Uni-lateral (one arm or leg at a time) training is having resurgence in popularity of late so this month we shall have a look into the benefits and possible ways to incorporate it into your training. Most human movement is Iso-lateral in nature with the most obvious being walking, kicking, punching, reaching out to pick something up and swimming all involving one limb at a time. The fact that the brain is already wired to direct attention to one limb at a time is one of the main reasons athletes utilise Uni-lateral exercises when trying to improve strength and/or muscle mass.
There are several great reasons to incorporate Uni-lateral exercises into your current plan.
Benefit No. 1: You don’t have to split your concentration on 2 limbs at once and can generate more force. Several studies have shown nerve activation for Iso-lateral training to be higher than that engaged during the bilateral equivalent exercises.
Benefit No. 2: Improved Symmetry. Strength and size Imbalances between the left and right sides of the body can be addressed to create better balance. Often when using barbells and machines the dominant side can compensate for the weaker. Any weaknesses from left to right quickly become apparent when using unilateral exercises and emphasis can then be shifted to bringing up the weaker side.
Benefit No. 3: Cheating is a little easier with unilateral exercises as rotation of the torso can lend a little momentum to the lift. A little cheating used wisely can allow you to use heavier weights to bust through a plateau. A heavy cheat set allows you psychologically and neurologically to adapt to the heavier weight so that when you drop back to your regular/stricter working sets they seem to feel a bit lighter. The key point however is that the real working sets must follow the cheat sets, this is not an excuse to let our little egos run free for the day.
Benefit No.4: Improved balance/stability: many of the Uni-lateral exercises really do challenge your sense of balance the first few times you perform them. Not only will neural connections be fortified but the stabilizing muscles for that particular exercise will also get a good workout. The more often you incorporate these exercises in your routine the faster your balance will improve.
Benefit No.5: Rehab: When one limb is injured most people stop training the non-injured limb for fear of ending up with one arm or leg noticeably bigger than the other. Recent research suggests that there is less muscle atrophy in the injured limb when the functioning side is exercised. There is going to be atrophy either way, but if you can minimize the loss of muscle then it will be easier to build the injured side up once you start the rehab process.
Uni-Lateral exercises can be performed either by doing all the reps on one side, then performing the same number of reps on the other side OR you can alternate left, right, left, etc until you complete the desired amount of reps. Try both to see which style you like best. Happy gains.