One of the best abilities a Professional Fitness Trainer can have is the ability to recognize physical asymmetry and create specific exercise to combat. During the assessment and throughout each training session a trainer should be attentive to symmetry in: posture, functional movements, and sport specific movements. Watch for ‘glitches’ in movement patterns that indicate a certain muscle or joint is not performing 100 percent. When asymmetry is present, it usually leads to physical instability, pain and heightened risk of injury. True physical symmetry is addressing tone, strength, endurance and flexibility in all muscles and joints. Some asymmetries are structural (born with it) other asymmetries are developed due to daily movement patterns. Injury and Trauma also play a key role in being symmetrical, as people automatically adapt their posture and movements to respond to pain.
When evaluating symmetry look for unbalanced muscular tone and strength. It can lead to poor posture, reduced range of motion and improper movement mechanics. The development of any of these impairments can cause a person to be unstable and at risk for muscle strain, headaches and even joint pain. To remedy these issues, it is important to have a well-rounded strength training program that includes: push and pull exercises for the upper and lower body, static (isolation) and dynamic(movement) exercises as well as exercises through all planes of motion. If there is an outstanding weakness in a muscle, there are a few ways to deal with it.
Problem: Left bicep is weaker than right bicep
1. Maintain the weight on the right until the left can match the right
2. Do extra repetitions with the left until it can match the same weight as the right
3. Complete an extra set of a new exercise to challenge the left
Evaluate muscular endurance as well. The endurance of a muscle can determine how much or how long you use it. If a muscle has reduced muscular endurance, then it tends not to be used as much – compounding the problem. An endurance asymmetry can also trigger the development of postural issues or an incorrect movement pattern. Either of these impairments can cause a dependency on a specific muscle group. This dependency can lead to muscular strain, fascia pain (IT band syndrome, Tennis elbow…) or the development of a painful unnecessary holding pattern (frozen shoulder). To prevent these asymmetries, it is important to include exercises that challenge the muscle’s endurance in an even and balanced manner: static postural stances, repetitive movements and slow dynamic movements.
Problem: Left gluteal max can hold hip extension 30 seconds while right can hold it 60 seconds
1. Hold the right at 60 seconds, avoid building further until left can match
2.Complete an extra set with the left until it can endure the same as the right
3.Complete an additional set of slow dynamic movement with the left side
Finally, evaluate flexibility. It is a component that is spoken-about but often left-out of most training programs. Asymmetry in flexibility can lead to: poor posture, reduced range of motion, development of improper movement patterns, joint pain, muscular strain, risk of fall, risk of injury from moving beyond a reduced range of motion… and the list goes on. When considering appropriate stretches one must first understand what “normal” movement is. It is important to understand if limitations are coming from joints or muscles, if they are structural or developed and most importantly, to understand if the limitations end with or without pain. (If there is pain always be sure to consult with a health care professional for proper diagnosis before assigning any exercise). When developing the stretch routine is important to include dynamic stretching for a warm up and static stretching for the cool down. There should be stretches for all major muscles and supporting muscles throughout their full, pain free, range of motion.
Understanding the effects of having uneven and unbalanced muscular tone, strength endurance or flexibility is important. Being able to recognize these asymmetries is equally important. Recognize through observation but also create an environment that nurtures communication and understanding. Consider developing a scale to determine the level of challenge and or pain; the verbal feedback will be more accurate. This will allow you to create a more effective exercise routine to remedy these asymmetries.
Regarding safety, please remember – always consult with a health care professional when faced with any of the following:
- New or worsening pain
- Pain of unknown origin
- Limitations with no reason
- Weakness or malfunction with no reason
A Physician’s notice should always be provided when training anyone who has any of the concerns mentioned above.