Muscle Imbalances Due to Your Handedness and How to Work with Them

Written by Philip Walter on Mar 12 at 10:59 pm in itBODYnature, resistance training, stretching

Photo of Rafa Nadal, courtesy of the ATP Masters Series online. Note the difference in size between biceps. (He’s a lefty).

In what became just one more in a long line of NPR driveway moments, I caught myself lurking longer than necessary in my car outside the grocery store, captivated by a story on the show, The Infinite Mind. The name of the episode was “Handedness,” and as you could probably guess, it centered on the phenomenon of left- or right-handedness.

The most interesting part to me was about the human being’s tendency toward right-handedness. As a species we are about 85-90 percent right-handed. According to a guest on The Infinite Mind, other species show no signs of such a skew. Research shows that animals do tend to have some paw, leg, appendage dominance that is analogous to handedness in humans, but that the split between right and left lateralization is pretty much even. So what gives?

Well, according the guest, the speech center of the brain is located in the left hemisphere, and since the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body, this could account for the overwhelming right-handed prevalence. The idea is that because language, being so important to human development and so lacking in other species, is nurtured in the left side of the brain, we humans overwork that hemisphere – particularly early on in life, as language skills develop – and this makes us more prone to favor the right limbs in activities like writing that require fine motor skills.

All this I found very interesting in and of itself, but I’m sure you’re all wondering what any of this has to do with integral fitness and the Brickhouse Bodymind lifestyle. Well, it got me thinking about all the baseball games, the volleyball games, the racquetball games, and basketball games I’ve participated in over the years, all while using predominantly my right arm, shoulder, and hand. And while the visible imbalance is nowhere near that of Rafa Nadal’s biceps as seen in the photo above this article, I can certainly see a difference in my arms. I can also feel a difference in the mobility of my left and right shoulder joints due to the years of right-handedness. Many of us even have subtle curves in our spines as a result of this phenomenon.

So, what can we do about this sort of thing? Well … I’m glad you asked. I put together a brief list of things I’ve incorporated into my fitness routine to try and bring a bit more balance to my right-handed body.

  1. Do mobility exercises. You will probably get tired of me singing the praises of mobility exercises on this site, but I can’t seem to get enough of them. So many of us have limited range of motion in our shoulders due, among other things, to our over-use of one limb over the other during sports. Check out the first episode of Brickhouse Bodymind TV for a demo of my favorite mobility exercises for the shoulders. Also find a bunch of other ideas on Ron Jones’ website. You can incorporate some of these things into your warm-up to reconnect to forgotten muscle tissue, recapture lost range of motion, and reduce right-left muscular imbalances.
  2. Use dumbbells when weight training. The next time you hit the gym, work dumbbells into your strength training. They take away the tendency for your stronger side to compensate for the weaker by forcing each limb to work independently. Using dumbbells also requires more subtle stability work in smaller muscle sets, which improves overall musculature.
  3. Do yoga. This one is closely related to suggestion number 1, and really needs little explanation. Hatha yoga posture (asana) practice particularly when used in flowing sequences called vinyasas can do wonderful things when it comes to balancing and strengthening the musculature of the body.
  4. Become ambidextrous. If you can get over looking a little awkward while throwing a baseball or shooting a basketball, it’s a great idea to train your weaker limb in the sport of your choice. Not only will this help correct muscular imbalances, it’ll give you a leg up on most of your competition.
  5. Pay attention to your posture. Muscular imbalances will always manifest in your posture. Try to find asymmetries in your posture by asking a friend what they see, looking at yourself in the mirror, or using your own kinesthetic awareness.

Hopefully you guys found some interest in this article. I encourage you all to comment below if you have any thoughts on handedness, or if you have any questions about or techniques for working with left-right muscle imbalances.

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