What is Unilateral Strength Training?

To put it simply unilateral strength training is training one side of the body at a time. For example, a barbell squat is considered a bilateral movement or exercise because you are standing on both feet using both of your legs to lift the weight. A pistol squat would be an example of a unilateral exercise because the bulk of your lifting is coming from just one leg.

Unilateral VS Bilateral

Both unilateral and bilateral training have their strengths, benefits, and weaknesses. In order to become a well-rounded and experienced athlete it is important to incorporate both training techniques into ones routine. Unfortunately unilateral exercises are often overlooked. Unilateral training offers many benefits that are not available from bilateral training.

Unilateral training is very similar to many everyday movements, therefore training your body unilaterally can in theory make it much more functional in day to day life. Things like walking, running, and often times jumping are best developed unilaterally. Take a moment and consider all the activities you perform on a daily basis when one limb is dominant (ie pushing an object, kicking something, carrying a bag, writing, brushing your teeth, etc). Incorporating an independent limb training aspect to your routine will improve your quality of life greatly.

Besides developing each side of the body independently unilateral movements also activate deep core muscles in order to maintain balance. When we add a stress or weight to a single side of the body different muscles will be forced to activate in order to keep the spine, pelvis, and rest of the body stable. The most common cause of day to day back pain is weaker abdominal and core muscles, by strengthening these muscles through unilateral strength training we can greatly reduce our unwanted daily stress.

Unilateral training is also a great way to lighten the load on your spine while still forcing targeted muscles to perform at high levels. Just think all the benefit of performing at peak levels without the unwanted negative stress.

Learning New Unilateral Movements When beginning unilateral training it can be hard maintaining balance throughout the full range of motion, this is especially true with leg movements. It is important to train into movements and not try to start at level 10. Slowly teaching your body how to move with only one side of support will greatly improve skill and technique over multiple levels. First scale certain movements to your abilities and gradually increase the load or difficulty in order to maintain a challenging exercise. For example lets look at the pistol squat. The pistol squat is probably the epitome image of unilateral movements. It requires an athlete to stand on one foot with the other leg full extended in front of them an reach the full depth of a squat on that single leg. If you think this sounds easy at just your bodyweight I urge you to stand up and try it now. When learning how to perform a pistol squat there are specific steps that need to be followed. First, ensure you possess the required mobility and range of motion. If your hamstrings are tight or you have poor ankle flexion this is going to be a tough movement for you. After you have corrected any mobility issues the next step would be to perform an air squat. You could next move into single leg squats with some sort of support whether it be a column, TRX or rings, rope, etc. You just want something to help maintain balance. Then doing a single leg squat down to a box. Then taking away the box. Then practice with your free foot further in front of you with knee extended. Finally moving into the full pistol.

The point is that you should never dive into a new exercise or movement. As stated above there are numerous benefits to unilateral training but it is important to learn to do them correctly, if you rush into things it is common to learn poor skills and form and then have to Re-learn them later.

If your interested in learning more about unilateral training you can book a free session at our gym HERE.

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