Dysfunction or sports adaptation?

Sports are not all equal. Each sport places differing stress on different energy systems, muscle fibres, joints, psyches, etc.

Athletes involved in different sports develop very different physiques as a result of their sport of choice. Picture a marathon runner and a sprinter side by side and they look very different to each other. Additionally, all most all sport is inherently asymmetrical, leading to imbalances throughout the body. A tennis player or javelin thrower will often have much more developed arm and back musculature in their dominant side to cope with the demands of the serve or throw respectively. This is known simply as a sports adaptation.


Put another way, any organisms (in this case the athlete) number 1 priority in its existence is to survive. Its job is to adapt to any stimulus thrown upon it. So when an athlete plays a sport long enough, they will adapt however they can to survive the activity, whilst acquiring as limited damage as possible. Whether it be physical, neurological or psychological, they will adapt.

In golfers, we often see imbalances in postural alignment away from the target side to better allow for the mechanics of the golf posture and swing and/or hypertrophy of the muscles on the target side to compensate for the forces that must be decelerated after impact. In short, adaptations have occurred to contribute to the golfers success.

Unfortunately, people that perform universal ‘movement screens’ will tell golfers they need to ‘balance out’ these asymmetries. This could kill their game, and could even increase the risk of injury. Don’t get the wrong idea, however, I’m not in favour of increasing imbalance caused by adaptation. I’m just not necessarily ‘pro-symmetry’ for improving athletic performance. Movement screenings provide useful and meaningful information regarding an athletes movement quality and potential weakness. The goal, however, should not be to fix every imbalance detected but to apply the information obtained from the screening and determine whether the imbalances is helping or hindering sports performance and base the decision to correct on that. Nor am I saying that all imbalances are functional to sport.

Many golfers, will of course display dysfunction and negative imbalances, developed from the asymmetrical nature of the sport and those negative imbalances will need to be addressed. For example, thoracic spine mobility will often be more limited on one side, due to the repetitive motion of the golf swing. By addressing this negative imbalance, it will increase the golfers total range of motion, which in turn will increase the body’s ability to produce force through that range of motion.

2 thoughts on “Dysfunction or sports adaptation?

  1. Leon Leonardo

    Was just at a seminar that emphasized how asymmetry should be treated case by case, and a good trainer and physical therapist takes in to account what your activities are when they work with you. However, your asymmetry shouldn’t be so severe that your sports posture becomes your normal posture. ( e.g. boxers with a permanent shrug)


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