Importance of Structural Balance for Injury Prevention

What is the Science Behind Structural Balance Assessments?

The concept of structural balance is that a muscle’s ability to develop force is a function of the strength of the opposing muscle group and its stabilizers. Many training and sports-related injuries are often the result of muscular imbalances – strength discrepancies between opposing and synergist muscle groups or even between limbs. These structural imbalances are often caused by a combination of the repetitive motions involved in many sports and/or a lack of exercise variety in training.

A Structural Balance Analogy:

Another way to understand structural balance to imagine you are building a house. In construction, the term “footing” describes the concrete support that the foundation is built upon. The footing also spreads the weight of the structure evenly over a wider area. The walls of the house are then built on the foundation. However, if the footing is poorly developed it compromises the stability of the foundation, which in turn, compromises the structural integrity of the entire house.

Each of the body’s joints are similar to the above analogy in that the joint is the house and the muscles and tendons controlling that joint are the foundation and footing. Viewed as a whole, if the stability of one joint is compromised it will affect the structural integrity of the entire body.

This is the proverbial “only as strong as the weakest link” axiom.

A joint is controlled by two primary sets of opposing muscle groups; one set of muscles flexes the joint and the other extends it. Synergistic muscles help the respective primary muscle perform its action. While one primary muscle group and its synergists are moving the joint, the opposing muscle group and it synergists are stabilizing it from the opposite side.

There is an optimal balance of strength between these muscle groups that control a joint, but if the muscles on one side of the joint are disproportionately stronger than the muscles on the opposing side it creates joint instability, which increases the risk of injury to that joint.

The take away point here is balance is important and vital to injury prevention.

 Figure 1: Notice the difference between normal and imbalanced strength and its impact on a joint.

Figure 1: Notice the difference between normal and imbalanced strength and its impact on a joint.

When the central nervous system senses joint instability, it reduces the ability to continue strengthening the muscles that are already too strong. This an effective safety mechanism the body utilizes to protect itself from injury.

However, this safety mechanism can be “overridden” by attempting to force the already too strong muscles to get even stronger — many injuries occur under these conditions. If you place more strain on the weakest link than it can tolerate, the chain breaks.

While unpredictable accidents will still occur, a thorough structural balance assessment can:

  • Identify muscle weaknesses that leave a joint vulnerable to injury and compromise performance;
  • Faulty movement patterns that cause misalignment of the body, which results in distorted movement;
  • Muscle tightness that can result in strained or torn muscles, and;
  • Provide the blueprint from which your initial training program is developed.

A structural balance assessment also provides a starting point for your training. Your initial training program is developed based on the results of your assessment and aimed at correcting your weaknesses, faulty movement patterns, and tight muscles through a progression of corrective and remedial exercises. This approach expedites your results and helps ensure continuous progress.

A thorough structural assessment should be the first step of anyone’s training program whether you are a competitive athlete from any level of competition, an avid CrossFitter, or someone who wants to look better and improve your health.

Excerpt from Athletic Strength Institute