Wildwood Tracking website

Tracks & Sign
Sign tracking
Limb/Eye Dominance
Search & Rescue
Way of the Scout
Algonquin Winter
About this site
Use of material
Privacy Policy
HomeLimb/Eye Dominance

Limb Dominance discussion

Page 1



i noticed two thinks at lunch today. even with injuries peoples dominance can show up. i saw a guy with a really messed up left knee. his right leg was healthy. but he still took a longer step on his left leg. what i couldn't figure out was whether he shortened his right stride out of force of habit or comfort for that stride, or if dominance.  is so ingrained we even carry it when the dominant leg is injured (perhaps at the expense of healing quickly/?)
I also noticed people keep their dominance while shuffling. ya gotta look hard but they do.

How are we to establish limb dominance?  

I believe that dominance can be seen in the length of the strides.  Your dominant foot is somewhat stronger and will carry you farther, while your non-dominant side will not want to hold you up as long making the stride shorter. so the side with the farthest stride is your non-dominant foot, and the leg with the smaller stride is your dominant.


we are born with it, like right handed or left handed,  though it's not necessarily the same in our legs as our hands. you could be right handed but left dominant walking. but with serious coaching and practice you can fake dominance which will probably be discernible to a experienced tracker.
to observe it in others, see which step is the longest by either measuring or timing them. i am right dominant. therefore i push off longer or carry my left leg further than i do my right. so right dominant carries left leg further making larger step and left leg doesn't carry right leg as far taking smaller step. so if yer right dominant you will circle to the right and left dominant people circle to the left when lost and wandering.


Dominant limb being then ... the stronger leg?    As in left or right handedness? Is step length the only way to determine this within yourself?
On others? Is there any gait pathologies that would alter this  dominance (or step length) and confuse interpretation (in the field)?  Can a person be ambidextrous with his/her limb dominance? A neutral/equal balanced gait?


haven't observed any ambidexterity in legs yet but it might be possible.  i've seen it close to that. i think limb pathology would lead to  whatever limb is stronger being dominanat but even that guy limping on  his knee retained the dominance of his bad leg so you'd prolly have to  abserve a TON o people to find out fer sure.

stride length is pretty much the determining factor but ya need a lotta  tracks cuz terrain and other factors may affect it. i've seen people  carrying pretty heavy shit on their dom. leg and it still carries the  long stride, even with all that weight on it. it's like an irresistible  genetic predisposition.

Fred Reynolds 

Dominant limb is probably the stronger leg but it is the leg you are most comfortable balancing on.

> As in left or right handedness? <  Yes, as long as you realize that dominance is not the same (right-handed person may be left dominant). 

> Is step length the only way to determine this within yourself?   On others? <     It is also a "choice" thing. Given 2 equally good routes, a person will normally go in the dominant direction. Tracker students often take the non dominant path just to stay out of a rut. Another way to tell is to stand on the 50 yard line of a football field on a cloudy day. Close your eyes and walk normally to the end zone. You will end up "out of bounds" by the 20 yard line on the dominant side. This is from one of Tom's books, but I did try it myself and it was true for me. This is also the reason a lost person almost always walks in a large circle as he tries to find his way.  This is a big issue for me as a tracker on a search and rescue team, statements that use the word ‘ALWAYS’ have caused many problems during searches.

> Are there any gait pathologies that would alter this  dominance (or step length) and confuse interpretation (in  the field)? <   

If you carry some weight in your hand, it will affect your stride. So you could weigh down your non dominant side to where you walk straight.

 At this point in the discussion Fred has made reference to an exercise that Tom Brown Jr expounds to determine ones limb dominance.


One is to stand in the end zone of a football field, blindfolded, and pointed towards the other end zone. It is claimed that if you exit the football field to the right sideline then your limb dominance is ‘right’ ... and visa versa. If you luck out and go straight then you have no limb dominance?

Fred Reynolds 

I think Tom says you will reach the sidelines by the 5 yard line.  I am so right dominant that I barely made it past the twenty.


But is this really dominance of one side over the other?

Think about this ...  My left foot steps out 20" and then I follow with a right step of 25" completing the gait cycle. Beginning the next gait cycle with a Left 20 and then a right 25 ... and so on.

|_L 20_|                 |_L 20_|                 |_L 20_|                |_L 20_|
            |__R 25 __|            |__R 25 __|           |__R 25 __|            |__R 25 __|

At the end of each gait cycle you have traveled forward in a direction that is determined by some different navigational activity. Navigation or direction of travel is not determined by step length. What is this "magic" that is  changing our direction when we walk blindfolded? Is it really a limb dominance? Perhaps an inner ear balance thing? A center of gravity arm swing thing? A hip/spine flexion variation?

I thought I had read somewhere that the army (Korean war era) studied this in great detail and found no statistical correlation to ethnicity, training, leg dominance, or field practice in regards to a lost person (blind folded on a cloudy day) circling left, right, or not at all. 


Your hips could be out of place. If this is the case, then one leg is a little longer than the other; thus one stride being longer than the other.

At this point in time I shared George Gorton’s statement about step length and gait analysis. 

 Since a "step" is defined as the offset position BETWEEN limbs, it is not the step, but the stride that must be equal to walk in a straight line.

There are many mechanisms that can affect the ability of a leg to achieve a "normal" step length. Perry (Gait Analysis, 1992) describes the role of the ankle "rockers" in progression. In a hemiplegic gait, for example, a typical subject may have a plantar flexion contracture on the affected side on clinical examination. If the contracture is flexible, adequate dorsiflexion may still be achieved in stance and the step length of the unaffected side will not be limited. If it is not a flexible contracture, however, at least two options are available. If the patient remains in equinus without a midfoot break, the progression of the tibia over the foot in stance will be restricted and this will shorten the step length on the unaffected limb. If a midfoot break occurs, or hyperextension of the knee joint occurs as the result of an external extensor moment from the equinus in stance, then adequate progression may occur to maintain a near normal step length.

In the same type of subject, we may find a knee flexion  contracture. This would limit step length by limiting the forward reach of the swing limb.

Working back from this, if there is a hemiplegic gait with a short step length on the good side, we should look to mechanisms affecting forward progression and weight transfer on no the affected limb (eg - limited hip extension or limited dorsiflexion in stance). (Although there may still be compensatory tightness on the unaffected side.) If the step length is short on the affected side, then we should look to mechanisms of reach (eg - incomplete extension of the knee or inadequate hip flexion).

Part of the difficulty here is in reliably identifying "affected" and "unaffected". Even in a hemiplegic population, the designation may not be clear cut and there may be compensations that cause the "unaffected" limb not to mimic normal joint motions. If we move to a CP diplegic population with this assessment, everything falls apart because both limbs are affected and we can not separate limitations of reach from limitations of forward progression and weight transfer.

What we are left with is that step lengths are indicators of an ability to compensate for limitations of propulsion and advancement. Inadequate strength may limit a person with a polio residual from flexing the hip adequately, but with a caliper type gait, they may still achieve a near normal step length bilaterally using pelvic and trunk rotation. The identification of this gait does not come from looking at the step lengths themselves, but by understanding that the lack of hip flexion and knee extension require a transverse plane compensation to maintain adequate step length for progression. 

In a person who has asymmetric step lengths, we know that there is a kinematic deviation that exists that is not compensated for. We can not tell however, from this information alone, what the deviation is, or what side to look for it. Therefore, at least in my own mind, asymmetric, or shortened step lengths are indicators of the presence of a problem, but not diagnostic in their own right.

George E. Gorton, III
Director, Gait Analysis Laboratory
Shriners Hospitals for Children
Springfield, Massachusetts 01104

Thorny  (edited)

that guy's not a tracker. he's a "gait analyst". no wonder it seems like dominance needs to be clarified. but  it doesn't. dominance means one stride is longer than the other. that's  it. nuthin to clarify. you can tell which stride is longer by watchin'  somebody walk or lookin' at their tracks. it's very simple.
the way you stay on course with one stride being longer than the other  is by making continuous subtle compensations for direction. look at the  soles o' yer shoes. they don't wear the same way. cuz they hit and  push off differently. that's do to compensations you make on visual  information. put a blindfold on and you no longer have that info and  you walk to the dominant side. it's very simple.

one more thing about dominance that is very simple: whichever side is dominant, you tend to choose that direction given an equal (or almost  equal) choice of directions (to navigate around a tree or prickerbush or  piece of furniture, for example). so you can thow people off by  choosing the opposite direction of yer dominance.


Personally, I have seen inconsistency on limb dominance  over and over in my studies and I have been looking at human tracks for 14 years. I have tested people (using the football field technique) and have logged conflicting results. Testing must be done without their knowledge of why they are being blindfolded. Once you tell them any information about the purpose of the test or the results of the previous pass, YOU have altered the test by implanting a concept within their minds that will alter their "blind" navigation. So testing yourselves is nonsensical in that you will be thinking about left or right dominance during the course of your walk. 

Survival Club 

I seem to recall that in one medical class we were told that the  dominant leg is stronger, thus the punch step (short) and swing step (long). I have tested many people and found that most of the time  they will go out of bounds by about the 50 yd line. Some people, women  especially, seem to be better at walking a straight line. I seem to  recall reading somewhere that with nothing to keep track of direction a  "normal" man will circle in a one mile radius.       The ground here is not all flat, but when the rest of the club gets  back I will take them down to Pope Valley and test them. I think that  you will find that people can be trained to be right or left dominant.   My sister and mother are both right handed/right dominant  but they both throw, catch and bat left handed. Easy to figure out why,  the only other mit around when I was learning baseball was a lefthanders mit. They had no choice but to learn lefty.  I am, by testing, right handed/left dominant. I only know a few other  people with an opposite combination like that.   Specifically we find it  easier to write and do delicate tasks with our dominant hand while  circling and making choices in the opposite direction.


Previous      Next