CoreBody Blog

Pilates Bilateral Coordination + Connectivity Training

How Asymmetrical Load Can Strengthen Brain/Body Response

What makes the human body so unique is that no body is perfectly symmetrical. Instead, the human body is made up of specific imbalances that we must work to strengthen together and separately in order to reinforce our core and our limbs for balance and movement.

Working asymmetrically can improve efficient movement in our joints. Utilizing the spring tension of the reformer, chair and Cadillac can put us off-balance on purpose, thus building our brain/body response improving balance, and core strength improving our symmetry.

Physical Therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, Kailin Collin states, “Core strength is intimately related to balance, because you need good stability at your core to have safe and effective movement at the hip, knee and ankle.”

What is Bilateral Coordination?

Bilateral coordination is the result of symmetrical, reciprocal, asymmetrical and cross-lateral movement.

Symmetrical movements. When both sides of the body are working together to perform the SAME motion.

  • Jump board: Jumping on the reformer uses both legs to jump off the board together;
  • Standing side splits: Both legs move the carriage out and back in, simultaneously;
  • Front rowing: Both arms are pressing into the straps at the same time.

Reciprocal movements. When the body differentiates both sides of the body using a rhythmical motion mimicking walking, riding a bike or swimming.  

  • Bicycle stroke with feet in springs. One leg presses while the other pulls creating forward circles, as in biking;
  • Swimming on the mat. One arm + opposite leg lift off the mat simultaneously;
  • Split peddle rotation on the chair. One hand presses the peddle down protracting the shoulder while the other shoulder retracts lifting the peddle upwards.

Asymmetrical movements. When both sides of the body work together however, both sides perform separate tasks with one side leading while the other supports/assists.

In Pilates, the working leg/arm and stabilizing leg/arm work together, each performing specialized sequences.

Asymmetrical Loading. When the body stabilizes against a force that is unequal, requiring core strength to keep stable. Pilates equipment is ideal for creating load on one side, forcing the other side to stabilize whether on a moving or stationary surface. Single arm press on chair, standing or against the shoulder block of the reformer, stabilizing your torso:

  • Kneeling single arm pull with opposite leg extended on moving reformer surface; 
  • Standing single leg press on chair peddle, while the other leg is stabilizing on the floor.
  • Kneeling single leg pull, while the opposite leg stabilizes on moving reformer surface.

Cross-lateral movement. When a limb from one side of the body does something different than that of the other side, including movement that crosses over the midline.

  • Criss-cross or obliques on the mat. When your right elbow touches your left knee in ab prep spinal flexion;
  • Cross-over on the chair. Where one leg crosses the mid-line to press the peddle down.
  • Rhonde-de-jambe on the Cadillac and mat.  When one leg crosses the mid-line whilst the torso stabilizes the upper body making a single leg circle.

We start with symmetrical movements because they are easier to master prior to performing more complex patterns with increased spring tension.

Benefits of Bilateral Coordination + Connectivity Training

Bilateral coordination training with symmetrical, reciprocal, asymmetrical and cross-lateral movements keep our neural pathways firing. Think of it like Sudoku for your body and brain! Neuroplasticity is what keeps us sharp, vibrant and coordinated, improving our core strength, stability, balance, and symmetry.

Bilateral movements can also be of particular benefit to those experiencing:

• Lack of coordination, proprioception or spatial awareness;
• Poor balance as a result of vestibular conditions such as vertigo or nausea;
• Learning disabilities, such as dyslexia;
• Spoonerisms. Verbalizing things backwards, swapping words in sentences;
• Sports or other injuries that require re-learning of motor skills.

Unilateral Movements Improve Weight Transfer, Balance + Symmetry

Functional movement requires unilateral movement (working on one leg/arm at a time) with single leg stability, weight transfer and loading. When walking, we load one leg 40% of the time, so independent leg strength is imperative to balance.

Unilateral work challenges and strengthens not only our bodies from side to side and limb to limb independently, but it trains our brains to work asymmetrically and independently. Our balance depends on this!

Strengthening Brain + Body Responses to Asymmetrical Load takes practice

Practicing bilateral movements with asymmetrical and unilateral loads, may feel smooth and integrated over time. However, not practiced consistently, neuro pathways would need to be re-awakened as they are prone to atrophy.

All of this training requires focused movements and embodied proprioception. Through these movement patterns, we gain neural plasticity meaning we have the capacity for new organisation and connections by growing new nerve pathways through repetition.

Bilateral and unilateral movements “connect” our minds to our bodies, helping gain or re-train natural movement, coordination, core strength and balance so we can function in life with ease and grace.

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