Ask Rael Q & A: 22nd Issue

by Rael Isacowitz

I’m a righty but when working out, my stronger, more dominant side is clearly my left. What gives?

Handedness or side dominance is very interesting and not fully understood. We do know that the majority of the people in the world (90-92%) are right side dominant, which is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain. This is also the hemisphere of the brain that controls language, which may explain why this side develops more readily. Due to the fact that the majority of people are “righties” there are also social factors that may influence handedness.

Your situation is sometimes called cross dominance, where you are right side dominant but prefer to perform certain skills with your left side. This is not uncommon. I share your exact situation; I am a righty but my left side has always been by better jumping leg, and even with some skills that demand dexterity, I prefer my left hand.

Sports where we often see cross dominance are surfing, snowboarding and skateboarding. Most people are what is termed natural foot (left foot forward), but many are goofy foot (right foot forward) even though they may be right side dominant. It is what it is. It’s important to determine handedness from the outset when learning and teaching these skills, but it does not affect ability or execution.

In Pilates we typically strive for symmetry and try to overcome imbalances; this also means trying to minimize the affects of handedness. So my suggestion is accept what nature has given you, but within your Pilates practice, work both sides and strive for ultimate balance in your body. This is particularly important if you are involved in sports that amplify handedness, such as tennis, volleyball and golf. 

What are some things I can do to help increase my endurance?

A. Pilates is actually quite effective at enhancing muscular endurance. Although we perform relatively low repetitions of each exercise (around 10), we often do several exercises that address a particular muscle group in succession. For instance, we may do the Hundred, Double-Leg Stretch and Single-Leg Stretch. Although these differ somewhat in their choreography, they all boil down to a consistent position of the trunk and addressing the same muscle group. It equates to doing, in this case, three sets of an abdominal exercise.

Cardiovascular endurance is based on raising your heart rate to a target heart rate level (this is individual for every person) for longer than 15 to 20 minutes. As long as you’re working out intensely enough (e.g., going for a heart-revving power walk instead of a stroll), what activities you choose to engage in come down to personal preference. Optimally, you should exercise no less than three times a week. The heart is a muscle and responds like all other skeletal muscles in the body—if you keep working it, it will adapt to the workload.

If you are doing two intermediate or advanced, high-paced Pilates mat classes a week, this will definitely contribute to your cardiovascular endurance. I love mixing things up with cycling (mountain biking), running, swimming and walking. Walking came about by necessity, when my son was born and my wife and I needed exercise—and also to put the baby to sleep. We started loving it; it was a time for us to connect while reaping the benefits of fitness, being outdoors and a quiet baby. Now it is our dog that keeps us on track with our walking. Is it as intense as running, cycling or swimming? No! But it keeps that area of my fitness regimen in check with very little wear and tear on my body, plus it contributes to my well-being in every sense of the word.

Bottom line, as with all exercise, make sure you enjoy it! Because if you do, you will do it, and if you do it, you will see results. That goes for Pilates as well.

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This article first appeared in the September 2012 issue of Pilates Style Magazine. Responses modified with updated event information. For more great stories about Pilates, check out the latest issue of Pilates Style, on newsstands nationwide, in the app store or at www.pilatesstyle.com.

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