Exercise with eye to weaker side

June 09, 2006|By RICHARD SEVEN | RICHARD SEVEN,THE SEATTLE TIMES

To some degree, we all go through life leaning and listing, bowing and bending. The chores we do and the choices we make shape us. We become misaligned, asymmetrical.

All kinds of disciplines try to make us whole again, but just living two-handed can help. How many right-handers can even eat lunch with a fork in their left hands? If you kicked a soccer ball with your "other" foot, would the ball do more than dribble along? When's the last time you even tried to use the other side? How many of you curl challenging weights in your strong arm and then just peter out on the other?

This one-sidedness was the impetus for an exercise-video series by FitPrime last year. The workouts were hard-core fusion, featuring emphasis on "nondominant training." The idea is that you should start your unilateral moves on the weaker side.

"By prioritizing your lifts by training your nondominant side first, you are giving that lift the most amount of energy and mental focus," said Keli Roberts, the certified personal trainer who led several of the videos. "That's important in terms of bringing balance back into the body. When we always work from our strong side first or always bilaterally [both sides at once] we never allow our nondominant side to gain strength and coordination."

Being so prone to one side or the other affects how your body parts mesh. Those less experienced at lifting weights let their strong side carry the load and their weak side cheat when working bilaterally.

It is not just a matter of weight-training. Many sports only challenge one side of the body. Instead try whole-body sports such as basketball and handball.

Most of the time, says University of Connecticut kinesiologist William Kraemer, we don't notice imbalance if the difference is less than 10 percent. Tennis players sometimes show extreme differences from one side to the other. Australian tennis great Rod Laver is perhaps the most famous example of this. The forearm of his racket hand rivaled Popeye's. His other was like the rest of us.

"We have found that in our tennis weight-training studies where we work with bilateral exercises and strengthen the weak side to match the dominant side we can make up the difference with six to nine months of training," Kraemer says.

If you do seem to have an issue of imbalance, Kraemer suggests:

Concentrate on the weak side until it catches up;

Be conscious of your right and left limb handling equal force when doing bilateral exercises;

Overload the weak side with unilateral exercises and do a moderate load on the strong side until you get fairly close to even.

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