Are you right handed or left handed? Do you lead with your right leg or left leg? As humans, we have this incredible ability to specialize in specific movements; whether its throwing, jumping, or running. Some have a theory that this is because we have the capability to dump more brain power and energy in one side of our body to promote greater skill, power, and accuracy, but where does that leave the neglected side? A seldom used limb can appear as weaker, less coordinated and even lack in size compared to our dominant sides. This is known as an imbalance.
Unfortunately, imbalances do not just occur in the arms but all over the body. This means your muscles that support the spine, the hips, and ankles. Since our bodies are adaptation machines, they will begin to reconfigure their mechanics, energy use and strength output to be able to best survive in the environment that it is exposed to most often. Unfortunately for us, we have gown to live in a much more sedentary society that promotes sitting and inactivity rather than on of constant movement and manual labor. The imbalances that come from sitting usually come in the form tightness in the front of the neck, chest, biceps, abdomen, hip flexors and hamstrings while also seeing weakness in the back of the neck, back, glutes and quads. Simple ergonomic exercises and stretches can go a long way to fix the imbalances that support our spine, hips and knees.
Being someone who loves sports, and I mean someone who’s day is sometime dependent on the outcome of a game, it hurts me to say that sports are terrible for the human body when looking it from a holistic health approach. Yes, it helps keep individuals healthy through the cardio and strength training, but sport movements are highly repetitive. When it comes to athletics, results and performance most times outweigh form and mechanics. Lets look at a basketball player for example. When he or she sets their feet, they do not go down into a full squat before jumping for a rebound. They come half way down and explode for quickness. In soccer, most of the jumping that occurs comes off of one leg. Subconsciously, the soccer player will revert to their dominant leg for jumping even if it would make sense to use the other. I experienced this in my 20 plus years of playing soccer as when it came to jumping, I would more times than not, jump off of my left leg. This repetitive movement acted as mini leg presses and actually lead a strength, size and control difference in my legs even though I was more coordinated on my right side. Since I stopped playing, I was able to really zero in on fixing this issue, and only after a few years of hard and consistent work, have I seen the imbalance between my legs begin to shrink.
So how can you start today? The answer is simple. You must start by realizing that like losing weight, fixing any imbalance will take time and requires consistent and deliberate work. Once you have come to terms with that in your mind, you can now get to the easy stuff. Unilateral (single sided) movements are some of the best types of exercises you can do to fix your imbalances. This could come in the form of lunges, isolated dumbbell movements such as chest press or row, or even single legged dead lifts. Some of my favorites to use on new clients are single legged leg press, bridges, heel raises and row. Split stance movements are great for chasing imbalances as well. By placing your lagging leg forward during movements such as bicep curls or shoulder presses will ask it to bare more weight. This helps with diagonal control in the core as well.
One of the most important thing to remember when addressing imbalances is that your lagging side is the pace care. What does this mean? Say that I give you three sets of 10-15 reps for lunges on each leg. I would begin the first set with the lagging side. Say that you only get 11 reps with that leg; you will cap the stronger side to 11 reps as well. For a lack of better words, you will be stunting the progress of the stronger side until the lagging side catches up. If you don’t cap the stronger side, you will continue to maintain the gap between the two.
Sometimes that imbalance in not a difference in strength but a difference in skill. This means that when you are practicing your unilateral work, be sure to move with precision and control. If form breaks down, that is the end of the set. Always lead with the “Quality Over Quantity” mindset. If you go for quantity but have shotty form, you will develop shotty mechanics and control. This remains consistent with the idea of our body’s being adaptation machines and will convert to the environment that it experiences the most. SO TAKE YOUR TIME!
There you have it. Like always, making any significant change in your health takes time, deliberate effort and discipline. By staying focused on the ultimate goal, your health, pain and mobility will improve in no time.
For more tips, tricks and guidance in the gym, follow me on Facebook and Instagram at @chriskadingCPT and check out the CK Health and Wellness YouTube channel for detailed exercise material.