Unilateral training (training one side at a time), is my favorite thing to do. Depending on my training block I would almost always pick split squats or reverse lunges over bilateral squatting any day. I would even dumbbell bench press before I would barbell press. I wasn’t always like this. I fell in love with bilateral training when I hurt my knee. Bilateral squatting hurt, split squatting didn’t. Easy. There is something refreshing about seeing how much you can do on one leg, or one arm. It throws the whole lift off, makes it more challenging, and you definitely come out stronger, well rounded, and a better athlete.
Here are 3 quick reasons why you should train unilaterally:
1. Muscular Balance
Most people are walking around with some kind of muscle imbalance. Typically, our non-dominant side is a bit weaker and as we train in the gym, we let our dominant side take over when fatigued – this can lead to injury.
2. Core stability
Working only one side of your body at a time activates your core muscles to maintain proper balance. This allows the stabilizing muscles that we forget to focus on, to turn on and strengthen. Specifically, your deep trunk muscles that support your spine and protect against injury, back pain and improve your posture.
3. Work around and prevent injuries
Training unilaterally causes the joint stabilizers to be more active therefore they become more strengthened overtime. This strengthening protects the limb against injury in sport or during any kind of dynamic or explosive movements in or out of the gym. Strengthening of the stabilizers also create efficiency within the primary muscles. Stabilizers can also be called the support group. A strong support group means success; a weak support group can be debilitating.
Unilateral work also is a great regression if you have a minor injury or lack a certain movement pattern. The bilateral squat is the most common movement that gives people trouble. Swapping it out for a traditional split squat, or a reverse lunge takes the pressure off of the knee joint while still allowing lower body stimulation.
There are benefits of working one side at a time during a workout; especially if you’re a competitive athlete or have muscle imbalances (you do). Mix in a couple of variations to see the difference it can makes!