You’re Not Imagining It—Here’s Why One Side of Your Body Is Stronger
It's not uncommon for a body to be unbalanced or off-centered. Actually, that's why one side of your body feels stronger than the other in certain classes like yoga or Pilates. "Most of us develop imbalances as we move through life," Bloom tells me. "This can come from our environments, how we respond to stress, or from injury, imbalanced workouts, activities, or a plethora of other factors." Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing: Bloom notes that the goal isn't to be perfect—but balance is just a good thing to work on, so that you can "move with efficiency and ease," she says.
On the other side of the coin though, one consequence of having one stronger side or being off-balance is that it can affect your posture, and as a result of that, potentially could lead to musculoskeletal issues. This all goes to say that paying attention to your midline in workouts is key to keep the strength on both sides of your body balanced.
The importance of finding balance in your body
"When our bodies are balanced there's a healthy relationship between stability and mobility," says Bloom. "Symmetrical strength is not everything. We want our bodies to be able to be aligned with ease. We want to be able to access both sides of our deep core and the intrinsic muscles all around our joints for stability. But we also want free flowing, full range of motion in our joints."
In fact, alignment actually has an impact on your strength and performance in terms of movement and workouts. "Being evenly balanced is essential to achieving your best performance and best results from your workouts," she says. "Our big muscles are strongest when they begin engagement from their ideal resting length and are supported by the deep stabilizers of the joints around them. That means that alignment affects strength as much or more than time put in training to build mass."
"Being evenly balanced is essential to achieving your best performance and best results from your workouts." —Erika Bloom
If you're out of balance, your body will rely on certain muscles and it leads to tension in your fascial system. "This is as opposed to recruiting groups that work together," Bloom explains. "This means less strength and endurance, but also means your workouts will only make your imbalances worse. On top of that, you’ll build strength that looks uneven and bulky and won’t achieve the visual results you’re going for. Last, not addressing alignment and working to create balance in your workouts could even lead to recurrent injury." Essentially, leaving the imbalances be means you'll be chasing around the issue and injuries are way more likely.
On top of that, your posture can be affected by imbalance in your body. "Posture can certainly be affected by imbalances in strength and flexibility," says Sarah Pace, ACE certified personal trainer and health coach. "When one side is stronger or tighter than the other, it may pull on the other side, causing a shift in posture." Bloom adds that having good posture is "one of the best benefits of corrective work to restore balance in the body."
So it also affects how you move and how you sit. "You may not be sitting the right way," says Chase Weber, a celebrity trainer. "Even if you're on a plane and you lean to the right—a lot of the time, when you fix to the center, it can shift your hips." Leaning one way leads your hips to use one leg over the other. "You'll use your right leg more than your left, for instance. Or you can have a posterior tilt—if you straighten it, it pushes your hips forward, which then engages your core and puts it all together." So, not ideal, but also...fixable.
Here's how to get centered
To bring the balance to both sides of your body, it's all about paying attention to your midline. "The midline is an imaginary line that runs through the middle of your body from the top of your head through your feet—it divides the body into two sides, right and left," says Pace. "When you notice that you have a side of the body that you favor, or when one side is stronger, weaker, more or less flexible than the other, don't compensate for it by compromising your posture—work to strengthen or stretch the side that needs help—everyone's a work in progress."
When working out, it's key to be mindful of your midline when you're moving. "Practicing mindfulness and awareness where you can learn to embody your anatomy and really connect to the sensations in your body is key for restoring balance," says Bloom, who highly recommends Pilates, which is all about correcting misalignments. "You have to develop awareness of whether you're moving freely through all parts of your body as well as if you're finding stability with the appropriate muscle recruitment when stability is called for."
To start, small changes to increase your body awareness can include just paying attention to how you stand, and whether you're standing equally between two feet or whether your hip is out to one side, says Bloom. "Start to find this awareness, without nitpicking, receive feedback from a trained practitioner, and you’re on the path to being balanced and centered," she says.
Weber stresses the importance of doing corrective exercises to bring balance into your body—especially before you get into the more intense part of your workout. "Start getting into corrective exercises and proper dynamic warm-ups, and then start working on isolation," he says. "Do bilateral workouts—single leg stuff, work with a stability pad, just to focus on realigning your body for your posture. Bird dogs, cat cows, and Supermans are also good moves to do."
After doing my Pilates session with Bloom—who had me adjust my "midline" in the middle of workout moves—I stood up, and she said I was noticeably more even. Just like with everything in life, it's all about balance.
If you're looking to do some Pilates work, here are Pilates ring exercises to try at home. And here's a mat Pilates workout, courtesy of Bloom herself.
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