Achieving Structural Balance: Unlocking Your Strength Potential

As a high school or college athlete, you might sometimes feel stuck in your strength training, like you’ve hit a plateau that you can’t seem to break through. This could be due to a lack of structural balance in your training routine. Let’s dive into how you can identify and fix these imbalances to unlock your true strength potential.

What is Structural Balance?

Structural balance means having balanced strength across different muscle groups to ensure that no single group is lagging behind. When certain muscles are disproportionately weaker than others, it can limit your progress and increase the risk of injury. For instance, if you can bench press 250 pounds but struggle to lift a gallon of milk comfortably, there might be an imbalance you need to address.

Identifying Imbalances

To identify imbalances, you need to compare your strength across different exercises. Based on years of working with elite athletes, I’ve developed a set of optimal strength ratios. Here’s a simplified version for upper body exercises:

Optimal Strength Ratios (Based on a 250-pound Bench Press):

  • Close Grip Bench Press: 250 pounds (100%)
  • Incline Barbell Press: 208 pounds (83%)
  • Supinated Chin-Ups: 202 pounds (81%) – includes body weight plus additional weight
  • Behind-the-Neck Presses: 160 pounds (64%)
  • Scott Barbell Curls: 115 pounds (46%)
  • Standing Reverse Curls: 75 pounds (30%)
  • Single-Arm External Rotation: 22 pounds (9%) – for 8 reps

Case Study: Improving Balance

Let’s take a real-world example. Meet Jim, a hockey player stuck at a 280-pound bench press for years. His external rotator strength was way below where it should be, only 8 pounds for three reps. By focusing on improving his external rotator strength, Jim was able to increase his bench press significantly without even practicing the bench press itself!

Here’s how he did it:

  1. Stop Bench Pressing: Sometimes, you need to stop doing the exercise you’re stuck on to focus on the weak links.
  2. Focus on External Rotators: Jim did specific exercises to strengthen his external rotators.
  3. Address Other Weaknesses: He also improved his brachialis and overhead pressing strength.

After following this plan, Jim’s bench press improved from 280 pounds to 380 pounds in a few months, and his external rotator strength increased from 8 pounds to 35 pounds for 8 reps.

How to Test and Improve Your Structural Balance

Testing Your Strength

To test your strength, you need to find your one-rep max (1RM) for each exercise listed. Make sure you use proper form and control the weight throughout each movement.

Example Routine for Improving Weak Areas

If you find that your external rotators are weak compared to your bench press, here’s a simple routine to help you improve:

  1. Single-Arm External Rotations:
    • Sets: 3-4
    • Reps: 8-12
    • Frequency: Twice a week
    • Tempo: 4 seconds down, no rest, explosive up
  2. Incline Barbell Press:
    • Sets: 3-4
    • Reps: 6-8
    • Frequency: Twice a week
    • Tempo: 4 seconds down, no rest, explosive up
  3. Scott Barbell Curls:
    • Sets: 3-4
    • Reps: 8-10
    • Frequency: Twice a week
    • Tempo: 4 seconds down, no rest, explosive up


Achieving structural balance is crucial for breaking through strength plateaus and preventing injuries. By identifying and strengthening weak areas, you can make significant progress in your overall strength. Remember to test your lifts, compare them to the optimal ratios, and adjust your training accordingly. Stay committed, stay balanced, and watch your performance soar!

For more detailed exercises and routines, check out the Hardbody Athlete resources or consult with your coach. Keep pushing your limits and striving for that perfect balance!