Work Your Muscles with Unilateral Training: What Is It?
Unilateral training is a type of weight training where one or both arms are trained separately from each other. For example, if you want to train your biceps, you would perform bench presses while keeping your triceps focused on pressing dumbbells. If you want to strengthen your legs, you could do squats while focusing on leg press variations such as the Romanian deadlift.
What Are Its Benefits?
It’s not just about isolating muscles; it’s also about training them simultaneously. A great way to increase strength without having to lift heavy weights is through the use of uni-directional exercise. One arm or one leg can be trained at the same time, which increases overall muscular endurance and coordination. The most common benefit of using bilateral exercises is that they allow for greater range of motion and therefore greater strength gains than single limb exercises.
How To Do It?
The best way to learn how to do unilateral exercises is to watch someone else doing it. There are many videos online showing different types of unilateral movements. Here are some examples:
1) Dumbbell Bench Presses – These are the classic bilateral exercise.
You have two hands holding a barbell, and then you move your arms back and forth in front of you while keeping the weight held in your palms. The dumbbell bench press is a single-limb movement, and that means that one arm is stationary while the other does all of the work.
2) Unilateral Lying Leg Curls – This is an exercise that targets the hamstrings.
The basic movement involves lying down on your stomach, having one leg up in the air, and curling a weight with your legs. Your body should not move at all.
Your hips do not lift off the ground, as that would involve your lower back in the exercise. All you do is focus on curling your legs.
3) Unilateral Dumbbell or Kettlebell Swings – This is another movement that works the hamstrings.
It also strengthens the glutes and hips. Unlike lying leg curls, this one requires a little more movement.
While holding a weight with one arm, you swing the weight using your hips and the opposite leg. For example, if you’re using your right arm, you would swing the weight using your left leg. The momentum of the swing will carry your upper body, but your arm should not move at all. You should feel the burn in your hamstrings and glutes.
These exercises are just an example of how you can incorporate unilateral training into your routine. There are many other exercises, so do your research so you understand how to do them properly.
If you find that your muscles are imbalanced, then it’s better to start with lighter weights when performing unilateral exercises. Start by slowly doing 2 – 3 sets of 8 – 10 repetitions for each exercise.
Once this becomes easier, you can increase the weight and slowly increase the repetitions.
Unilateral training doesn’t mean you have to lift lighter weights though. You can incorporate it with heavy weight lifting; the idea is to train each muscle individually without involving other muscles to do the work.
Do you incorporate unilateral exercises in your routine? Have they made a difference for you?
Post your thoughts in the comments section below.
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Sources & references used in this article:
The contraction history of the muscle and strength change: lessons learned from unilateral training models by ZW Bell, V Wong, RW Spitz… – Physiological …, 2020 – iopscience.iop.org
The effects of unilateral and bilateral eccentric overload training on hypertrophy, muscle power and COD performance, and its determinants, in team sport … by FJ Núñez, A Santalla, I Carrasquila, JA Asian, JI Reina… – PloS one, 2018 – journals.plos.org
Strength, size, and muscle quality in the upper arm following unilateral training in younger and older males and females by LC Tanton, TA Cappaert, PM Gordon… – Clinical medicine …, 2009 – journals.sagepub.com
Effects of long-term resistance training and simultaneous electro-stimulation on muscle strength and functional mobility in multiple sclerosis by T Broekmans, M Roelants, P Feys… – Multiple Sclerosis …, 2011 – journals.sagepub.com
Perturbation training improves knee kinematics and reduces muscle co-contraction after complete unilateral anterior cruciate ligament rupture by TL Chmielewski, WJ Hurd, KS Rudolph, MJ Axe… – Physical …, 2005 – academic.oup.com
The influence of biofeedback training on trapezius activity and rest during occupational computer work: a randomized controlled trial by A Holtermann, K Søgaard, H Christensen… – European journal of …, 2008 – Springer