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Gotta’ Run: Balance your dominant and weaker side for best exercise

Over the years of running and coaching, I get asked a lot of questions. One of my favorites goes something like this, “I’ve noticed that my knee and hip are a little tender on my right side. What could be causing that?”

Almost always the runner or walker will admit to using the same course just about every day and always going the same direction. Roads slope downward and so do many sidewalks, primarily to allow better drainage. As creatures of habit, we fall into a certain sameness of workout routes and therefore more pressure is put on the same side of our body carriage. The worst cases come from those who run on the indoor tracks at a fitness facility only a few days a week. Most indoor tracks do suggest running alternate directions per days of the week, but sometimes too many days on the same course or the same direction cause the balance issues. The simple answer — vary your course, distance and direction.

One-directional running isn’t the only cause, however. A previous injury can cause one side of the body to be weaker. I had arthroscopic knee surgery for loose cartilage in 2012 and it took months of work to get balanced again. Cross-train with bicycling, Pilates, and core routines.

But what if you already do those things and there are still injury issues? I’m betting one side of your body is stronger or maybe even more flexible than the other. A lot has been written about each of us having a dominant side, which not surprisingly almost always turns out to be the stronger side.

Here’s the method I use to find someone’s dominant side and how I measure my own balance. Stand on one leg at a time and see which side you can hold the longest. Of course, the longest side will almost always be the same and thus the dominant side. Another way, just a little trickier is to do one leg squats from both sides and compare. A fun trick is to pretend that you are riding a surfboard and the foot that you put in front is likely your most stable one and therefore your dominant side.

When the weaker side isn’t strong enough to bear the burden of extended running or even quick walking, it can lead to common injuries, including iliotibial band syndrome and patellofemoral pain syndrome, or runner’s knee. Injuries often center on the hips, and weakness in core muscles like hip adductors and abductors.

Therapists, trainers, and physicians recommend several exercises that can help strengthen a lagging side. Some you may already do, such as lunges, clamshells, and one-legged squats, with or without weights. Give the nondominant leg an extra set of these exercises, starting and ending on the weaker leg, and you’ll be on the way to better balance.

I would prefer to just go out and run because it’s my favorite thing to do. But I learned these lessons the hard way. Keeping your body balanced and your core strength strong will always make for better running, walking and general exercise. And a good run makes for a great day!

Our next Beginning Runners Class is set for the Salisbury Police Department on Tuesday, March 16, at 6 p.m. We’ll meet any virus guidelines still in place and the location makes for a wonderful downtown running course. Participants will once again learn about running form, shoes and equipment, stretching and strengthening, injury prevention and nutrition. We start at a half mile of running/walking the first night and proceed to a graduation 3.1 mile run and a free 5K race is included in the entry fee of $65. This is the 16th year for the BRC and is co-sponsored by SRR, Novant Health and Salisbury Parks and Recreation.

For more info on this class or other upcoming events, go to www.salisburyrowanrunners.org or call 704-310-6741.

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