There are several reasons that many people start training and one of the most popular is to get stronger. I don’t just mean stronger with one or two moves but stronger overall. So it’s a shame that people give their best efforts to reach this goal yet don’t do one thing that is essential to making that goal a reality.
By Roger Lockridge
If you want the entire body to be stronger then it’s imperative that you work on the individual parts. This is where unilateral training should come into play. Obviously, unilateral training means training one side at a time. You likely thought of exercises like dumbbell curls and one arm rows as examples but almost any exercise can be done unilaterally.
Why Do This?
There are several other benefits to adding unilateral exercises into you plan.
- Mind-Muscle Connection – You wouldn’t do something unless you knew that it was working. How else can you tell if an exercise would serve its purpose besides feeling the muscle working? Focusing on one side at a time isolates the specific muscle you want to work so you can concentrate on that area and make sure that you’re executing the movement properly. That establishes the connection that you need which can benefit you throughout the workout.
- Balance of the Physique – Not everyone focuses on bodybuilding but for those of us that do, having a balanced and symmetrical physique is essential. This means you want the body to have the same size and look on both sides. Whether you plan to step onstage or want to look good for photos, you don’t one area to be overpowering the other.
- Find Weaknesses and Improve – You can’t determine if one side is weaker than the other by doing exercises that require you to use both. Using one leg at a time on the leg press will help you determine which side you need to devote more time to. Committing more sets and reps to that side will help you improve it as well as your overall strength.
How to Work it Into Your Plan
You can use unilateral sets at any point in the workout but my suggestion is to include them at the beginning of the training session. You have the most energy at this point and can give those sets your greatest commitment. Also, you can use them to help you warm-up and establish that mind-muscle connection that I mentioned earlier.
Finally, unilateral sets can help you pre-exhaust the muscles before you work into the bigger, compound movements. While initially you might notice a decrease in strength in those movements, eventually you’ll find you’re stronger than you were before.
If your gym has machines that allow you to work one side at a time, opt for these because you can isolate the targeted muscle while staying in a restricted motion. This can minimize the risk of injury while you’re able to push yourself. Of course, dumbbell options are great as well for anything in the upper body. For lower body, single leg presses or extensions can help you with the quads. Leg curls can be performed unilaterally to target the hamstrings, and any version of the calf raise can be done one at a time.