Grab a pair of dumbbells and perform some biceps curls. You may find yourself questioning, “Why am I unable to lift with my left hand?” (Or, if you’re left-handed, your right hand.) Ugh. Additionally, you will likely observe that your dominant side is weaker when attempting the warrior III pose in yoga. Double ugh.
Hopefully, you have noticed that you are not alone in struggling with side balances in your yoga class — practically everyone has a stronger side. Chris Powell, a NASM-certified celebrity trainer and CEO of the TransformHQ app, states, “It is highly common for individuals to have differences in strength between their sides — in fact, it is more uncommon for our bodies to be perfectly symmetrical in terms of size and strength than it is for them to be distinct.”
The reason for your inability to lift as much with your left (or right) side actually has nothing to do with your exercise routine, but rather, it stems from unconscious daily movements. Powell explains, “While your gym workouts typically engage both sides evenly, your dominant side is unconsciously utilized more frequently than your weaker side in your daily activities. This includes actions like opening doors, getting out of bed by rolling over, or which side you choose to step on first when climbing stairs.”
Although these everyday habits do not require as much strength as activities like bench presses, the repetition of these movements accumulates. Powell states, “While you may not consider these activities as ‘exercise,’ the more you repeatedly utilize one side, the greater efficiency your brain develops in activating the corresponding muscles. This results in stronger and often larger muscles on that side.” Additionally, if you have ever sustained an arm or leg injury and had to show special care to it, this could contribute to any imbalances between your left and right side.
Therefore, rest assured that this is completely normal, and you are noticing it because you have a greater awareness of your body compared to most people. Powell says, “Many individuals go through life with these strength differences without even realizing or feeling any distinction. Typically, it is those who are more focused on exercise, like you and me, who recognize it more quickly.”
To address any weaknesses on either side, consider incorporating exercises that target each side separately, such as dumbbell exercises: shoulder presses, chest presses, lunges, dumbbell rows, biceps curls, dumbbell squats, triceps extensions, and similar exercises, Powell suggests. Unlike exercise machines and barbells, dumbbells prevent your stronger arm or leg from compensating for the weaker one, he explains.
You can also attempt unilateral training and workouts, such as single-leg lunges, single-leg squats, single-arm shoulder presses, single-arm chest presses, and single-arm rows. (Is it also a beneficial idea if your non-dominant side is weaker? Integrating these bodyweight leg exercises into your routine.)
There is no necessity to “balance things out” by doing more repetitions on your weaker side, states Powell. Your weaker side will naturally catch up since it will be compelled to exert more effort. (Up Next: How Weak Ankles and Ankle Mobility Influence the Rest of Your Body)