Unilateral training doesn’t receive nearly as much love as it should. In fact, unilateral training such a crucial element of full body strength and muscle balance, yet so many people don’t even know what it is or how to incorporate it into their training effectively. Today, we’ll go over everything you need to know about unilateral training and why you shouldn’t overlook it.
Simply put, unilateral training is that which works a single leg or arm at a time. Unlike bilateral training that works both sides of your body at the same time, unilateral exercises focus on one specific side of your body and the accompanying limb. For example, take a regular barbell back squat. Both legs are equally involved to make you move the weight up and down. Theoretically, both legs receive the same amount of stress and grow the same way.
Now, place the same barbell on your back but instead of squatting down, start doing forward lunges, and you’ve suddenly moved from a bilateral to a unilateral exercise. Each leg has to pull its weight and do its job if you are to get back to starting position once you lunge forward.
Unilateral training provides a lot of benefits for us. But, perhaps the biggest one is that you stay honest with yourself. Most people are so buried in bilateral training that they slowly develop muscular imbalances and technique issues that could later lead to injuries.
Say you exclusively do bilateral exercises (such as the squat) for your legs. Over time, you might overdevelop one side of your body and leave the other one weak. For most people, the already dominant side of their body develops further, leaving their weaker side even weaker. The rich get richer, as they say. This leads to a breakdown of your technique, muscle imbalances, and potential injuries.
(Ever seen a lopsided barbell bench press or back squat at the gym? This is a prime example of someone with an underdeveloped side/limb because they exclusively do bilateral work.)
But, if you were to include one or two unilateral exercises into your leg training, you would:
For example, including a unilateral exercise such as the forward lunge would allow you to test the strength of both legs individually and find potential weaknesses that you can then work on improving.
Chest: unilateral dumbbell chest press/incline press, unilateral chest press machine, and single-arm fly (dumbbell, cable, band, etc.).
Back: single-arm rows and single-arm pullovers.
Shoulders: unilateral dumbbell shoulder press, unilateral dumbbell lateral raise, unilateral upright row.
Quads: forward/walking lunges, single-leg squat, and unilateral leg extension.
Hamstrings: single-leg Romanian deadlift and unilateral lying/seated leg curl.
Bicep: single-arm curls with dumbbells, cables, bands, machines, etc.
Tricep: single-arm extensions with dumbbells, cables, bands, machines, etc.
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