These days the options when it comes to training are huge: there are HIIT workouts, tabata workouts, plyometric workouts and so much more. But something we don’t hear much about — and yet it’s so important — is unilateral training, and the enormous benefits it brings.
If your goal is to build strength and fitness, you’ve probably done a tonne of bilateral movements where you’re using both arms or both legs at once, such as squats, presses and rows. While bilateral movements are great (and they form an important part of my workouts), it’s definitely benefical to include some unilateral training into your current routine.
If you aren’t quite sure what unilateral training actually is, it’s simply the performance of a movement or an exercise using a single arm or a single leg.
The benefits of Unilateral Training:
#1 Core Stabilisation
When you’re doing unilateral moves, there is greater muscle activity for core stabilisation in your trunk. Having a strong core is important for overall fitness and injury prevention, particularly to look after your lower back.
#2 Correct Imbalances
It’s not uncommon for one side of your body to be stronger than the other. If we only do bilateral exercises, we can go along time without noticing these imbalances, and sometimes we can even exacerbate them. Regular unilateral workouts will help avoid muscular imbalances and reduce the chance of injury.
#3 Reduce Injury risk
I’ve already mentioned in the above 2 points that unilateral training reduces your injury risk, but for anyone who’s quickly scrolling through this post, I needed this point to stand out! Injuries often result from muscle weaknesses, or poor movements where one side of the body is compensating for the other. Unilateral movements will help reduce the risk of resulting injury.
#4 Great for rehabbing an injury
Unilateral training is not only good for reducing injury risk, but also for fixing existing injuries. Focusing on a weaker side through unilateral training will help you rebuild strength to the injured area, and avoid the chance of you compensating with your “good side” (which is going to increase the muscle imbalance). It comes as no surprise that physiotherapists will often give their injured clients unilateral movements to do at home.
#5 Muscle Focus
Another reason why unilateral moves are so good is that you can really focus on the side you’re working. Research has shown that the more you focus on the target muscle while performing an exercise, the greater your strength gains will be.
#6 Boost Sport Performance
Think of it this way: nearly all athletic movements are done unilaterally. A workout that matches what happens on the field, where your feet will rarely be on the ground at the same time, is really good for your performance.
#7 Improves Balance and Coordination
Of course, this is different to point 2, where I’ve mentioned the correction of muscular imbalances! Having good balance is really imporant for injury protection and performance enhancement.
7 Unilateral Moves to Try
I’ve just listed the 7 benefits of unilateral training, so I thought I’d also give you 7 unilateral movements to try. Perhaps I should have added an 8th benefit, which is that unilateral movements are a lot of fun! (But I’m going to let you decide that for yourself). Scroll to the bottom of the page if you’d like to do a full follow-along unilateral workout with me.
#1 Squat Twist & press
#2 Row to Kickstand Deadlift
#3 SAL Bridge Chest Press
#4 SA Bear to Renegade Row
#5 Snatch to Reverse Lunge
#6 Lateral Raise to Hammer Curl
#7 Windmill X Body Crunch
Try My 30 Minute Unilateral Dumbbell Workout
Together we’ll be doing the unilateral movements I’ve shown above, plus many more. This workout is “no repeats”, which keeps things interesting, as we don’t repeat any sets.
I hope I’ve convinced you to incoporate some unilateral moves into your workout routine (and I hope you enjoy them!).
Don’t forget to sign up to my YouTube channel so that you don’t miss any of my follow-along workouts. I upload new workouts every week! You can also sign up to my newsletter to say up-to-date and receive free monthly workout calendars.