Friday, April 9, 2010

The Importance of Being Even

I’m no perfectionist, but I can appreciate the value of symmetry. According to experts humans are programmed to be attracted to symmetry in others (so people with very even faces are considered good-looking - think Denzel Washington).

Though I enjoy a beautiful person as much as the next girl, the physical symmetry I’m talking about here is not about pretty faces but much more practical and important aspects of the human body – I’m talking feet, ankles, knees, legs, hips, and spine – the bones and joints that support our most important activity, running.

For the most part, the human body is bilaterally symmetrical. That means that if you fold it in half from head to toe, each side should match up. But most people do have slight instances of asymmetry. One leg might be a hair longer than the other, one foot is usually bigger, one hip might be slightly lower. These minor natural “imperfections” usually go unnoticed until the person starts putting in high (or even moderate) mileage. 

Running is a very repetitive motion, so the slightest imbalance, magnified over thousands of steps over hundreds of miles, can cause some problems. To a certain extent, your body naturally compensates for its asymmetry. You probably are not aware of the constant adjustments for balance your body tweaks without telling you (or you telling it).

 And if you have consistent injury problems on one side (like I do), the culprit could be the asymmetry of your bone structure. Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot you can do to change your bones…(orthotics are a great start though). On the other hand, your muscles totally under your control! Your bones provide the structure, but don’t underestimate the power of your muscles, and the effects of their flexibility on your running.

Recently I’ve been doing yoga quite a bit. Not because I want to be a super-Gumby-yoga-master (can I get a Namaste?), but because my hamstrings are completely uneven flexibility-wise.

To test your hamstring flexibility:

Lay on the floor on your back with both legs straight.

Have a friend lift one leg straight up slowly and stop when it pulls tight.

Repeat for the other side.

Do your legs stop in the same place?


My left leg goes to about 120*…my right to about 45*. That can’t be good. Thus the yoga.

So wish me luck in my quest to become beautifully symmetrical (at least running-wise)!

And check out this article about asymmetry and its affects on performance.