Do we always need to do the same number of reps on both sides?

This is a common question that has been asked by instructors and students regularly over the years. And my answer has definitely changed as I’ve gained more experience working with different bodies. 

Regardless of how subtle a physical imbalance can be, we all have them. 

For myself, there’s a slight counter rotation in my pelvis that I am fairly certain originates from torsion or a ‘fixation’ of my sacro-iliac joint. Consequently, my right leg is a little less stable and my left leg seems to be a bit shorter; habitual knee hyperextension can often exacerbate things all round. 

Programming wise, the first 15-20 minutes of my workout is spent doing activation exercises that help create a better balance between both legs and my pelvis. This often translates into more reps on my right than my left in order to activate my gluts, hamstrings, peroneus, abductor and adductor muscles so my workout doesn’t leave me with discomfort on my right side – specifically in the hip and/or ankle. It works well for me and it’s an approach I’ve taken with most clients that’s proved to be a positive way for them to bring attention into an area of their body that needs it. 

So to answer the question above – No… doing the same number of reps on both sides isn’t something that needs to always be done. 

But what about doing the same exercise on both sides? 

Is this a tool that can be accessed in order to help clients achieve better balance, strength and movement patterns? Yes – I think it can. 

As you become more familiar with your client’s imbalances, you’ll start to notice the frequency of how they show up in different exercises. 

So while a hip weakness might be very apparent in an exercise requiring unilateral stability (think Standing Foot Press on the Chair), it might also show up in an entirely different movement pattern (ie:  Lower & Lift Feet in Straps on Reformer). 

And figuring out how to create workouts that address the connection between both is where your optimal, creative programming exists.

Remember that the goal is not to achieve perfect symmetry; that’s way too broad and general. 

Instead, set the goal to be about bringing attention and focus to the imbalances and integrating them into your clients workouts through specific and appropriate exercises. In this way, you’ll be informing, educating and strengthening their movement awareness so that they can move with greater ease, efficiency and endurance. 

What are some ways that you’re working on asymmetrical strengths?