Today’s article is written by Show Up Fitness Personal Trainer Bret Lusis.
Why should we incorporate unilateral exercises into our workouts?
Limb Equilibrium 101
Before you read this, I wanted to mention a recent post by Eric Cressey – a top strength and conditioning coach and the go-to guy for baseball players. He agrees that a strong Squat and Deadlift can be important, but when it comes to athletic performance, athletes primarily use one leg at a time, so uni-lateral training should be incorporated into an athletes program.
Let’s start off by explaining what a unilateral exercise is. Unilateral training is a form of training where you workout one limb at a time instead of two (bilateral). Rarely do you see individuals in the gym practicing unilateral exercises under-load. The main reasons being, 1) that damn ego getting bruised by not being able to lift as much weight, and 2) it takes twice as long. Ego and time aside, unilateral training can really pay dividends by helping improve your PR's (Personal Records in the Squat by complimenting with some Bulgarians) or developing size (Single Leg Hip Thrusts alongside of Deadlifts- who doesn’t want a bigger booty?) Naturally, we have dominant limbs, so the need to “balance” out the body shouldn’t be a priority. As a nation, we need to stop fantasizing about being equally balanced. We aren’t supposed to be equal or else we would have two livers, and two pancreases etc. Let me ask you this, do you remember lifting your first dumbbells? I’m sure the weights were moving all over the place. Eventually, this “imbalance” was fixed by performing the movement pattern over and over again. It’s not rocket science folks, if my left leg is stronger than my right, and I only train bilaterally (Squats, Deadlifts, Leg Presses), the weaker leg may not catch up with the dominant leg. By implementing some unilateral exercises (Bulgarians, Step-Ups, and Lunges), I may be able to help bridge the strength gap because my weaker leg has to generate the same force production as the dominant one.
Joint and Core Stabilization
Anytime you have weight distribution on one side and not the other, your body must compensate by engaging your stabilizing muscles of the core- when you do an exercise with 1-arm or 1-leg your core has to stabilize itself by bracing the core so you won’t fall over. Try this, grab a dumbbell with your right hand and start doing some unilateral Military Presses. What do you feel? You should feel the left abdominal and oblique region strongly activate. Wallah, you see the benefits of doing these exercises? It’s important to note, by doing unilateral exercises, force production may be compromised. I suggest programming these exercises near the end of the workout, or on their own day i.e. Day 1 Bilateral Squat / Deadlifts, Day 3 Bulgarians and Step-Ups. Below are some of my favorite unilateral exercises I recommend to help balance out all of the bilateral movements we stereotypically do.