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Aymmetry in Running, Running Economy

Understanding Asymmetry in running, and how to Improve Running Economy

asymmetry in running female runners rotation running economy Jun 06, 2023

How your physical Asymmetry in running might affect your running economy, and what you “should” do about it.

Before I share these strategies with you I want to lay a few foundations:


1) We are all asymmetric to one degree or another because the organs inside of our body are asymmetric. We can never change that! We can, however, support our bodies so that we can move as efficiently as possible.

2) Your body may not present with this same asymmetry because you’ve layered other compensations on top over the years. I do however believe if you peeled back the layers of

the onion, you’d find them under there.

3) It’s not really about having a “strong” and “weak” side, it’s about movement efficiency (how well we rotate, load, stabilize, and propel through our stride).

To me, movement efficiency is one of the main pillars of running economy. The more efficiently we move the less energy each stride takes and we can run faster/longer with the same amount of effort (and less pain). The dream right?? Overall strength is another big one too, btw!

 Before we dive into the typical asymmetry let's look at some basic running biomechanics. I have talked about the three main pieces or actions - load, stabilize, propel - and how they are all connected.  Read that article here!

(I’m about to go former science teacher on you for a second, don’t hate me.)


We need energy to move us forward as we run. As we know energy can not be created or destroyed, just transformed.

Chemical Energy → Kinetic Energy

Some of that energy comes from “chemical energy,” aka our metabolism, our muscles using calories to move us forward. We can improve the efficiency of this system by purposeful pacing of our running, and conditioning and by becoming stronger overall (strength training).

Potential Energy → Kinetic Energy

 Some of that energy comes from stored “potential energy.” I think of the loading part of the stance phase (above) as taking all the potential energy from gravitational potential energy and ground reaction forces and storing them in your body. Then in the propelling/rebounding part of the stance phase, we can use that stored energy to move forward. We can improve the efficiency of this system by improving our efficiency as we load, stabilize and propel. Aka. being a bit more purposeful with our strength training.

Also, remember that energy cannot be created or destroyed. All the gravitational potential energy and ground reaction forces have to go somewhere. If we aren’t efficiently using them they are also likely being inefficiently dissipated through the body and causing unwanted pain or pelvic floor symptoms. As a trainer and coach, I don’t treat pain directly BUT I firmly believe that moving more efficiently goes a long way in that area.

To load into midstance the body needs to (the left side tends to struggle more with this):

  • Internally rotate at the pelvis
  • Counterotate through the torso
  • Eccentrically load in hip flexion
  • Pronate at the foot (knee tracking over the toes)
  • Stay strong and connected through obliques on that side.

 

To propel out of midstance the body needs to (the right sides to struggle more with this):

  • Externally rotate at the pelvis
  • Counterrotate through the torso
  • Extend through the hip (without first extending through the knee)
  • Supinate at the foot and load over the big toe

To stabilize the body needs to do both of the pieces with a good balance of strength and mobility.

 

Now let’s dig into this asymmetry a little bit more:

 

There’s a reason the Statue of David stands like this (Michelangelo really was a genius, btw). One of my colleagues likes to call this the “sassy hip.” 

 


Look at him. All his weight is loaded on his right side (internally rotated), left leg out (externally rotated), crunched down on the right, right shoulder forward, and torso turned to the left. He’s a very exaggerated version of this typical asymmetry:

Down at the feet:

The right foot tends to be more supinated (rigid, living more on the outside edges) and the left foot tends to be more pronated (flatter, heavier under the big toe)

In the middle:

The left ab wall tends to not want to work as hard, the left hip struggles more with internal rotation (loading through stance) and the right hip struggles more with external rotation (toe off, propelling forward). He probably also tucked his left leg under when sitting in a chair, IYKYK.

Up top:

It tends to be harder to inhale into the front of your ribs on the right and the back of your ribs on the left. Which tends to turn the torso left and the spine right. This is not about one side being “stronger” than the other. It’s about each side using different (and sometimes less efficient) strategies to do the work. The body is smart, it will find a way to move you forward.

Regardless of whether you understand the “why”, you can still try some simple struggles out in your next workout and see if you feel a difference in your body. Click here for a recent blog that covers some simple strategies to help you turn back left. These are a quick sampling of of of the strategies we use in the Women's Running Academy. There you will find some suggestions for upper-body, core, and lower-body work.

If you are like “Ummmm, What? How? Why?”

I don’t blame you. There’s a reason why we don't go over this stuff until Week 6 of the Mentorship! Making little tweaks to our strength training like the suggestions here can help you "untwist" a bit over time and move better overall. Notice I didn't say to do a bunch of corrective exercises instead of strength training? Because overall strength matters too!

Want help peeling back those layers, so to speak, and understanding how to train with the needs of your body in mind all while getting stronger overall?

👋 That’s exactly what we do in my Women’s Running Academy Mentorship. 

Your Coach,
Alison

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