Symmetry is a common word, and how much symmetry is enough? Some purist let the body’s nervous system take care perceived imbalances, some try to remove all of them like ghost busters. My threshold is what is likely to cause injury, and why is an imbalance present. This topic of symmetry, and how it relates to rhythm of the body, from stride to HRV, is a lot to cover. I don’t have the answers, but like I said I have some great questions that demand some attention. My belief is that the car analogy does have some merit with alignment and ensuring a good balance exists. While the body has the ability to compensate and use it’s resources to accommodate for asymmetry, why challenge that? It’s like not washing your hands because we have an immune system. The body has some wonderful protective measures and abilities to cope, but we need not add more variables for the body to juggle, as it will paint itself into a corner.
When those that say symmetry is not necessary, they usually say perfection may not be required. I agree. But when they say don’t worry about any symmetry, the car analogy is something that is valid enough, because while the nervous system is amazing, not all things can adapt or morphologically change enough to handle forces. I usually tell those purists to train one leg or side of the body only and see how long the body’s wisdom lasts. Nobody in their right mind would try that, so the next question is how similar does the body need to be.
My first experience with symmetry was when I was learning to alternate breathe on both sides when freestyle swimming. While world record holders in swimming didn’t alternate breathe, I found it help me create a better rhythm because I was average in talent-more talented athletes seem have better abilities to create or sustain rhythm with different challenges. Breathing patterns with elites don’t matter, as they can disassociate their head with their body. In sprinting, most athletes keep symmetry between right and left and front and back, and when things become beyond the mark, injury increases and performance decreases.
So what about rhythm and symmetry, does it relate? I think it does. While hurdling may not keep the same timing pattern between all three strides, it does repeat itself. Rhythm is more about consistent patterns and being able to hold a desired beat. Timing errors are usually late or early, too hard or too light, to short or too long…all part of rhythm. I wait for the athlete in practice to create a rhythm that can be repeated, otherwise I may not be coaching the real athlete. My rule of thumb is not to coach anything early in the first few repetitions unless a glaring danger exists (usually lifts) or bad starting position (blocks). Sort of like the great Wade Boggs waiting for the first pitch before swinging, we need to let athletes get a rhythm going first before making adjustments. Repeat the same mistakes consistently so we know what to change, instead of being all over the place from too much coaching tampering.
Measuring rhythm isn’t easy, but it’s important to see that sometimes symmetry is not just right and left, but a balance between postures and efforts. While the coaches eye may see good rhythm, it takes a long time to master the ways to create it with athletes. This is why I am a fan of repeating microcycles and doing more general running. Repetition is the mother of teaching, and even the best coaches need time. Variety is important, but mastering something needs repetition, a key ingredient to rhythm.