Remember that one group project in school where you did ALL of the work and your partner just kinda watched as you carried the team (maybe you were on the other side… we’ve all been there). Your body does that too. You have a dominant side. A side you write with and pick things up with. A side that always pushes off starting the run or is a little stronger on the barbell.
A great way to fight the over development of this dominant side is to train unilaterally, or train exercises that use one side of the body or one limb at a time (i.e. single arm, single leg). When introduced to barbell work (back squat, clean, bench press) the dominant side of the body or dominant limb may compensate for the weaker one, leading to imbalances in that movement and in training. Without working on unilateral movements, the weaker side might not catch up strength-wise, thus further widening the gap / imbalance between the two sides. If left alone this may lead to possible injuries down the line. And we all know that consistency is key in training, so staying healthy is priority one!
In addition to helping prevent injuries and balance out the body, unilateral training also helps further build that base of support from which your strength training grows. It does this by building better and stronger movement patterns along with creating crazy stabilization in the shoulders, hips, core and pretty much everywhere else. The more balanced and strong your movements are independently, the better they will be able to produce force when they come together. This leads to more absolute strength and muscle endurance improvements along with crushing our testers!
So whether you are just starting movement, getting back into fitness, or looking to continue crushing benchmarks, training unilaterally has something for you. To add a cherry on top, all of this increased time under tension, combined with new and interesting movements, will also help with body composition goals!
How does Unilateral Training work for strength training & conditioning training?
Because of the versatility of the training, it can be used both as strength work and also used in conditioning workouts. For strength, this may look like: split squats for lower body strength (focusing on the single leg squat pattern) and/or a single arm chainsaw row (building strength in our horizontal pulling motion). Both are unilateral training exercises and build great strength when thinking about testing a front squat or strict pullup. In conditioning workouts, this may look like: single arm carries, dumbbell power snatches, renegade rows, or front rack walking lunges. All of these will challenge the body in slightly different ways than they might normally be challenged, allowing you to increase the variance in your conditioning while maintaining/building balance throughout the body.
How Unilateral Training unlock more of your ability than simply focusing on bilateral traditional bilateral movements or the 9 fundamental movements?
Training unilaterally allows us to step away from the barbell for a second and get us out of the sagittal movement plane that we tend to use with the barbell (up and down). With dumbbells, kettlebells, and even body weight, we can move more easily in many other directions and movement patterns, unlocking tons of new movements and challenges for the body. These new movements can and do improve not only the body’s ability to function in everyday life, but also its ability to perform the more traditional barbell and gymnastic movements.
How does Unilateral Training fit with skill accumulation & the start of a training block or cycle?
When starting a new cycle we may start with unilateral training. It is important to make sure that both sides of the body are balanced and can work properly, along with having great movement coordination and muscle endurance before working towards more complex barbell movements.
Along with being great strength training by itself, especially for building and reenforcing great movement patterns, unilateral training is great for giving a boost and helping the major lifts. You might also see a lot of unilateral exercises in our accessory training. This may look like alternating bicep curls, single arm ring rows, and dumbbell rows – programmed with the intention of building strength for strict pull ups.
Unilateral training builds a bigger, stronger, and more balanced foundation for major movements. Remember, the bigger the base, the higher the pyramid of gainz can grow. So when this unilateral training shows up, take full advantage and know that each rep builds that base bigger!