We all have a strong side. Working one limb at a time—unilateral training—produces a symmetry that not only looks good but improves balance and reduces risk of injury.
Let’s assume you work out and you also like to take your fit self outdoors. With winter’s cold persisting, there may be a new activity focus on your fitness agenda: snowshoeing, skating or skiing. You may also use the season to revamp your existing indoor regimen.
In either case, creating muscular balance alongside strong core integration is a key component to enhancing performance.
As we develop muscle strength, it’s not uncommon to create relative weakness. In bilateral training, as with barbell curls, the resistance is shared between two limbs. While this is great for developing maximum strength, it can create an undesired muscle imbalance and weaknesses—a “bilateral deficit.”
Focusing on training one limb, as with dumbbell curls, does not allow your stronger side to compensate for the weaker one. This produces symmetry and muscular balance.
Here are four advantages to unilateral training:
1. Your brain’s motor functions connect with the opposite side of the body. The right hemisphere operates the left side, the left operates the right. Focusing attention on muscles individually optimizes your strength training payoff.
2. You can enhance your existing physique by overcoming strength imbalances.
3. You will be able to focus on the weaker side, eventually getting it to take on the same workload as the stronger side. Unilateral training recruits muscle fibers to fatigue by pooling more motor units, improving balance and helping to prevent injury. For example, when squatting using both limbs, we activate the lower back and core along with various tendons and ligaments. Improper muscle balance in the lower region will have a negative effect on other integrated muscles.
4. The primary advantage of training unilaterally is that it is more specific to the functions of daily activities and sports such as skating, skiing and cycling. Since our daily and athletic actions require each limb to perform on its own, it’s important to include exercises that require these movements.
Anatomically, when performing unilateral exercises you are forced to incorporate stabilization muscles that are simply not activated during bilateral training. For example, unilateral leg exercises such as lunges, split squats and single-leg extensions will stimulate and synchronize adductors and abductor region to maintain that sought after balance.
I have many clients who start out with a feeling of “no balance,” when in fact they have muscle imbalance. The goal is to produce a synchronized body structure through proper form, slow tempo and the mind to muscle connection. This helps the minor and major muscles work together, teaching the body to work as a single unit.
Unilateral exercises require a longer learning curve and more stability and core activation. Without a foundation focused on stabilization and balanced development, you may train as much as you desire but never improve your body`s structure. By integrating unilateral and bilateral exercises for every body part, you are sure to see and feel the difference.
This article was originally published in OptiMYz 806.