators leading to ITB irritation and knee pain when walking or running.
Excessive tension in the chest and lats, leading to a decrease in sub-acromial space and subsequent rotator cuff syndromes.
Overall, a well-balanced strength training program should include a variety of exercises and training modalities to promote strength, endurance, flexibility, and mobility. By incorporating all of these components into your workout routine, you can improve your athletic performance, reduce the risk of injury, and promote overall health and longevity.
Building out your lifting program to include a mix of Dumbbell, Barbell, Cable, Kettlebell, Bodyweight, Bi-lateral and unilateral exercises is a good filter for sufficient variety.
Aiming then to be able to hit the strength ratios listed above will ensure good structural balance across the different lifts and patterns.
About the author.
Dan Lowry is the owner of Hobarts GTT Performance Centre. He is a Personal Trainer and Strength Coach of 20 years. He has worked with Army Special Forces, Professional athletes and regular everyday folk. He has a passion for health & fitness, and the vital part that good quality strength training plays in achieving this.