BITS, BALANCES & BRAS
(Actually, it’s HABITS, IMBALANCES & SPORTSBRAS but I thought that had a cool ring to it. Right??)
I can actually say that I have been exercising for 32 years (unsure of if that makes me sound good or just old). Our extremely hard-core army Dad would take me running with him when I was 4, sparking a lifelong relationship with exercise and giving me a few good decades of experience to ponder upon.
Each session, run, game or competition that I have ever experienced has made me that little bit more aware of my body, from what’s going on internally – tightness, range of motion, niggles, pain, strength and weakness – to what it is actually capable of doing (the fun stuff). For me, this is one of the most powerful benefits of physical activity – to be more tuned in and better able to be behind the wheel, if that makes sense.
And what I am more tuned in to these days, are my imbalances.
ON ONE HAND I love it, because I find it fascinating to learn stuff about my body. We’ve known each other for a pa-retty long time, so when I discover something new I feel like I’m peeling back layers of the onion, you know, like Shrek. I’m like “Aha! So I need to strengthen/stretch/mobilise XYZ”. Or “so that’s why I’m struggling with bla-dee bla bla”. In my mind it’s an important clue as to how I can improve performance, functionality, and my physical health (all of which I value highly)
ON THE OTHER HAND….…as the lovely Lina once said after Fed’s Gymnastics Class, “I hate having imbalances, it annoys me”. And I don’t know why, but it does. It really does. Being the control-freak that I am, is it because I can’t stand that I can do something well on one side but not the other? It’s not even! Or is it because I know that, without balance in my body there is an uneven equilibrium of work, which is only going to snowball the imbalance if I don’t address it (I already have 17,000 things on my to-do list!) Imbalances can lead to niggles or injuries over time, and no one has time for that – I’m highly impatient and the worst rester ever (as I’m sure most of you will understand)!
Nevertheless, imbalances pop up everywhere I go - inside and out of the gym. At the gym, I notice that my left arm doesn’t pull as strongly as my right, and my right step-up is weaker and less stable than my left. Among other things. At home, I notice that I am way more proficient at scrubbing dishes (and doing most things) with my right hand, or that I always bend down to pick things up with my right arm, while shifting towards my right hip. Sometimes, I’ve stopped myself, put the object back on the floor, and picked it up with my left arm while shifting my weight to the left – on top of feeling weird, I notice how much tighter I am in this position, and how uncomfortable it is. No wonder I use the other side all the time – it’s easier!
Are we creatures of habit or creatures of comfort. Probably both. But what came first – did I always pick stuff up with my right, creating more mobility and movement in that pattern from continuous practice? Or, did I start off by favouring that side because it was easier, eventually turning it into the habit I have today?
Whatever came first - the chicken or the egg, the movement or the imbalance - I’m now more aware of my habits and how they feed into my imbalances, especially when it involves using the same arm or leg to do the task over and over again. Some BASE 3 members may have heard me nag “make sure you turn in the other direction,” or “be sure to step up with your left leg as well” – I do apologise for that, I’m sure it’s the last thing you give a shit about when you’re knee-deep in a WOD. It’s only because I love you.
But I do wonder – do our seemingly innocent habits contribute in some way to the imbalances in strength, range of motion and skill that we experience in training? Is grip strength on my left side weaker because I automatically carry things in my right hand? If I were to start carrying groceries, or my gym bag, in my left hand instead, would I see a difference when I’m doing Farmer’s Carries? Perhaps. Probably. Everything adds up eventually, especially when it comes to our adaptive bodies, right?
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Why don’t you analyse your own habits? Take notice of how you use/move your body in mindless activities you do daily. Have you ever tried to brush your teeth with your other hand? Or (I hate to add this in here) scroll through IG with your other hand, using your other thumb? What about getting up off the floor – always use your dominant leg to stand? Bet ya do ;)
Why don't you try something in the opposite way to how you would normally do it? Go against the grain. Weirdly and frustratingly, I've started trying/learning to take my sportsbra off with my left arm crossed on top of my right (instead of the right over left). Guys, you won’t understand the struggle, but it’s real sometimes. Ladies, if you can do this easily, I am impressed because I feel like I’m in a straight-jacket and it takes me about 2 minutes – no control, no mobility. Yet, the other side is at least 27 times better.
I don’t imagine that my PRs will shoot up, but I wonder, if I keep practicing and improving this new movement, what implications would that have on my training, my posture, my movement? In the same way that we learn to progress on our Olympic lifts, surely any improvement (even in such a small movement) would indicate that I have developed some sort of muscular control or strength, or joint range of motion (even if ever so slight)? Does it matter what the caliber of the movement is that I’m learning from? I mean, are bigger movements, like the snatch, more important or beneficial to me than a smaller movement, like learning to take my arms overhead with the weaker arm leading? Or is it only important that I’m practicing something different, and that my body is learning something new?
Because I have a feeling it’s a bit of everything, I’m going to keep my mind wide open to all movements and exercises, big and small, and regardless of where they occur (movement is movement, right?) Although I would love to be proficient at everything, left and right, I see my imbalances as opportunities to improve, and have really enjoyed the challenge of working to do so (it is so satisfying when you notice changes!)
DO I THINK I’M RIGHT?
For me? Hell yes. For you? Maybe, maybe not – that’s for you to decide, but I do encourage that you give it a go. Whether you aspire to function better as an athlete or as a regular ol’ human being going about your day trying to prolong physical health and quality of life, dial in to your movement and habits to get a better understanding of your body. And when you find something? Cool! Shake things up, break routine, switch sides and be bad at something for a while, google for exercises, ask a coach, learn new stuff and get totally frustrated at yourself! Be a work in progress. It’s awesome, you’ll love it. And, if you need help formulating a master plan you know what to do. (But just in case you don’t…give us a yell, silly!)