We often have athletes come through our doors looking to achieve perfect alignment in their form, convinced that their asymmetries are what’s holding them back.
While it’s true that asymmetries can lead to injury and chronic tightness, or be the culprit behind race day disappointment, the bottom line is, “perfect alignment” does not exist. The human body is naturally asymmetrical.
It’s been well documented that Usain Bolt, the fastest sprinter in history, has an asymmetric gait. His right leg strikes with more force than his left, and his left leg stays on the ground longer than his right, according to a study by Andrew Udofa, a biomechanics researcher in the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory. Yet he was still able to achieve profound athletic success. If he had changed his form to run more symmetrically, it may have actually slowed him down. Symmetry does not always equate to efficiency or better performance.
Think about it from a physiological standpoint — what’s happening with your insides greatly affects your outsides. Your liver, one of the largest and heaviest organs, is hanging out on the right side of your body, automatically tipping the scales in that direction. In most people, the right diaphragm is thicker and stronger than the left. So without doing anything other than being born a human and not a cyborg, we’re stuck with a dominance to the right side. We also live in a world that leans heavily toward right side dominance. When was the last time you picked up your kid with your left arm, or brushed your teeth with your left hand?
Now that we’ve thrown the idea of achieving symmetry out the window, how do you get to the next level?
Focus on neutrality and efficiency.
Neutrality is the ability to transition from the right to the left side, as efficiently as possible. Think of it as a dynamic state of movement, as opposed to being still. Human beings were engineered to move, and we can’t assess neutrality from a static position. Transitioning well from right to left translates into more efficient movement. The more efficient you are, the less energy you expend. And that’s how you get to that new personal best.
Recently, Dr. Josh treated an Olympic fencer for knee pain. As you can probably imagine, this athlete had a significant asymmetry in quad dominance because of the time spent in a lunge position. But if Josh had corrected his imbalance completely, it could have impacted his ability to perform at the same level. Instead, Josh created a plan to strengthen the non-dominant leg while maintaining strength on the side where his athlete needed it. The challenge is to work WITH an asymmetry to eliminate pain and maximize efficiency, not to work against it.
Let’s say you’ve examined your race photos, and you’re acutely aware of some asymmetries in your form, or you know what hurts when the wheels fall off during a workout. It’s not enough to just tell yourself to stop swinging your right arm across your body when you run, or to assume your back pain means there’s something wrong with your back. You need to pinpoint exactly WHY your body is doing what it’s doing, and what it’s compensating for.
That’s where we can help. Think of us as super nerds when it comes to biomechanics. BEFORE you’re injured or feeling pain, come in for a full body functional movement assessment. We’ll watch you squat, deadlift, bend forward, step up, and run (to name a few), then develop a customized plan to address your unique imbalances. Our aim is not for your form to be perfect, but rather, right for you, to help you achieve your full athletic potential.