Which is your best leg?

If I ask this question to a dancer, they will instinctively interpret it to mean 'Which of my legs is stronger?' or 'Which leg is better at balancing?' The majority of the clients that I train have, and can easily identify, a side of the body that they favor. They tend to start exercises on that side or sometimes shift their bodies to perform the majority of their movement with the half that they prefer. We call this having a dominant side a side of the body that is stronger and dominates movement or exhibits better motor control.

Imbalances come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes they occur symmetrically either front to back or asymmetrically from side to side. For example, I see that a lot of dancers tend to be quad-dominant with a relatively weak posterior chain. This would be an example of a front to back imbalance and is mostly caused by the anteriorly-dominant nature of dance technique (think about the many pliés and développés performed in all genres of dance). If you are a serious dancer, the tendency towards quad-dominance cannot be helped – it can, however, be worked on!

On the other hand, I also see plenty of dancers who prefer to turn on one leg rather than the other and use one side for support whenever possible. This type of imbalance causes a discrepancy in strength from one side to another and is a bit more dangerous when it comes to injury due to the way forces are distributed about the joints. Asymmetries can become a problem by leading to compensatory - or atypical - movement patterning that is present in order to accommodate for weakness.

Although imbalances are a natural part of life and the activities we perform, we tend to want to bring the body back to equilibrium or a more symmetric form. The more balanced the body is, the more the force of everyday life is equilibrated, and the happier and healthier your joints will be. Furthermore, if you work to reduce discrepancies within the body, you will increase your movement efficiency, strength, technique and balance, and increase your adaptability to all sorts of choreography!

So, how do we go about correcting the imbalances we notice in our bodies? 

Below, I have compiled three basic principles to work with when attempting to reset:

1. Make it one-side

Have you noticed that in an over-head lift one arm tends to give way? Or maybe you tend to roll your left ankle whenever you come down from a jump. When you take time from your warm-up or cross-training days to strengthen this part of your body, make all of your exercises pertaining to that body part one-sided and work primarily on your weaker side. Referred to by WeckMethod as Non-Dominant Side Training™. When you make exercises one-sided, you not only spend extra time focused on particular weaknesses, but also begin to specifically recruit other stabilizing muscles. Here are some examples:

Single Leg Bridges: If you have trouble balancing on one side, try your bridges on one leg! Lie on your back with both feet on the floor and push your hips up to the ceiling as normal. Once at the top, extend one leg without letting your pelvis drop. Continue your bridges on your non-dominant leg. (Don’t forget to engage your glutes at the top!)

Unilateral Overhead Press: Having trouble with one of your arms in particular on your overhead lifts? Try kneeling on both knees and pressing one dumbbell over your head on the weaker side while engaging your glutes and abdominals.

Side Plank: Do you tend to lean to one side in your turns or balances? Try holding a side plank on your weaker side making sure that your body remains in a straight line.

2. Do it more often

Strengthening a muscle, muscle group, or movement pattern takes a lot of time and careful, systematic over-load. When performing your single-sided movements, try to perform additional sets or repetitions on your weaker side so that it can catch up to your other side. That being said, don't tax that side so much that you compensate on form. All exercises should be performed with correct technique.

3. Be patient

Habits are quick to make and long to break! Make your non-dominant side training exercises part of your warm up and even your off days. Repeat them regularly! It can take many months and much diligence to correct a faulty movement pattern.

Not sure you have an imbalance or just want to check your body’s symmetry? Consult a professional! Ask help from an athletic trainer, physical therapist or trainer. It is always best to trust your body with a movement professional.

Good luck!

  • Dominant Side: A side of the body that is stronger and dominates movement or exhibits better motor control.
  • Posterior Chain:the muscles that run along the back of your body from your hamstrings and glutes to the muscles that parallel your spine.
  • Non-Dominant Side Training™: Focuses on improving the non-dominant side of your body to minimize deficiencies and enhancing strength, coordination, and balance.

About Marissa:

Marissa Joseph is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) in Manhattan. Marissa graduated from SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance manga cum laude and shortly thereafter entered into the professional dance and fitness world. She has worked as a top tier trainer at Equinox and independently at various gyms to restore full function and health to clients who have had hip and knee replacements, herniated or slipped discs, shoulder impingement issues and other post trauma cases. In 2012, Marissa started Working Lines: a strength training program for professional dancers. Her training theories work to combat injury and provide a safe, practical and accessible way to stay strong and healthy. She has worked with dancers from Doug Varone and Dancers, Mark Morris Dance Group, Lydia Johnson Dance and more! She has also lectured and taught workshops to dancers and athletes throughout the East Coast including at her alma matter SUNY Purchase. For more info visit: www.workinglines.org