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Should we really worry about asymmetries? | Boddicker Performance

Filed under: corrective exercise, Program Design

Should we really worry about asymmetries?

by on May 4th, 2010

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The ideas of “addressing asymmetries” and taking care of “motor control” dysfunction in training athletes is gaining popularity within the performance enhancement industry.  In looking at their arguments, there seems to be a great deal of literature supporting the statements.  Yes, asymmetries can be harbingers of injury.  Yes, motor control can lead be a marker of potential for injury or residue from old dysfunctions.  BMI can have a role in the injury process.  Previous injury is highly implicated with risk of injury, and stupidity is implicated as well.  In the interest of keeping athletes performing well, we as coaches should definitely be aware of these factors, and we’d be remiss to not attempt to mitigate the risk factors.

Nonetheless the point often comes up from those attempting to challenge the idea of optimizing movement and symmetry is that “sport is asymmetrical” so why would you try and alter an athlete and bring them further away from the posture that their sport develops?  Why wouldn’t you train a right handed baseball player or golfer into being more powerful at swinging to the right?

When that topic arises, several things pop into my head:

1.  We are absolutely looking to make the athlete as effective as possible in sport, and this means in a unilateral rotational sport, we need to make the athlete more powerful swinging as she would in sport, BUT if we don’t work toward balance, is the nervous system really going to let us add more velocity to one direction when the other side is incapable of decelerating more velocity?

2.  Sports performance training is great, but we need to realize that sports contribute to less than ideal mechanics, and ultimately unintended stress on the bones, articular surfaces, muscles, and even the nervous system.  Track athletes have altered inverter/everter strength and performance at the ankle from running on banked tracks and volleyball players have more strength in internal rotation, extension of the elbow, and wrist flexion of their dominant upper extremity, and swimmers and baseball players have greater strength in internal rotation as well (Beukeboom, 2000; Alfredson, 1998; Wang, 2001; Wilk, 1993; Tyler, 1999).  It’s simply adaptation to the demands of sport.  BUT herein lies the issue, simply because these imbalances exist in sport, they are not “normal” and should be mitigated before they become a problem.  Though muscle imbalance is “normal” in volleyballers, evidence is available to suggest that those experiencing shoulder pain have greater levels of the same imbalance.

Are you worried about movement dysfunction?

I am.

Best regards,

Carson Boddicker

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Leave a Comment »4 Comments
  • Daniel J Sanidad May 4, 2010

    Maybe a change of intention for athletic training is another possible approach. There should be a balance between the physical training of the asymmetrical issues and competitive athletes should educate themselves on a better balance of life ‘outside’ of their given sport.

  • SnippetPhysTher May 5, 2010

    Collectively, we don’t understand the human bodies and how the bodies function within each of the systems within the body. We seem to be getting better and better at narrowing our focus and looking at one system at a time… i.e. musculoskeletal but aren’t so good at understanding the billions of other interactions within the body (organism) and the effects they have on each other.

    You mentioned the nervous system… what an amazing system! Ever watch a rodeo? It amazes me how a bull rider’s body can tolerate the imposed demands of the bull riding event. Seriously… the velocity, combined with the forces put on the body, combined with the movement patterns and the postural positions with the unpredictableness of the event! I think bulls do have their own certain performance tendencies… but can the rider fully anticipate the bucks or spins or jumps?

    As you mentioned, the body adapts to imposed demands. The imposed demands, in the situation of a sport, can be what leads to successful performance. The asymmetries may very well be what determines an elite athlete from a mediocre athlete. When is a “dysfunction” a dysfunction?

    The real questions in my mind: What will potentially lead the body to no longer tolerate imposed demands? When and why does the nervous system become sensitive and intolerant?


  • Mike T Nelson May 6, 2010

    Good stuff man!

    I would be interested in a follow up on how you fix asymmetries.

    Keep up the good work
    rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

  • Jeff December 25, 2010


    Good article. I guess my question or coment perhaps would separate bilateral assymetries with regards to joint positions vs. bilateral muscle strength assymetries. I remember Charlie Francis always noted that he thought he never cared whether one of his runners had one leg stronger than the other.

    However, assymetries in rom can be a telltale sign something is wrong. As Greg Roskpf, MAT, has been cited many times and I believe this to be true. “rom is secondary to tightness, and tightness is secondary to weakness.”

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