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 gluteal muscle. Any muscle imbalance will continue to grow ever more unbalanced. 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 work.
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 that can provide doctors who are experts at analyzing the way your body moves and diagnosing how to change it for the better. Testing is usually simple. For the upper body, for instance, 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 weaker 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 which 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 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 is true of 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.
Wina Sturgeon is the editor of adventuresportsweekly.com, an online sports magazine.