by Geoff Rand
My motivation for writing this article came from something that came up in mobility class a few weeks ago. Dave had us doing bent over bar holds to stretch out our lats, and one of the class members showed a visible under-development in the left side of his back compared to his right. It even affected his stance. He was aware of it and said that even holding a tablet in his left hand quickly tires him. I’d suspect he opens every door with his right hand and favors that strong side in everything else he does. This imbalance is setting him up to be in pain and makes him more prone to injury and less efficient in his lifts and movements.
As CrossFitters, we need to recognize our imbalances and work to overcome them. Our bodies are remarkable at adaptation, and will compensate for deficiencies whether we want them to or not. Unfortunately, they often do so at the expense of good posture, flexibility, and range of motion and, as we try to do more strenuous movements, the adaptation can lead to injury.
Correcting an imbalance starts with becoming aware of the imbalance. The imbalance might be obvious such as a sensation of pain. Sometimes, the pain will manifest itself in areas distant from the actual point of weakness. For instance, knee pain can actually be caused by overly tight hamstrings. The imbalance may be more subtle, as in poor posture, gait, or as in our mobility classmate, under/over-developed muscles. You might be able to diagnose your issue on your own for example, by observing unequal wear on your shoes, but you’ll probably find a coach or medical professional useful to help you figure out the problem. Have them observe your movement and make corrections.
You also need to address the cause of the imbalance. Maybe your long hours at the desk or sitting in the car are throwing off your posture. Evaluate your environmental conditions and make healthy changes where you can. If you can mitigate some of the causes, fixing the problem will be easier.
To correct the imbalance, you need a plan and you need to devote time to doing the work. The plan may involve modifying your everyday actions. Consider brushing your teeth or beating eggs with the other hand (thanks for the tip, Marcy!), carry the baby on the other hip, use both straps on your backpack, or open doors or put your kettlebells and other weights away with the weaker hand.
It will also likely involve targeted training, and this is where coaches come in. Depending on what your issue is, you may be prescribed movements that isolate the affected side and prevent the strong side from compensating for it. Movements like dumbbell presses and rows, cable and band pulls, and one-arm farmer carries are just some examples of isolated movements. It is important to train both sides however, so you don’t reverse the imbalance and cause it to take effect on the good side. Come in early or stay late after a WOD to work on your problem areas.
You will see faster results if you incorporate regular mobility and/or yoga sessions along with this treatment. I’m also a believer in dry needling for pain relief.
Through a combination of modification of your daily habits and targeted work, you can overcome your imbalances and become more resistant to injury, healthier, and more efficient at CrossFit and life in general.