A Bit On The Side

Left or right: which do you pre­fer?

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

Afew years ago, Jim Rose kept get­ting in­jured while train­ing for a half marathon. Nearly 20 years of run­ning had taught him that the sport and in­jury are of­ten part­ners and he was clock­ing 35-60 miles a week, but Rose was struck by an odd con­sis­tency. ‘My in­juries in my calf, knee, an­kle, ham­string and hip were all in my left side,’ he says. A chi­ro­prac­tor told him one-sided run­ning in­juries were con­nected to be­ing ei­ther right- or left-side dom­i­nant. Af­ter a few ad­just­ments and some ex­er­cises to strengthen his weaker side, Rose re­cov­ered, but he con­tin­ues to be dogged by in­juries, usu­ally on his left side.

One-sided in­juries of that sort are fa­mil­iar to phys­ios, coaches and sports doc­tors. ‘Run­ning is a sort of bal­anc­ing act,’ says Dr Lynn Ber­man, who spe­cialises in phys­i­cal therapy. Our right and left legs per­form a bal­let of co­or­di­na­tion and op­po­si­tion as one pushes off while the other swings for­ward, he adds. ‘This co­or­di­na­tion breaks down when one side shows weak­ness.’


Most peo­ple would agree that one side of their body is stronger than the other. But that’s not the is­sue, says or­thopaedic sur­geon Derek Ochiai. ‘I don’t think it’s that one side is stronger, it’s that the other side is weaker than op­ti­mal,’ he says.

When one side isn’t strong enough to bear the bur­den of ex­tended run­ning, it can lead to com­mon in­juries, in­clud­ing il­i­otib­ial band syn­drome and patellofemoral pain syn­drome (run­ner’s knee). In­juries of­ten cen­tre on the hips.

The ap­pear­ance and re­sult are sim­i­lar to what we see with an­other com­mon mus­cu­lar im­bal­ance, when mus­cles in the but­tocks and hips, such as the glu­teus medius and ab­duc­tors, are weaker than the quads and ham­strings. ‘ Your hips tend to drop or tilt,’ says sports doc­tor Cherie Miner. ‘It will look like one side is drop­ping down.’ When one hip drops, it can over­stress the knee and other fo­cal points for in­jury.

One cause of left-right im­bal­ance is run­ning in one di­rec­tion on a cam­bered road or track. ‘By run­ning in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, [ath­letes] can even it out,’ says physio Gary Guer­riero. ‘As of­ten as ev­ery other work­out, it should be re­versed, so they main­tain a bal­ance.’ But one-di­rec­tional run­ning isn’t the only cause. A previous in­jury can cause one side of the body to be weaker. Even con­sis­tently cross­ing one leg over the other can in­hibit strength on that side. Cross-train with cy­cling, Pi­lates and core work.


Phys­ios, train­ers and doc­tors also rec­om­mend sev­eral ex­er­cises that can help strengthen a lag­ging side. Some you may al­ready do, such as lunges, clamshells and one-legged squats, with or with­out weights. Guer­riero rec­om­mends as­sign­ing the non-dom­i­nant leg an ex­tra set of these ex­er­cises. ‘Do each ex­er­cise uni­lat­er­ally, and start and end on the weaker leg,’ he says. ‘This way it’s get­ting a lit­tle ex­tra work.’

Of course, you need to know which side is dom­i­nant. One easy way to iden­tify your prob­lem-prone side is to bal­ance on one leg at a time for as long as you can. You should be able to stand longer on the dom­i­nant side.

Of course, no­body ever wrote a book called The­joy­of­clamshells, and, when it comes to pure plea­sure, stand­ing on one leg in a gym or liv­ing room does not com­pare with run­ning down a beach or trail. Rose ad­mits that de­spite his history of in­jury, he strug­gles to keep up with his as­signed therapy. Guer­riero says run­ners at all lev­els have this is­sue. ‘Every­body just wants to do the ac­tiv­ity that they want to do,’ says Guer­riero. ‘But if they do this sec­ondary stuff – the strength­en­ing and flex­i­bil­ity ex­er­cises – it will help pre­vent in­jury so they can con­tinue to en­joy what they’re do­ing.’

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