Don’t let your body suffer from imbalances when you can benefit from unilateral training to enhance all areas of your training and performance.
When it comes to our training, we are always looking for new ways to mix things up and change the monotony of the same old workouts. Performing the same exercises and repeatedly working on similar movements can grow stale and our bodies adjust to them accordingly and we hit the unfortunate training plateau. While there are ways to break these plateaus, like performing drops sets or increasing our time under tension, the mere fact that we have hit such a wall in our training can be frustrating enough.
When it comes to various exercises, one side may become stronger than the other. Perhaps your form is slightly better on that side of your body, or you are not relying on stabilizer muscles as much to lift so the main muscle is seeing the brunt of the work. It could very well be genetic as well. But unilateral training is one way to fix any imbalances, add some variety to your workouts, and really see the change you want to improve overall training and performance.
What Is Unilateral Training?
Unilateral training is when you perform an exercise on one side of your body, or use one limb, being single leg or single arm exercises. These exercises are great for a number of benefits that can in turn seriously aid your workouts. By working both sides of your body equally, you allow yourself to fix any muscle imbalances that may occur as a result of one muscle group being stronger on one particular side (1). This will promote better all around strength as well as enhance a more balanced aesthetic.
Unilateral Vs. Bilateral
While unilateral training is performed with one arm or leg, bilateral training uses both arms or both legs. Unilateral training is helpful for those sport specific movements that require a certain level of explosivity with one leg while training for balance and core stability to ensure that each side gets equal amount of work done.
Bilateral training on the other hand trains both sides simultaneously and is often associated with those full body exercises that work multiple muscle groups to really enhance your workouts. With bilateral training, you are able to lift much more weight than if solely stuck with a unilateral exercise. You can squat way more with both legs as opposed to just one (2).
Benefits Of Unilateral Training
Correct Muscle Imbalances & Increase Muscle Building
The worst thing that can happen to a bodybuilder is having a muscle imbalance. In a spot where symmetrical physique means everything, it can be frustrating to see an imbalance really throw your aesthetic out of whack. Through unilateral training, you can work the weaker, more underdeveloped muscle to really enhance your gains and see better growth overall for that side to balance out the look you want. Either lifting more weight on that side or adding more reps, it still allows you to work both sides, just with the option to play with the other side a little more.
Through the simple act of lifting anyway, unilateral training can have great effects on muscle building (3). Eccentric training is one of the best ways to build muscle and by combining unilateral training with an eccentric style of training, you will enhance your muscle strength and size beyond belief.
Improve Balance & Coordination
Since you are forced to rely on only one limb for support, unilateral training is a great way to enhance balance by working on core stability and learning how to properly perform said exercise with only one limb for stabilization. The amount of coordination needed is more than important to make sure you are accurately executing on form and properly moving the weight to maximize growth.
This is a great time to work on mind muscle connection, which is the ability to release yourself from all unnecessary distractions and focus on the task at hand, this being the exercise. This will better connect your brain to your body as you seek the best communication possible to concentrate on that activity, and that activity only. By enhancing mind muscle connection, you are only benefiting yourself by achieving more muscle growth.
Promote Power & Explosivity
Since unilateral training requires a more narrow window for support from just one limb, the strength built up is perfect for maximizing power and explosivity, if your sport requires it. Needing more balance increases the neuromuscular input required to remain stable resulting in a faster rate of force production (4). Your muscles are now fired up and ready to take on any load. When the time comes for you to be explosive, that load will be gone, but your muscles will act as if its still there.
Enhance A Well-Rounded Physique
Fixing any imbalances and working on strengthening all muscles, both larger groups and stabilizer muscles, can really enhance your physique and make it pop. Having a well-rounded aesthetic will make you not only look great, but also feel great in your quest to look amazing and show off all of your hard work.
Unilateral training is a great way to see big gains in the gym. By using just one limb, either an arm or a leg, you are able to provide an increase in strength, balance, coordination, and power. Even more so you can work to fix any muscle imbalances that can hurt your overall aesthetic and leave you feeling frustrated. Don’t let a boring workout, training plateau, or muscle imbalances keep you from what you need to do to see great gains. Give unilateral training a try and work to maximize your goals as best you can.
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*Images courtesy of Envato
- Munn, Joanne; Herbert, Robert D.; Hancock, Mark J.; Gandevia, Simon C. (2005). “Training with unilateral resistance exercise increases contralateral strength”. (source)
- Fountaine, Charles J. (2018). “Unilateral and Bilateral Exercise Movements: Considerations for Program Design”. (source)
- Howe, Louis; Goodwin, Jon E.; Blagrove, Richard (2014). “The integration of unilateral strength training for the lower extremity within an athletic performance programme”. (source)
- Makaruk, Hubert; Winchester, Jason B.; Sadowski, Jerzy; Czaplicki, Adam; Sacewicz, Tomasz (2011). “Effects of Unilateral and Bilateral Plyometric Training on Power and Jumping Ability in Women”. (source)