The purpose of strength training should be to encourage the entire body to have stronger, more controlled, and efficient movement with the least amount of restriction and wasted energy. The current approach found in most gyms often falls short of achieving this. The goal for many is to create symmetry: a balance of tension, shape, and size to the muscles. The majority of exercises chosen involve both arms or legs moving in the same direction at the same time. These are known as bilateral movements. Then there are unilateral movements which train one limb or side at a time. Although they require an equal amount of work, the way each side, or limb, generates the force required may be quite different. So even though the body grows stronger, the training programs unknowingly reinforce muscular imbalances. The effect will be bodies which are structurally compromised, that train under greater and greater loads. It would be similar to a building, with a weak and uneven foundation, adding grand pianos on every floor. Eventually, the strain will become too much and something is going to crumble.
Imagine two people digging a hole. One person is larger and stronger and has been a professional ditch digger for many years. Both people have the same pace with their shovels, but the stronger individual is more efficient, more practiced, and because he is good-natured, loads his shovel with more earth to help the other person complete the hole. Both might appear to be performing the same work, but that is not the case. Few people are truly ambidextrous, so one arm is usually used and developed more than it’s counterpart. Most people have a preferred leg with which they kick a ball. This develops two different roles for the leg: one is the stabilizer, and the other creates brute force to send the ball flying. This also helps encourage very subtle rotations and shifts the body’s center of mass away from a true balanced point.
What would the outcome be, over the course of time, of performing squats, deadlifts, or some other bilateral exercise with such a situation? This could also mean that if you were to perform a unilateral exercise on one side of the body and then the other, the way in which the body coordinates the muscle action will be quite different. You see it all the time but might not realize it. Have you ever noticed someone performing a barbell squat, and as the hips descend, they begin to shift the hips over one foot more? How many people do you see perform the bench press and one elbow flares out wider than the other, or one hand is closer to the center of the bar than the other? Perhaps there is a subtle tilt of the bar toward the stronger side? The more this is repeated, the more the differences between the sides are reinforced, not corrected. This uneven muscular development is the cause of many joint issues.
That means that, contrary to popular opinion, you may not need to perform the same exercise on each side of the body with every lift. One side of the body, or one motion, may need additional time to improve control, efficiency, and coordination. You may need to do more work on one side than the other to bring the weaker side up to the same strength level as the dominant side. It is essential that a better balance of strength and mobility be developed first, before encouraging balanced, bilateral or alternating motions, on both sides. The best way to understand what your body needs is to assess it. If you would like to come in for a full body movement assessment just give us a call. We would be happy to design a personalized program that your body craves.