Start building strong foundations by incorporating unilateral strength exercises into your training!
The barbell is by far the most widely used strength training accessory in the world, partly due to the wide range of compound (multi-joint, multi-muscle) strength exercises that can be performed with it and partly due to the popularity of sports such as Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting and more recently CrossFit.
The vast majority of exercises performed with the barbell are bilateral in nature (i.e. use both sides of the body). Exercises such as deadlifts, squats, presses and pulls are excellent for developing whole body strength. For the most part, greater force can be produced using bilateral exercises compared to unilateral exercises (using one side of the body). As a result, many athletes opt for bilateral based movements within their training programmes.
Force production is usually a top priority in most strength programmes, but there are numerous other benefits that can be achieved with the inclusion of unilateral strength exercises, such as;
- Joint stability
- Joint strength
- Force transfer (core to extremity)
- Muscle imbalance correction
- Sport specificity
Given the smaller base of support when performing a single leg, or single arm exercise, there is a much greater degree of balance required to stabilize first, before generating force through the movement. This involves a lot of assistance from the core and stabilizing muscles. Consequently, joint stability, joint strength and force transfer from the core all improve with unilateral training.
Most people tend to rely on one side of the body more than the other, increasing the likelihood of muscle and strength imbalance. Unilateral strength exercises can help to correct such imbalances, by forcing the weaker side to work equally as hard as the stronger side. From a sports training perspective, it makes sense to train unilateral strength, as most sports involve unilateral based movements (e.g. running, jumping off one leg, throwing with one arm etc.).
Whether it be with a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, or even a sledgehammer, unilateral exercises provide a different stimulus and a host of benefits that you don’t get with bilateral exercises. They are, however, more complex and require a lot of practice to perfect.
If you want to learn and develop some of these movements, you should consider attending our weekly Kettlebell class led by Gary, covering everything from Turkish getups to Kettlebell snatches.
Kettlebell Class with Gary
Tuesday – 8:30pm
There will no doubt be more and more unilateral based exercises creeping into CrossFit. After all, who was expecting overhead walking barbell lunges in 16.1 !? Prepare for the unknown!