Bulges in all the wrong places

If there is one glaring false assumption made by the fitness industry in its attempts to lure us to the nearest gym, it is that we sign up as members purely to get fit and healthy. What really drives those who pay a monthly subscription to these temples of bodily worship is vanity. According to a new survey by the medical insurer BCWA, what we see in the mirror is a far greater incentive than the promises of lower blood pressure or reduced cholesterol made in public health campaigns. But what happens when the good intentions backfire? What if one step-up too many leaves you with calf muscles like footballs or non-stop spinning gives you thunder-thighs? For the narcissist's guide to working out, read on.

Muscle imbalances

Possible cause: Golf, tennis and other racquet sports all involve the predominant use of one side of the body (or one playing arm), which can cause problems. A study at the Union Memorial hospital in Baltimore in the US showed that the most common problems include damage to the lower back caused by the repetitive swinging of a club or racquet to one side. Another problematic activity is skateboarding. When Dave Cornthwaite from Swansea became the first person to skateboard 3,000 miles across Australia last year, his right calf muscle (used to push) ended up 10cm (4in) bigger than the left one.

Solution: Sammy Margo of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy says, "using weights to strengthen your non-dominant side is helpful." Chris Baron, the Golf Doctor at the Celtic Manor resort in Wales, says that in golf as well as other sports, "The spine is the first area of the body that comes under attack from the swinging if your core muscles are weak. The best way to improve this is through Pilates-style exercises."

One leg shorter than the other

Possible cause: Always running on the same side of a road. The average road camber is about seven to nine degrees, which means you are running on a sloping surface so one foot is hitting the ground at a higher level than the other. "Effectively it makes the leg nearest to the side of the road 'longer'," says Martin Haines, a physiotherapist and adviser to Runner's World magazine. "The body naturally compensates for this by trying to shorten the leg to reduce the pressure on your body, in particular on the back and the knee." The more you pound the pavement, the worse the pressure becomes. Running in one direction on a beach can have the same adverse affect if you do it for a prolonged period.

Solution: "Avoid running consistently on a camber by varying your route and terrain as much as possible," says Haines.

Broad back and shoulders

Possible cause: Certain activities, such as swimming, rowing and a lot of weight training to strengthen the trapezius and rhomboid muscles in the upper back can result in a "triangular" appearance (broad shoulders and a narrow waist), says Robin Gargrave, executive director of YMCA Fitness Industry training. "Some yoga moves - such as those that support the whole body on the arms - also require the bracing of these muscles in an isometric contraction that, over time, could lead to an overdeveloped upper back."

Solution: If you are exercising the upper body, try to balance things out with lower body activities, too. With swimming, vary the strokes or hold a kickboard so that for a few lengths you are using only your legs. "Remember that any aspect of fitness is entirely reversible," Gargrave says. "If you don't like what you see, stop the activity that is causing it."

Potbelly

Possible cause: "Having very tight back muscles can tilt the pelvis forward too much, giving the impression of an enlarged belly," Gargrave says. "Poor technique in abdominal exercises can also cause a bulging of muscles in that area." Eating too little can also backfire on your attempts to get into shape. According to personal trainer Kevin Barclay-Webb, whose clients include Annie Lennox and Ivana Trump, cutting calories too drastically increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol and insulin, which controls blood sugar levels. Consequently, he says, "The body responds by storing excess calories in the abdominal region." Mostly the calories are stored as fat "which is why otherwise very thin people can still have a roly-poly belly".

Solution: Gargrave recommends spine-flexing exercises that improve flexibility of the back, but says you should first seek the advice of a personal trainer or physiotherapist. Avoid repetitive sit-ups, which can cause muscles to pop up in an unsightly fashion. Instead, join a Pilates class to learn a variety of core strengthening exercises instead. Eat a well-balanced diet and don't cut out meals.

Rounded shoulders

Possible cause: Over-using the pectoral, or chest, muscles. Personal trainer and postural expert, Jo Tuffrey, says, "the chest muscles are used in a lot of activities and things like sitting at a computer or driving keep them activated at a low level all day." Add in chest-strengthening exercises at the gym and the pectoral muscles "become tight and short, translating to weak back muscles and rounded shoulders".

Solution: Tuffrey advises stretching out the chest muscles on a regular basis. Sit with your feet hip-width apart and elbows tucked into the waist, hands on your knees with palms facing upwards. Breathe in and sit up straight, keeping neck relaxed. Breathe out, gently pulling navel to spine. Breathe in again and, keeping the elbows at the waist, draw your forearms sidewards to open out the chest. Don't let the shoulders rise up. Repeat. "Chest exercises need to be integrated into a whole-body workout including other major muscle groups, especially the abdominals," she adds. "Think of working muscles in pairs, doing equal amounts of exercises with opposing muscle groups. If you're working the chest, you should also work the back. If you're working biceps, you should also work triceps etc."

Big calves

Possible cause: Running uses both the gastrocnemius - the big calf muscle at the back - and the soleus, which is the smaller one lower down, with every stride, so most runners have well-developed lower legs. Over-using the step-machine or doing too many calf-raises can also cause the calf muscles to bulge. "Your muscles are not usually getting bigger," Gargrave says. "They are just better defined because they are more visible when fat disappears."

Solution: Stretch the calf muscles regularly to prevent tightness, says Margo. Place your toes against a wall, with your heel on the floor, so that your foot is at a 45-degree angle. Bring your hip closer to the wall, through pushing off the back foot. Up-hill running in particular, builds the gastrocnemius muscle, so try to factor in some downhill running.

Bulging thighs

Possible cause: Cycling, spinning, squats and lunges predominantly work the hamstrings and quadriceps - muscles that make up the thigh - and can quite quickly lead to a more toned appearance in the legs. "A lot of people mistake this improvement in muscle tone for an increase in muscle size, thinking it is making their thighs look bigger," Gargrave says. "In fact, with less fat, the legs are actually more streamlined so it is an optical illusion."

Solution: Thigh stretches and more cross training. "Vary your activities if you don't want to develop one muscle group above all others," says Gargrave. "Incorporate some weight or resistance training for the upper body to balance your overall muscle development."

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.