Why Are Asymmetries Important?

Written by Gray Cook FMS

I still hear a lot of concern or confusion over asymmetry, even comments that maybe asymmetries aren’t so important. I disagree. But we certainly don’t expect every human body to be perfectly balanced. There are all kinds of asymmetries, both structural and functional. Sometimes we’re born with them, for example a leg-length difference. Sometimes we grow them, either on accident, maybe in our work or in a habitual posture on the couch watching tv. And sometimes we build them on purpose, like professional athletes do as they spend more and more time at their sports .

Watch this YouTube clip from the Applying the Model DVD.

In the FMS scoring categories we removed a lot of the unqualified comments from the asymmetry debate.  Here’s why.

When we see someone who has a 2-3 asymmetry, meaning it’s average on one side and optimal on the other , we know that person is at least functional on both sides.  Now moving into optimal mobility and optimal patterning, there’s going to be a deficiency on one side.

However, we know that lots and lots of athletes have left-right asymmetries.

Here’s the thing, though.  When this individual goes into the weight room with a ‘2-3’ asymmetry, whether it’s in the upper body or lower body, and do a back squat or a deadlift, the person won’t be able to push into that optimal mobility pattern.  That’s because most responsible deadlifting and squatting doesn’t explore full range of motion.  They explore about 2/3 to 3/4 of the range of motion of the strength training set.

What if you have a ‘1-2’ asymmetry?  You can’t lift your leg beyond 50 degrees on one side, but you can lift it almost 75 degrees on the other side.  I have a feeling when you go into a normal deadlift, you’re going to have some torque and twisting on your spine.  It’s the same way with the shoulders.

Now listen to this episode from Gray Cook Radio:

Gray Cook Radio: Episode 29

This leads us to a big take-away: Don’t tackle the symmetrical patterns in the screen—deep squat or pushup—with corrective activity if an asymmetry exists elsewhere in the screen. The asymmetry is probably creating the limitation or is compromising motor control. Reduced mobility or stability on one side of the body is almost certainly affecting the entire symmetrical pattern, causing inappropriate muscle contraction, inappropriate weight shifting and even torsion in the body.

First focus on the asymmetry and reduce its effect on the movement pattern in which you first saw it, and then once again recheck the symmetrical deep squat or pushup pattern. Removing the asymmetry may or may not completely change the symmetrical movement pattern, but it is the most responsible and logical approach because exercise progressions for the symmetrical pattern will not effectively address asymmetries.

The side of the body most limited by either a mobility or stability problem deserves special attention. The movement pattern in which you found the problem will continually serve as a baseline to recheck improvement in the limitation.  Once you demonstrate an asymmetry, using the opposite pattern on the other side of the body as comparison creates a systematic baseline for your corrective exercise progressions.

What I want you to do, whatever your opinion may be about asymmetry,  is to see how effective you are at changing asymmetry.  See how many asymmetries you find.  Understand that some asymmetries are actually imposed and may be partially necessary for certain levels of performance.

Remember, we’re not saying everybody has to be perfect.  That’s why when we talk about asymmetry, we need to have a break point.  Look, you’re considered hypertensive if your blood pressure goes beyond a certain point.  Right above that, you’re hypertensive.  Right below that, you’re not. We’re seeing the same thing with the Functional Movement Screen scores, and it’s not my opinion at all.  We have statistics showing that below the cut point, you’re probably going to have more-than-average problems.  Above the cut point where we see higher numbers on the screen, it’s not so much.

That’s all we’re saying.

Please login to leave a comment