A lot of us feel stronger on one side of our bodies and most of us assume that it’s because that side is dominant. While that may be true for some people, it’s often more complicated than that.
When I work out, I typically struggle to finish movements on my left side more so than on my right. And I’ve always chalked up my difficulty with my left hip to it being “naturally weaker” since I am right-handed. Though I’ve been aware of these issues, I never thought to do anything about them until I learned about the new LIT Axis system.
The LIT Axis system is a set of smart resistance bands created by the same team that made The LIT Method, Justin and Taylor Norris. The duo set out to make a portable version of their hit resistance workout machine — the LIT Strength Machine.
At first glance, they look quite similar to other resistance bands, but the system is “smart” in that it connects to your device and monitors your movements to show which side you favor. The smart bands claim to deliver a customized Pilates reformer workout at home that detects the way you use your body and adjusts your resistance in real time so that you are doing a workout that is tailored to the individual needs of each side of your body.
What are muscular imbalances?
According to Heather Milton, certified strength and conditioning coach and exercise physiologist supervisor at NYU Langone’s Sports Performance Center, muscle imbalances are typical. “Muscular imbalances can occur for a variety of reasons — primarily, from over use of one muscle or muscle group, and under use of another,” she says. Since I favor my right side for everything from opening jars to walking up stairs, it makes sense that my left side is weaker.
But if having muscular imbalances is common, why is it important to correct them? “Typically muscular imbalances can manifest as pain in the area, whether it be in the muscles themselves or the surrounding joints,” says Dr. Brian Cruickshank, a sports medicine physician at Stony Brook Medicine. “Muscle imbalances can put you at risk for injuries, and correcting these imbalances are a great way to reduce your risk,” he continues.
“Because the weaker side can not withstand the same force, if that force is imposed on it, it can be overstressed,” Milton explains. “Conversely, if we favor one side so much because it is stronger, that side can receive more and more load over time and break down.”
Cruickshank says injuries of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which runs diagonally in the middle of the knee, is one common example. “Having strength and improving muscle imbalances in the hips and thighs can decrease the load on this ligament, which would decrease your risk of injury,” he explains.
What helps correct muscular imbalances?
In her line of work, Milton uses a variety of tools to correct muscle imbalances, including resistance bands. “We can balance out the asymmetries in muscle strength by focusing on the underused muscles,” she explains. “For example, someone who does pushups every day may have strong pecs, but weak back muscles. Doing rows with resistance bands or weights can help balance that.”
Pilates based-exercises have been shown to improve balance and stability. Cruickshank says that when used properly they can help correct muscle imbalances as well. “The general principle of these types of exercise programs is to improve your overall strength, muscle tone and flexibility using flowing movement,” he explains. “In doing these movements, you are attempting to use all muscle groups. So if there is an imbalance, the group that may initially be weaker could be engaged, and if done properly and over time, become stronger.”
When asked about the benefits of using a smart band system like the LIT Axis to perform these kinds of exercises, Milton notes the advantage of having real time information to work toward correcting these imbalances. “Feedback is always helpful for exercises — if a band can tell you the force is different right to left, you can attempt to correct for it,” she says. However, she strongly suggests working with a professional to identify and correct muscle imbalances because the method and exercise selection used to correct imbalances varies based on individual needs. For example, Milton says Pilates-based exercises could help with hip abductor imbalances, but may lead to further imbalances for those with weaker core muscles.
Keeping this in mind, I put the LIT AXIS to the test.
The basics: cost and equipment
The LIT Axis system comes with two sets of resistance bands — 15 pounds and 30 pounds — ankle straps, handles and a band used to anchor the system to any door. If you’re outdoorsy, you can anchor the bands around a tree or pole. The whole set comes in a handy carrying case.
The system can be set up at a low, mid or high point to adjust to the requirements of the workout. The resistance bands sync to the LIT Axis app via Bluetooth. The bands’ “smart start” technology activates when you pull on them — no need to charge or recharge them. Each band is labeled with an L or R to indicate which hand or leg should be used to capture workout metrics accurately.
The LIT Axis retails at $199, and monthly access to the app costs $9.99 per month. If you purchase a year’s subscription, $79 annually, it comes with three complimentary months and a 30-day risk-free trial. The equipment price is competitive. Other “gym in a box” resistance band systems range wildly in price — from about $50 into the thousands.
Since many movements are done on the floor, a yoga mat is also helpful. To access the app, you’ll need a smartphone or tablet.
What is the LIT Axis workout?
The LIT AXIS system mimics the workout you would get from a Pilates reformer and strength trainer. Axis classes are broken down into beginner, intermediate and advanced level options. You can choose between Axis Pilates classes, which mimic Pilates reformer workouts or Axis Strength classes, which offer resistance training workouts.
Classes range from 10 minutes to 40 minutes, with exercises that target the total body, classes for the upper and lower body, and strength-based classes for targeted muscle groups. Expect to see familiar Pilates moves such as leg circles, scissors kicks and the Pilates 100 throughout the app’s featured workouts.
Once you select a class option on your smartphone or tablet, you pull on each band to activate it and sync with the app. During class, metrics such as the number of reps, time under tension, burned calories and pounds lifted are all displayed and tracked. Once you’ve completed 10 classes, the app starts to show your muscle imbalances in real-time during class for you to correct.
How the LIT Axis system works
When you log on to the platform, you’ll have three options at the top of the app: Classes, which are added weekly; Programs, which are groups of classes under a theme (Totally Toned and Sweat & Shred are examples); and Open Gym, which offers a glossary of short clips demonstrating key moves, warmups and routines within the programs. Live classes are also offered a few times per week on the app.
For the platform to measure your imbalances, you’ll need to complete one of the programs. A bar at the bottom of the screen during class indicates how much you are pushing and pulling on each side.
At the end of your workout, a class summary shows your imbalances from that class in performance bars with clear indications of left vs. right. All this data is stored inside your user profile and displayed on your home screen. Over time, the app’s homepage will recommend classes and programs based on this data to help correct imbalances.
As Milton says, this type of feedback can be helpful in bringing awareness to muscle imbalances so that you can work toward correcting them.
“It is reasonable to say that a technology that can potentially measure forces of different muscle groups could identify and correct these imbalances to prevent future injuries or improve current pain or discomfort,” Cruickshank agrees.
But I did keep in mind that Milton suggests working with an expert to start making those corrections.
My experience using LIT Axis smart resistance bands
I decided to kick things off with a beginner-level total body strength training workout. I used a closet door to anchor my bands, placing them in the middle of my door as instructed by the trainer. The workout started with a brief warmup on the mat. Then it was time to attach the handles to my LIT bands. I followed the instructor as we moved through arm repetitions that featured isolations on each side in a standing chest press and Pilates floor work. By the end of the workout, my arm and leg muscles were on fire. Though the movements were simple, my body felt exhausted by the end of day one.
I spent the rest of the first week completing classes in the Axis Totally Toned program, which offers 20-minute classes that work total body, lower body, upper body and core. I made sure to triple check I had the correct bands in each hand (or leg, depending on the movement). I tried my best to avoid doing back-to-back lower or upper body workouts to give my limbs a much needed break. Though the workouts never felt easier, I started to feel more capable as I became more familiar with the resistance bands. Halfway through the week, I decided to switch from the 15-pound bands to the 30-pound bands to challenge myself. After struggling through half a class, I switched back for a few more classes.
Once I completed the program, I could see my imbalances live on the screen in real time, and I was surprised to find that I was exerting more effort on my left side than my right. All this time, I’d been overcorrecting instead of working both sides evenly, which LIT’s exertion bar brought to my attention. Toward the end of my trial, not only did I start to feel stronger on both sides of my body, but I also noticed my balance had greatly improved. I had more control over the movements I had struggled with in the beginning, and was finally able to switch up to the 30-pound bands for an entire workout.
I learned something important about my body using LIT Axis and I saw — and felt — improvements within a month. I like to vary my workouts, but plan to keep LIT Axis in my rotation moving forward.
What I liked
If you love Pilates reformer workouts, these bands are for you. They mimic the slow, controlled reformer movements. I’d argue that some of the advanced LIT Axis Pilates classes are even more challenging than what you’d get from a popular reformer class.
I loved how easy it was to set up, and I especially liked how the home screen began recommending classes based on my metrics as the platform got to know my preferences and imbalances. It took the decision fatigue out of choosing a class, saving me a lot of time.
It was interesting to see my imbalances displayed on the screen and it did bring awareness to the fact that I was exerting more effort on one side than the other. This information made me more mindful of my movements and my balance during the workouts. And at the end of the day, it was simply an effective workout. I was consistently sore and felt like I got a good strength and toning workout each time.
What I didn't like
It takes a time commitment to utilize the smart features. You’ll need to commit to at least 10 workouts or complete one of the LIT Axis programs before seeing both sides of your body on the metrics screen. This is by design so the platform can understand what side you’re favoring and make suggestions, so be prepared to commit.
Keeping in mind what Milton says about the right method for correcting imbalances varying based on individual needs, I do think it’s important for people to consider consulting a professional before doing any drastic course correcting. But that being said, I enjoyed the workout for reasons beyond improving imbalances; it was a challenging strength workout and I liked the controlled, Pilates-style movements.
The system states it can be used in any door. However, I struggled to anchor the system to the top and bottom of the closet door I used in my apartment — in a corner where I had the most space to work out.
The left and right labels are also hard to read on each band. Though I love the luxury feel of the material the bands are made of, I wish the L and R were more prominent for ease of switching between workout moves.
I’d recommend this workout to:
- Anyone who loves Pilates reformer workouts.
- People who like using data and technology to fuel their workouts.
- People who are looking to improve their balance.
- Those who love portable workouts you can take with you anywhere.