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This is another post in our series of Fitness Saturday exercises, workouts, and expert tips appropriate to women in the second half of life. Jonathan Urla, a certified advanced health and fitness specialist, unpacks why some people have larger muscles than others.


Perhaps you’ve seen a person walking around with large calve muscles, but with an otherwise normal sized body. Or,  you’ve noticed someone with large trapezius muscles on their shoulders, yet not anywhere else. As someone who works with people’s bodies everyday, I see this kind of muscular imbalance all the time. Usually, it is true that they did not gain this extra muscle from lifting heavy things. It is actually really hard to significantly increase muscle size (hypertrophy) just from lifting weights once or twice a week. A recent article in The New York Times Science section validates this and shows that lifting heavier weights actually helps to tone your muscles and lose weight.

After we reach adulthood, the size of our muscles is largely determined by our everyday activity. Generally, people who do physical labor for work like farmers, construction workers, maids, will tend to develop stronger and bigger muscles than people with more sedentary lifestyles. However, there is another way that some people can develop large muscles in certain areas other than from work or from lifting heavy weights.  
The root cause of gross muscular imbalance is chronic misalignment and habitual movements using compensatory muscles. Let’s look at large trapezius muscles, which are the muscles on top of the shoulders going up the base of the neck from the back. If someone always has their shoulders hunched, then they will be in a constant contracted state. This habit becomes unconscious. When lifting a pencil, for example, the muscle firing sequence begins with the trapezius so that even when the weight is minimal, the muscle is working overtime. Another common area of muscular imbalance is in the hips, primarily the medial gluteals, which are higher than the gluteus maximus and more toward the sides of the hips. The primary cause of this problem is a forward leaning posture usually stemming from an anterior tilted pelvis, and often coupled with tight hip flexors and weak abdominals. Leaning forward unconsciously even a few degrees whenever we stand or walk will shift weight bearing from the legs to the lower back and gluteal muscles. This repetitive stress on the muscles can lead to hypertrophy, as well as constant tension on the spine in a negative way.
For people with muscular imbalance the best solution is to begin with awareness exercises that use breath work to first relax the habitually tense areas and teach how not to engage the compensatory muscles. Being mindful of how you hold yourself and doing corrective postural exercises as described in earlier articles, along with stretching and core work, can help to bring down the hypertrophied area and lead to more balanced use of your muscles and an overall more comfortable body.

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