Unfortunately, the left and right side of our bodies aren’t perfectly balanced and in harmony with each other. Everyone is either left or right side dominant, which carries over into how we perform day to day tasks (writing, carrying shopping etc), how we sit at our desks and ultimately our left vs right side strength and mobility.
The good news is that doing single sided movements can address these imbalances, improve our posture and give us a more balanced physique.
Take the shoulder muscles as an example. If you are right handed, you may be able to lift 22kg over head with your right arm, however your left arm may only be able to lift 16kg over head. This means that you’ll able to lift a 36kg barbell overhead for reps, but both shoulders won’t be putting out an equal amount of force. Your right shoulder will lift as much of the weight as it can, and the left will take up the slack to get the weight up. As your left shoulder isn’t working as hard as the right, it doesn’t make the same amount of gains and the difference in strength just keeps increasing. If you tried to lift 36kg over head using a pair of 18kg dumbbells however, your right shoulder would rep it out fine whilst your left shoulder would flounder and fail quickly.
How do you address the imbalance?
Single sided movements are the key. The barbell has it’s place in moving a heavy load in movements such as the squat and deadlift, but when it comes to lighter weights and movements with smaller muscles, put the barbell down and pick up the dumbbells.
Test to see where your imbalances lie by performing exercises with dumbbells instead of a barbell and seeing which side fails first. You won’t be consistently weak on one side or the other, for example I am right handed and have a stronger right arm, but a stronger left leg. So just because you are right handed, doesn’t necessarily mean that your whole right side will be stronger!
Once you have worked out which muscles are the weakest and what weight they can lift compared to the opposite side, keep the weight the same for the strongest side until your weaker side has caught up.
So for the shoulder muscle example above, if the right side can lift a 22kg dumbbell for 8 reps but the left shoulder can only do a 16kg dumbbell for 8 reps then work on building strength in the left shoulder by slowly increasing the weights and reps over time and continue to only lift 22kg with the right side. You won’t progress the strength or size on the right side, but once the left shoulder has caught up and can lift 22kg for 8 reps then you can step it up and start lifting heavier on both shoulders. This will ensure that your strength levels will be perfectly balanced on your left and right sides, reduce the chance of injuring yourself and will give you a nice balanced and symmetrical physique.
Why is this relevant to riding?
Although our hands are connected to a bar, we very rarely have to put the same kind of force through it with both hands. Straight drop offs, jumps and G-outs will require a similar force from both hands at the same time, but carving berms, bouncing through rock gardens and any kind of hip or drop into a corner will require a stronger force from one hand than the other. Can you carve right hand berms at full speed, but have to slow down on the next left hand berm? Do always you get bounced off line to the right in rock gardens? This could be due to imbalances in your push/pull strength in your arms, your legs and your core but can be easily fixed by performing strength tests in different movements and muscles and correcting them.
Our 10 week Race Programme uses a lot of single sided movements to ensure you build a fully balanced and strong body ready to rip on the trails no matter which way it turns!