Single side exercises (unilateral movements) are a must for anyone looking to lose weight, increase strength, and prevent injuries. Single side exercises challenge the body in ways bilateral movements can’t. If you are looking to break through a plateau or just trying to deal with your aches and pains then stick around to find out how unilateral exercises can help.
Bilateral exercises such as squats, dead lifts, bench and over head press are awesome lifts to build strength as they allow us to move massive amounts of weight. Over time though our bodies get used to these movements not only resulting in plateaus due to adaptation, but muscle imbalances due to our bodies cheating the movements to get the work done.
These muscle imbalances can lead to you getting jacked up due to not using the right muscle groups to perform movements (muscle dysfunction). When we build strength we don’t want to build strength on top of muscle dysfunction. This is like making an investment in a company that is filing for bankruptcy.
So how do we prevent muscle dysfunction and break through plateaus?
Enter unilateral exercises.
I love unilateral exercises for a variety of reasons.
They are great for regressions
I love using unilateral movements as a regression. For example I love using a split squat to teach a person how to squat.
The split squat requires you to balance while performing the squat movement. Balancing forces you to learn where your weight should be on the foot as you squat. If you are not on the right part of the foot you might fall over.
As a result of being on the right part of our foot, a chain reaction occurs of proper knee placement and glue activation.
It also helps to build volume in each leg that way you can be ready to squat heavier weight when it comes to bilateral squat exercises.
They are challenging
In order to get strong, or lose weight we need to challenge our bodies. Unilateral movements are great at challenging our bodies.
Balancing on one leg while performing a movement greatly taxes our central nervous system. Doing things like pistol squats (single leg squats) can be a great progression from bilateral squats that help you get stronger.
At the same time only working one side eliminates help from the other side. For example with a barbell military press your dominant arm might shoulder more of the load and work harder during the lift.
If you incorporate a single side press you can’t rely on that other side to help you out and build strength in the weaker arm. This is what helps to eliminate muscle imbalances making your stronger and bullet proof.
Great for the core
Unilateral exercises force you to stabilize in your hips, shoulders (if pressing), and most definitely your core.
The job of our core is to protect our spine and to keep us erect.
Unilateral exercises force our core to stay up right and not rotate. If you want to protect that low back staying up right and not twisting the wrong way is vital when we perform movements in the gym and in life.
Performing unilateral exercises have helped me tremendously in my lifts and overall movement. These exercises have helped train through sticky points so that way when I come back to that weight/movement I feel pretty solid and strong.
After all isn’t that what training is all about?
Here are a few of my favorite unilateral exercises:
- Split squat
- Single leg dead lift
- Single leg hip bridge
- Single arm floor press
- Single arm over head press
- Lunge variations (forward, backward, side lunge)
- Skater jumps
- Split jumps
- Single arm kettlebell/dumbell clean and press
- Single arm kettlebell/dumbell snatch
- Turkish get up
- Single arm rows
- Single side carries
- Side planks
These exercises can be used to warm up, for strength work, or accessory work.
For example I love using side lunges as a warm up for squats as in stretches the groin, but also gives me that feeling of pushing the knee out so it tracks over the toes. I love using split squats as accessory work on squat day to work each leg individually.
What are some of your favorite unilateral exercises that you use to burn fat, get strong and prevent injuries? Let us know in the comments section below.
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