The human body, though designed to be symmetrical, displays slight differences from left to right and front to back. These small differences are hard to recognize if we aren’t concentrating on finding them. Often, we train our fitness clients using bilateral exercises, which require clients to pull or push with both arms and/or both legs simultaneously. There is nothing wrong with this approach – in fact, it is tremendously effective when programmed appropriately. However, asymmetrical training is a fun and effective protocol to implement with your fitness clients because of its unique benefits. Here’s what this type of training approach can do for your clients.
What is Asymmetrical Training?
This type of training isn’t limited to loading one side of the body, although that is a common and effective method. However, there are other ways to create asymmetry. Clients can use two different weights on either side of the body or using a split stance (one leg in front of the other) or performing exercises unilaterally versus bilaterally. Further, a weight training program can use a combination of these methods.
Activities of Daily Living and Sport
Life and the daily activities we perform are largely asymmetrical. The simple act of walking is asymmetrical. One leg is always in front of the other while the arms move in an opposite pattern to help propel the body forward. Running is similar; one leg pushes while the opposite lands on solid ground – and the pattern repeats itself. Opening doors, using a computer mouse, carrying a child, walking up or down the stairs – all asymmetrical movements. Further, many sporting activities are asymmetrical as they are performed through a combination of coordinated and alternating side to side movements (swinging a tennis racket, swimming, jogging, etc.).
As is expected, one side of the body tends to dominate the other and exert more power and strength during the majority of activities (casual or sports-related). Asymmetrical training provides a means of helping clients overcome weakness or compensation by isolating one side over the other and focusing on a specific movement. Perhaps the most significant benefit of incorporating asymmetrical training into your clients’ programs is the result of improved functional movement patterns which make activities of daily living easier, less arduous, and more fluid. The benefits transfer to normal, everyday activities clients need to perform effectively and efficiently. Functional symmetry is achieved through asymmetrical methods.
Balance and Core Strength
All types of asymmetrical training (unilateral loading, altered foot stance, unilateral exercises, or using two different weights) engages the body in a different way than symmetrical training. The body is forced to engage the core to maintain balance. Clients must more consciously engage the core muscles in order to avoid using momentum or falling over – especially when lifting weight overhead. A consistent asymmetrical program or set of exercises will facilitate improvement in both areas – balance and core strength. It’s important to note that if a client has extreme balance concerns, focus on exercises that improve that aspect initially before introducing any kind of resistance.
As we know, one side of the body is dominant. When doing bilateral exercises such as those often performed when using weight machines, one side will unintentionally “take over” the movement. Having your clients engage in asymmetrical training can strengthen the non-dominant side in isolation of the dominant side and create symmetrical strength overall. Instead of having clients perform a standard bench press, try having them perform a unilateral dumbbell bench press and gauge the differences in strength and form from right to left.
Improve Body Awareness
Training bilaterally or symmetrically may “mute” the level of body awareness a client must have in order to complete the movement with proper form. Both sides are working together as opposed to being forced to engage with half of the movement. There’s a different mind-body connection that is forged when a client concentrates on using one side of the body (loaded or unloaded) to create movement.
No doubt, asymmetrical training takes a greater sense of concentration, awareness, balance, and core muscle recruitment. These types of exercises allow clients to fully practice using a full range of motion to complete the movement since one side is the focal point. In doing so, clients may discover distinct differences in individual joint mobility from left to right. Identifying these differences provides useful information to develop a more robust and targeted flexibility regimen for clients to follow on their own to address concerns of mobility.
If you haven’t yet tried an asymmetrical approach with your clients, start by infusing their regular workout program with a handful of asymmetrical exercises targeting both upper and lower body muscle groups. There’s no reason you need to abandon the idea of training bilaterally or symmetrically – but incorporating elements of asymmetry into existing and future programs will add a certain edge to client performance and progress that would otherwise be absent or limited.