Dominant leg

A significant proportion of google hits on my site come from people looking to find out which is the dominant leg.

How people write and think about the dominant leg is fascinating. At one end, there’s a lot of “common sense” that is nonsense. Like the article summary on this website–your top google hit for “dominant leg.” At the other end, there’s recent scientific frameworks and data that are quite consistent with ideas that, for Feldenkrais practitioners, are as “common sense” as the idea that, in standing, one’s head is generally above one’s feet.

People’s “dominant leg” as the literature defines it is usually their right leg. It’s not related to left and right handedness. It’s also not their dominant leg for the reasons you think it is.

All over the web, people say “you take longer steps with your right leg, because it’s your stronger leg.” No one who thinks about movement or senses what goes on in themselves could think such a thing.

Is the strength of the right leg showing itself in how high you lift your knee? How wide an angle you can make as you open your knee joint to set foot on the ground again? As you step forward? Is that how you walk? Poppycock. The foot you step forward onto is the foot that’s in the air as you generate your step! What does its strength have to do with anything? If you step farther with your right leg, it would have to do with your left leg specializing in pushing off–in carrying force and transmitting it along the long axis of the leg, into a body that is accustomed to organizing itself around that secure balance and straight-forward push-off.

In Feldenkrais, we become extremely familiar through day-in day-out observation and practice with the way that we specialize: one leg, usually the left, for balance, and one leg, usually the right, for fine manipulation. That generally translates along the whole side of the body to a higher tonicity in the extensors (muscles opening the joints against gravity) on the left, and higher tonicity in the flexors (muscles of folding the joints) on the right.

This is our Feldenkraisian classification of flexors and extensors, by the way; I don’t think it’s the same as how the rest of the world thinks of it. Generally, one says flexors close joints and extensors open them. Not sure how that all spells out. I’ll think about that another day.

Get someone to photograph you lying flat on the floor; then draw a line along your nose and through the middle of your chin; continue down, and there’s the leg you like to stand on, and the other leg, probably lying out from the midline, and with the foot turned further out, is your “dominant” leg. And, by the way, are your fingers slightly more curled under on that side? Your knee or wrist slightly higher off the floor?

This stuff is in the research: google scholar it, and you see that bone mineral density is higher in the “non-dominant” leg, which specializes in balance and propulsion in walking; muscle mass is greater in the “dominant.” I haven’t seen this, but we’d predict that slow-twitch muscles fibers (postural) are more numerous on the “non-dominant” leg, and fast twitch on the “dominant”.

What I can’t do for you is confirm that people walk in circles in a way influenced by leg dominance when deprived of other sensory reference points. Someone finally tested this idea experimentally, and while we do walk in circles, and tighter ones that you’d expect, there is no consistent tendency to one direction or another. Jan Souman studied this. The graphics are lovely if you can see them (behind paywall?). Watch this NPR video from Robert Krulich, and listen to the interview with Jan Souman.

As a practitioner who thinks always of one leg, usually the left, as specializing in the fundamental job our legs have to do–accept our weight as we balance and move in gravity–I can’t convince myself to call that leg the “non-dominant” leg. But if you think that the main function of a leg is to kick a soccer ball, and the right leg has stronger muscles or better refined control with which to do that, then okay, call it dominant!

I like the way that Phil Wagner puts it on the Sparta Sport Science blog: “…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. …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. …There is no dominant leg, just preferred sequences and feet for your specific sport’s movements.”

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