We have to be perfectly balanced and symmetrical don’t we?

Well that has certainly been the view most of us have thought throughout our lives, reinforced by the medical and remedial professions such as physiotherapy. Again is this one of those myths that has grown and grown, or is there some basis to support this?

Well this myth or reality could well be blown apart by studying the fastest man on the planet. To be as fast as Usain Bolt, then everything in his body must be finely tunes, but also working perfectly together and delicately balanced to ensure this amazing performance he has dazzled us with for a decade.

“Last month, researchers at Southern Methodist University, among the leading experts on the biomechanics of sprinting, said they found something unexpected during video examination of Bolt’s stride: His right leg appears to strike the track with about 13 percent more peak force than his left leg. And with each stride, his left leg remains on the ground about 14 percent longer than his right leg.

Among those questions: Does evenness of stride matter for speed? Did Bolt optimize this irregularity to become the fastest human? Or, with a more balanced stride during his prime, could he have run even faster than 9.58 seconds at 100 metres and 19.19 seconds at 200 metres?

“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Peter Weyand, director of the S.M.U. lab. The S.M.U. study of Bolt, led by Andrew Udofa, a doctoral researcher, is not yet complete. And the effect of asymmetrical strides on speed is still not well understood. But rather than being detrimental for Bolt, the consequences of an uneven stride may actually be beneficial, Weyand said. It could be that Bolt has naturally settled into his stride to accommodate the effects of scoliosis. The condition curved his spine to the right and made his right leg half an inch shorter than his left, according to his autobiography.

Initial findings from the study were presented last month at an international conference on biomechanics in Cologne, Germany. Most elite sprinters have relatively even strides, but not all. The extent of Bolt’s variability appears to be unusual, Weyand said.” Read more here

However, Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains and bodywork expert has an explanation. “Last week I had a group of movement professionals in for an intensive, and I noticed again how many folks are ‘hooked’ on the drug of symmetry. Lots of yoga and Pilates folks, and often dancers, will ‘automatically’ put themselves in symmetrical positions for Cobra, Plow, Plank, et alia.

If I had a class full of babies, I wouldn’t see this. Babies naturally go for one leg cocked, the other extended straight. They very rarely hang out symmetrically. Same with the baby’s arms. Same with a horse,

But we ‘bodyworkers (I plead guilty) have worshipped at this altar of symmetry – to relieve pain, to improve performance, we start with, “Well, your left shoulder’s much higher than your right …”

So consider the evidence: the fastest man in the world has scoliosis, a spinal rotation that then affects the pelvis so that he has a decided ‘limp’ or asymmetry between his left and right leg length and stride and time in contact with the ground.

I have noticed over my long career that the finest athletes are often working ‘uphill’ against structural anomalies and imbalances – and yet they excel. Some people have looked at this evidence and concluded that the structural model is inadequate and that posture and pain are unrelated.” Read the full article here