Vail Daily column: Asymmetrical exercises can help correct imbalances
Make It Count
A previous injury is the biggest threat you face. Purely from a musculoskeletal perspective, an ACL tear that happened 10 years ago will always be a chink in your armor, no matter how hard you focus on doing the right things. The biggest risk factor for a mechanical musculoskeletal injury is a previous injury, followed closely by an asymmetry. For clarity, an asymmetry is nothing more than an imbalance between the left and right side or front and backside of the body. A previous injury is what it is.
However, there are rules to the game for appropriately strengthening a previous injury, and there is a very methodical approach to wiping asymmetries off the map. Today, I will discuss the latter.
An injury or an asymmetry is not a life sentence, but often feels like it’s the end of the world because we fail to address the problem correctly. Get ready for a breakthrough here; asymmetries are often corrected by asymmetric exercises. Frankly, symmetrical exercises rarely help correct asymmetries and often reinforce the problem.
Consider the following example. I have a particular enjoyment for lifting weights symmetrically. Exercises such as the traditional squat involving both legs to descend deep into a seated position, and then standing up from a seated position with a reasonably heavy weight is a great way to promote general strength and fitness.
I endorse bilateral, symmetrical lifting for several reasons, notably the substantial amount of weight you can move during the execution of double limb lifting exercises. The benefits outweigh the minimal consequences, pardon the pun. However, dual limb exercises like the squat or pushup fail to address muscular imbalances because the load during the execution is evenly distributed; the weak side will always come along for the ride while performing minimal effort, while the strong side will carry the majority of the load increasing the strength of the dominant side while decreasing the effectiveness of the weaker side.
Follow along as I examine the traditional pushup. The load is distributed across the lower torso, chest, shoulders and upper back as the arms articulate the motion. Compare this to the one arm alternative. Remove the right arm, and perform a one-arm pushup with the left arm only. The right quadrant of the torso will try to rotate and potentially crash to the ground because the right arm isn’t available to support the right side of the torso. What will anchor the right side of the body and keep it aligned as the left arm performs the movement of a one-arm pushup? The deep stabilizers of the torso must be called upon aggressively to keep your body level, and to deliver maximum efficiency to execute the exercise.
The very specific reason that asymmetric exercises like the one-arm pushup work so well to strengthen muscle imbalances is because of the deep involvement of stabilizing muscles that otherwise might not get called upon using symmetrical exercises like the traditional two-limbed pushup. Single limb, asymmetric exercises create a twisting force because your body distributes and applies force lopsided. This is similar to wringing out a wet towel.
Bilateral exercises on the other hand aren’t lopsided and will never produce as deep of a stabilization response because it just isn’t required.
Here are my two favorite asymmetric exercises that do a great job of correcting muscular imbalances throughout your body.
• One-arm suitcase carry: Pick up a heavy weight as you would a suitcase. Ideally, a dumbbell or kettlebell is required. For novices, use a weight that is one-fourth of your body weight; advanced trainees use one-third to half of your body weight. Pick up the weight and walk as far as possible until you can’t hold onto the weight any longer. Pick up the weight with the other hand, walk back to the starting position. The muscles of the opposite side of your body from which you are holding the weight will scream from muscular fatigue.
• Pistol squat or one-legged squat: For novices, set up a box, stool or bench that is low enough that allows you to stand in front of the bench, and lower yourself into a seated position on the bench with one leg. Stand back up on the same leg. Repeat for five repetitions on each leg. The bench is too low if you can’t get back up from the seated position; the bench is too high if you can perform more than five repetitions. Add weight, held in your hands out in front of your chest over time. Advanced trainees shouldn’t need a bench or stool, and ought to be able to descend into a deep one-legged squat until the working leg is below parallel to the ground. If you are very strong and have adequate range of motion, you ought to be able to sit deep down on one leg until the back of your upper leg is resting on the calf of the same leg. Stand up from there.
Give these a try. These exercises will build great stability throughout your body that can optimize your movement to reduce back pain, knee problems, and hip dysfunction. Have a great week!
Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at http://www.r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.