RESTOR­ING MUSCLE BAL­ANCE

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - WINA STURGEON

By the time most folks hit the end of their 40s, they have be­come ac­cus­tomed to mak­ing the same mo­tions with the same side of their bod­ies. For ex­am­ple, when they reach up into a cup­board, it’s al­ways with the same arm. When they shovel, it’s al­ways with the same foot on the shovel. When they kneel down, it’s al­ways the same leg that kneels down first.

Af­ter sev­eral decades or more of al­ways mak­ing the same mo­tions with the same limb, the body adapts. The dom­i­nant leg grows ever more dom­i­nant un­til most of the work is be­ing done by one glute. Any muscle im­bal­ance will con­tinue to grow ever more im­bal­anced. The strong side will al­ways grow stronger, the weaker side will al­ways grow weaker. Even­tu­ally, the skele­ton it­self will twist to ac­com­mo­date the stronger side, be­cause the in­volved mus­cles ex­ert a stronger pull on the bones to which they at­tach.

The re­sult will in­evitably be pain and dis­com­fort on the weaker side. That’s one rea­son that those who hit their sev­enth decade of life are less mo­bile. It may be un­com­fort­able for them to walk.

This is a dis­abil­ity that is self-in­flicted and grows worse with time. But it can also be self-re­solved and get bet­ter over time. How­ever, the so­lu­tion will re­quire con­cen­tra­tion and some work on your part.

First, it’s good to get an ac­cu­rate anal­y­sis, so you’re not play­ing guess­ing games. One of the best places for this is a sports sci­ence clinic. Those pro­vide doc­tors who are ex­perts at an­a­lyz­ing the way your body moves and di­ag­nos­ing how to change if for the bet­ter. Test­ing is usu­ally sim­ple. For the up­per body, you may be asked to squeeze a lever as hard as you can with both the right and the left hand to mea­sure the force put out by each arm.

With a more thor­ough anal­y­sis, a spe­cial­ist in biome­chan­ics will be able to an­a­lyze whether the weaker force in one arm stems from the shoul­der, the chest or the arm mus­cles. A sports doc­tor will be able to give you a pro­gram of ex­er­cises to make the weak side stronger.

The glutes are the largest and most pow­er­ful mus­cles in the body. A test called a ‘gait anal­y­sis’ will an­a­lyze whether one glute does more work than the other when walk­ing or run­ning. A good sports doc­tor will use this in­for­ma­tion to pro­vide you with an ex­er­cise pro­gram to bal­ance the ef­fort put out by each glute. This test is of­ten done on a re­vised tread­mill that can give an anal­y­sis of the ef­fort each glute is putting out.

How­ever, you can do the work of re­solv­ing muscle im­bal­ances. It’s as sim­ple as equal­iz­ing the work you do with each side of the body and pay­ing at­ten­tion to how you move. For ex­am­ple, if you al­ways reach up to a cabi­net with the same arm, start reach­ing with the other arm.

It may be un­com­fort­able at first. You may not have the same range of mo­tion that you do with the stronger arm; your obliques (mus­cles on the sides of the core) will be weaker than those on the stronger side, so you won’t at first be able to han­dle the same amount of weight with the weaker side. But keep con­cen­trat­ing on work­ing with the less dom­i­nant arm, and soon both your reach and your abil­ity to han­dle more weight with the weaker side will im­prove.

The same goes with the legs. If you al­ways start run­ning or jog­ging with the same foot, start off now with the other foot (but not in a race, how­ever). Bal­anc­ing the way you use your limbs and core will help pre­vent the im­mo­bil­ity that’s of­ten a sad side-ef­fect of ag­ing.

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