Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What is your dominant leg?


BY DR. PHIL WAGNER, M.D.

One of the more frequent questions we get from our athletes is, which leg is stronger? Because you kick a soccer ball with your right leg, are you right leg dominant? How about if you bat left handed? So much of this answer has to do with repetition (see Sparta Point 7/8/09), how often you perform the specific skill, and from which side or direction. However, another factor determining your lateral dominance could be predetermined by your nervous system.

Lateral Dominance can be defined as the preferred use and better performance of one side of the body as compared to the other side. A 2010 study out of Ishikawa University in Japan discussed several previous studies on laterality, as well as their own findings that compared preferential leg use in a variety of movements. Previous research indicated that 73.8% of subjects used the left leg as the final foot before a jump takeoff because they felt more stable on this leg. However, this 2010 study found subjects equally chose to use the right leg or left leg in balancing and jump takeoffs. Most importantly, this research found most subjects use the right leg for more skillful movements, such as hopping through a ladder.

So the majority of studies support that your left leg is the side of choice for strength or balancing needs, whether it be the plant foot before kicking, the takeoff foot for jumping, or the front leg of a baseball swing to stop rotation. Just reflect on how many more soccer players prefer to kick right footed or baseball players choose to hit right handed.

Since this left leg is used for stability, the right leg supports more fine motor coordination, such as providing the right “touch” when striking a soccer ball. While the biggest role in the development of this lateral dominance is repetition, other major reasons are not fully agreed upon. Perhaps the most likely theory is that the left cerebral hemisphere, or left half of the brain, controls the right side of the body. This left hemisphere is generally dominant, giving the right side of the body better neuromuscular control (see SpartaPoint 2/24/10).

There is no dominant leg, just preferred sequences and feet for your specific sport’s movements. However, each leg and foot needs to be used in any training environment, to improve performance and reduce injury. By working your dominant leg more in the weight room, you’ll enhance your preferred side in sport or perhaps your only side if you’re a baseball pitcher who always drives from the same leg. However, providing a stimulus to the other leg, such as single leg plyometrics, can prevent any imbalances fostered from repetitive unilateral movements of your sport.

2 comments:

  1. Good article. One point about dominant legs...skateboarders and snowboarders predominantly have their 'left foot forward' on the skateboard - and this is the preferred side. Some people are skilled enough to switch but the left for most is still preferred. For those that choose their right foot forward, the preference is nicknamed 'goofy'. Generally, right handers prefer their left foot forward and left handers prefer their right foot forward. An easy way to test your own preference is to stand with your legs shoulder width apart and have someone push you forward with their hand on your back. This doesn't need to be done hard and should be done unexpectedly. Sometimes you will go forward with one foot and then another on the next go. After a while you should find your preference. And of course you could always jump on a skateboard or snowboard and you'd find out pretty quickly.

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  2. Awesome input, ideally we all become dominant, or at least comfortable with both legs.

    Great test, surprisingly effective as our Olympic lifting coach used to test to see which leg to step forward with when jerking a barbell overhead.

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