Put Your Best Foot Forward

But, do you know which foot IS your best one?  And why?

Human RunningYou most likely have a dominant leg, hand, foot, eye or some other body part when a set of the parts exists.  Studies suggest that 70-90% of the human population is right-handed, making their right hand dominant and likely the one that performs better for tasks.

However, for athletes the story is a bit different. The human brain sends signals more quickly to the left hand, thus the reaction time for left-handed athletes is shorter than for right-handed athletes. This especially comes into play for sports where you are in close proximity to your opponent, such as table tennis. Left-handed athletes may also be favored since they are in the minority and most competitive training is geared toward strategies for defeating right-handed players.

Sometimes we’ll have a particular eye that we prefer to use for sight, which may lead to an advantage in sports such as shooting, archery or darts.

When it comes to legs, the dominant leg tends to be the one used for fine motor skills, e.g. striking the soccer ball. The dominant leg tends to have bigger muscles.  The non-dominant leg is the one used as the balance leg.  It tends to have a higher bone density.  It’s the leg that you plant to propel you forward.  You can find your dominant leg by standing upright on both feet and asking someone to push you forward.  Your dominant leg is the one that quickly moves forward to catch you and keep you from falling.

I began thinking about dominant legs recently while doing a sprint workout.  I realized that I push off with my right (dominant) leg. My left leg would then hit the ground and absorb the force of my body weight.  This was all normal, except for my left knee which was in pain every time I started a sprint. My “aha” moment was when I realized that if I switched my push off leg to be my left (non-dominant) leg, the pain disappeared.

We probably don’t think much about the compensations that our brain makes to put our best foot forward, such as shortening or lengthening our gait to have us step up or down a flight of stairs with a particular leg first.  However, if you’ve ever had hip pain I’m sure you’re well-aware of the challenges of exiting the car and needing to plant your foot on the ground. If you’re experiencing some of these painful situations, think about how you could temporarily “Put Your Better Foot Forward” and alleviate some of your pain.

Ok, here’s a brain challenge for the week: Try to switch roles of your dominant and non-dominant body parts. If you always open jars with your left hand, try your right. If you walk up stairs using your right foot first, try your left. Or, if you really want a challenge, try using your smartphone with your non-dominant hand. Your brain may start to work up a sweat!

Other interesting bits about Dominant vs. Non-Dominant:

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