Accessibility Tools

Athletes Do Not Need Balance to Be Successful

In the attempt to improve athletic performance or prevent sports-related injuries, it is common to read that muscles in the body should be balanced. At times, what “balanced” means is never fully explained and is often assumed to mean that muscles on both sides of a joint should be equal in qualities such as endurance or strength. As a result, trainers and coaches may advise athletes to perform equal training for musculature on all sides of a joint to ensure balance.

The intent is to achieve symmetry. Not just at one particular joint, but often throughout the body. The goal is to see symmetrical movement on both sides of the body. Consider how therapists and coaches will use movement-screening systems to evaluate movement and then apply correctives with the goal to ‘balance’ the body or to reduce the risk of injury.

However, one must question if this the most intelligent thing to do in relation to high-level athletic performance. 
From the few studies done on this topic and from observation, symmetry may not be an effective means of improving performance. Rather, It appears that the majority of high-level athletes are asymmetrical.

This should not be surprising if you have been looking closely at high-level athletes. I recently attended the ACA Rehabilitation Symposium in Las Vegas over this past weekend. Professor Stuart McGill was one of the featured speakers and he has extensively researched the factors which make great athletes great. Professor McGill provided numerous examples from cases he has seen over of the years of athletes being ruined by someone attempting to 'balance' their body. The intent was on improving their performance or ‘correcting’ movement, yet the end result was making that athlete a patient. Essentially, he cautioned us all as chiropractors, therapists, and trainers to be very wise in what we do with our athletes.

One example he provided was Olympic sprinters and how many of them have very stiff, tight ankles. He stated how this is necessary for their performance and ultimately their success as elite level sprinters. Their ankles must be stiff to serve as ‘springs’ for explosive running. Yet, as he stated, many therapists would want to ‘mobilize’ their ankles and ‘release’ or ‘stretch’ the musculature surrounding the ankle to improve range of motion. However, now you have robbed them of the very thing that makes them a great athlete in their sport.

His example brought to mind a high school football player who trains at GP. He is our fastest athlete and his ankles are incredibly stiff. This stood out immediately upon his initial assessment. Did we do anything to mobilize his ankles? No. We didn’t touch his ankles, understanding that his ankle stiffness is what made him fast. Made him incredibly agile and quick.

If you try to balance muscular development or joint function, it can potentially interfere greatly with an athlete’s performance. It’s important to remember that what makes athletes asymmetrical also makes them great. It is not only a consequence of their training, but often what their sport demands. To take time out of their training to balance their body arguably interferes with more productive training.

This does not mean that they do not do exercises to keep their body healthy and prevent injury. We have our athletes perform many exercises for this purpose, but they are typically done during the general preparatory period, not in the competitive or precompetitive periods.

Former Soviet Union sport scientists studied this concept. The Soviets understood that asymmetry appears to be a key to athletic success. Asymmetry that is produced appears to allow athletes to go above and beyond what other ”well-balanced” athletes are capable of doing. It seems that the asymmetry allows the athlete to perform on a higher level.

There appears to be enough evidence to indicate that perhaps we should not be anxious to 'balance' every athlete’s physical development. Keep in mind that this does not mean that you ignore development of antagonistic muscles. But you do not emphasize them to the same extent as you do with the main muscles and joints involved in the execution of the athlete's competitive sports skill.

More related reading:

Athletic Development: Will Your Child be a Success or Burn Out?

What you need to know:

• Long term athlete development is a process that occurs over many years. This is not an "8 week program". Rather, it starts at an early age and continues on into adulthood. It is not simply a linear process, but is one that must be highly individualized to assist the athlete in reaching their full potential.
• The greatest challenge to coaches, parents, and athletes is the understanding of how difficult this process is. Athletes are dealing with massive changes in physical attributes, brain function, and sport skill acquisition. These all must be managed simultaneously while stressing the concepts of hard work in a positive environment.
The Case for Long-Term Development
When it comes to athletics, critical development begins at a very early age. As children mature, they progress through important developmental stages during their growth and maturation process. If long-term athletic development is of any importance to the coach, parent, or athlete, certain aspects of these stages must be addressed at appropriate time periods, otherwise the chances of the athlete reaching elite status is reduced.

Similar to other facilities and organizations that place importance on long term athlete development, the model used at Gallagher Performance began with a review of research and methods utilized in child and athletic development around the world. Through the review of current and past research/methods used with elite athletes and even military special operations, it was concluded that to truly address athlete development, a new way of looking at how to properly structure "strength and conditioning" programs must be considered.

Long-term athlete development models are being utilized around the world by more than 100 national sport organizations. For example, within the sport of hockey, there is no doubt that countries like the Czech Republic, Finland, and Sweden produce numerous NHL players. The numbers becoming even more impressive when considering the population of these countries. Each of those countries has placed the primary focus on long-term athlete development models.

Early Specialization in Sports: It's Not Working
Early specialization in sport is becoming increasingly more common among children in the United States. The rationale behind such a decision typically being if a child plays one sport, year round, they will be more advanced than their peers, more likely to be the 'star', get recruited, and/or possibly go on to make millions. Is this all fact or just wishful thinking?

Recent research from UCLA reveals that early specialization in sport has very poor connection with young athletes achieving elite status. A survey of almost 300 NCAA Division I athletes found that 88% played two or three sports as children and 70% did not specialize in one sport until after the age of 12. These findings were already understood in former East Germany and USSR within their youth development programs.

Studies in East Germany and the USSR found that children who went through an early specialization program did have more immediate improvement in their performances. But these children also had their best performances between the ages of 15-16, had greater inconsistencies, many quit or 'burnt out' by the age 18, and they had greater rate of injuries because of forced adaptation compared to children who played multiple sports and specialized later in life.

Now coaches are beginning to recognize the negative impact early specialization has on athletes. Brent Sutter, former NHL player and head coach/GM for the WHL's Red Deer Rebels had this to say about players who focus on hockey 10-12 months out of the year:

“You just don’t have as many players today that are as good athletes as they used to be. Too much today, especially in young players, is focused on hockey 12 months a year ... You really notice the guys who are true athletes and the ones who are not. The ones you can take and play baseball or soccer with them and they get it. This is noticeable even at the NHL level. The true athletes are a little bit further ahead ... I want our scouts to look at athletes not just strictly hockey players."
This is not just a hockey issue. Arguably, the same can be said for athletes in any sport.

Long-term athlete development serves as a framework for athlete development in sports. It is a system that integrates age-appropriate training and recovery programming with competition while maintaining one consistent goal: the development of athletes.

At GP, we take an educated and unique approach to proper youth development in sports, focusing on a wide variety of motor, coordination, and other developmental skills. Athletic development is a process and certainly not one that should be rushed. Don't just take our word for it. Sports science and coaching experts around the globe are endorsing this model and implementing it to ensure the best outcomes for their young athletes.

Don't Fall for the Speed Training Trap


Driven by Business
Speed, Agility, Quickness (SAQ) training has a unique ability to draw larger amounts of young athletes with promises of becoming a faster, more agile version of themselves. These facilities or individual coaches commonly use methods such as high speed treadmills and ladder drills. The SAQ system is terrific for business because they appear to provide athletes with what they need. However, these systems often fail to produce sustainable, long-term adaptations to improve speed.

When you consider what true speed development is all about, you begin to see why these methods do not work. And even why they may carry a high injury risk with them. Sure these methods will work for some athletes, but they are typically athletes that are already slow. Does this justify using less efficient means? Let's take a look.

# 1 - High Speed Treadmills
The mechanics needed for ground based speed are entirely different from the mechanics utilized on a treadmill. On a treadmill, the surface moves underneath you whereas on land, you must move over the surface. Training on a treadmill does nothing to develop an athlete's acceleration or drive phase, arguably the most important element of speed in sports. High speed treadmill training becomes about who can pick up their feet and put them down the fastest instead of how much force is being applied to the ground. Furthermore, at high speeds it becomes easy for form to breakdown and ingrain poor mechanics.

#2 - Ladder Drills for Foot Quickness
Ladder drills simply make you good at ladder drills. There is no correlation to actual speed development and developing one's ability to have 'quick feet'. Any benefit to speed can be negated by teaching athletes to chop or shorten their strides. These drills are best suited for a dynamic warmup, but if you think you are going to develop Robert Griffin III agility you are only fooling yourself. Agility is developed from improving relative strength and the practice of sport skills.

How True Speed is Developed
The science behind the world's fastest man, Usian Bolt, gives insight into what true speed development is all about. More important than how fast an athlete moves their legs is the power in their stride. An average runner's stride applies about 250kg (550 lbs) of force to the ground in roughly 0.12 seconds of contact. Bolt's stride applies over 1000 lbs of force to the ground in roughly 0.08 seconds of contact. That's a significant difference. High speed treadmills and ladder drills will not develop high level speed because they ultimately fail to train the physical abilities that enable an athlete to realize their true speed potential.

Speed and acceleration should be train through proper technique instruction and developing power-speed qualities such as limit/maximal strength, explosive strength, ground reactive forces, and rate of force production. These abilities train athletes to develop high amounts of force in a brief amount of time, developing the power that enables them to accelerate quickly and achieve top end speed faster.

The process of speed development must also take into consideration the concepts of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD). Young athletes, both male and female, have unique time periods during which their speed development is very sensitive. These "windows of optimal trainability" must be capitalized on or else the athlete's true speed potential will never be realized. For the vast majority of youth athletes, they miss these windows of opportunity because of over-competition and under-training that is often seen during the ages of 8-13.

Final Thoughts
As with any physical quality, the critical periods for speed development will vary between each child due to his or her genetic makeup. Each critical period respects the stages of human growth and maturation as scientific evidence demonstrates that children vary considerably in their rate of response to different training stimuli. Some children may show potential for speed at age 10, while others may not display the same potential until years later. Consequently, a long-term approach to speed development is needed to ensure that athletes who respond slowly to training stimuli are not ‘shortchanged’ in their development.

This is why a knowledgable coach who understands LTAD models and is skilled in recognizing "windows of optimal trainability" for speed, strength, stamina, suppleness (flexibility), and skill development should be sought out. If the the trainer or coach who is responsible for training your child does not understand LTAD models, I would think critically about the services you are paying for.

Training Hard vs Training Smart

"People are incredibly innovative in their efforts to screw up training."

- Charlie Francis, Canadian Speed Coach

When it comes to sport training and many training systems, there are aspects that are poorly managed or misused in their application. One that is very common is the lack of understanding of physiology as it relates to bioenergetic training parameters and workload compatibility in sport.

Programs and coaches may frequently implement high lactate training loads into their program for a variety of reasons. Exhaustive shuttle runs, suicides, gassers, extended sets, and 'circuit' style workouts are all examples of lactic training. The problem is even though they may be performed with perceived 'maximal effort', in order to accomplish the prescribed work, individuals are training at a medium intensity. This level of intensity is too slow to develop speed. They teach muscles to behave slowly. Furthermore, the recovery requirements are high and thus cut into the ability to perform more intensive work that would directly improve speed and explosive strength.

There is not much justification for the frequent use of lactic training loads when the nature of most field/court based sports is alactic/aerobic with varying degrees of lactate influence. This is illustrated by the influence of bioenergetics on mitochondrial concentration in skeletal muscle. Mitochondria are responsible for energy production and oxidative potential. More mitochondria means greater energy supply and faster recovery. Mitochondrial concentration is elevated in skeletal muscle by anaerobic-alactic and aerobic training, while anaerobic-lactic training results in their destruction. Lactate threshold training must be appropriately prescribed and closely monitored.

This is just one example of why training loads and parameters must have compatibility to ensure the greatest transfer into sport performance improvement. The sports training world has fallen victim to a number of gimmicks in the name of profitability. Gimmicks such as high speed or anti-gravity treadmills, ladder drills, and exhaustive circuit-based training are examples of training that has very little to no carry over into athletic performance. Read more about this here.

For athletes and individuals who take their training and health seriously, your results are too important for someone to 'screw it up'.

We love to hear your input. Tell us about your experience on Google.

Connect with Us


  • 4484 William Penn Highway

  • Murrysville, PA 15668

Hours of Operation

    Monday-Thursday: 9am-1pm, 3pm-6pm
    Friday: 9am-1pm, 3pm-5pm
    Saturday: by appointment only
    Hours are by appointment only