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Health and Fitness News

A Little One-Sided

Why you should incorporate unilateral training loads into your exercise routine.

Most of the exercises you perform work both sides of your body at the time. Take traditional squats, push-ups, or rows, which work the same muscles on the right side as the left. These exercises are what some people may refer to as bilateral exercises or bilateral training loads, bi- meaning two and lateral meaning side.

Important as these are, fitness experts recommend including unilateral exercises, or unilateral training loads, in your exercise routine. As you can guess, unilateral exercises work only one side of your body at a time. While often overlooked, this type of training can play an important role in your fitness gains.

What are the benefits of unilateral training loads and how can you get started with this one-sided approach?

Why to Go Unilateral

You may think that bilateral exercises get the same job done in half the time, so there’s no need to focus on one side at a time. But you should know there are some very valid reasons to focus on one side of your body at a time. Here are a few.

Everyone has a dominant side. If you’re right-handed, your right side is dominant. This means your right arm is stronger. The arm you pitch with, serve with, or write with is stronger. The leg you kick with or lead off on is stronger. These muscle imbalances are usually more noticeable in athletes, but are present in everyone.

While natural, these muscle imbalances can lead to problems. Your stronger side may tend to overcompensate for the weaker side, increasing the discrepancy and putting you at risk for overuse injury. During certain movements, your weaker side may even recruit additional muscles that aren’t meant to do the movement. This can lead to injury or muscle strain.

By doing exercises that only use one arm or one leg, you’ll reduce muscle imbalances as you force your left and right sides to work alone. You’ll also improve your balance and core stability.

With unilateral exercises, you have the ability to train in spite of an injury. If your left ankle is bothering you, you can focus on unilateral exercises that only use your right leg or arms. In fact, unilateral exercises are better at rehabilitation following an injury. This is because training one side of the body stimulates and strengthens the muscles on the other side even though they’re not directly being used.

How to Go Unilateral

If you’re ready to get unilateral, all you need are a few basic exercises to incorporate unilateral movements into your regular workout program. You may want to focus on upper body unilateral exercises one day and go with unilateral lower body another day. Regardless of your routine, just be sure to get some unilateral movements in every week.

When you do, plan to get 5 to 12 reps of each exercise on both sides of your body. If your left side is weaker, experiment with different weight loads on your left side to determine how much weight to use. Remember not to focus on getting your dominant stronger, but your weaker.

Examples to Get Unilateral

Lower body unilateral exercises include single-leg squats, step-ups, glute bridges, one-legged jump variations, and any type of lunge—reverse, walking, side, forward, split, or curtsy.

To work one side of your upper body, try exercises such as single-arm chest presses, overhead presses, rows, kettlebell presses, lateral raises, bicep curls, and triceps extensions.

Add these unilateral exercises into your routine, and you’ll improve your strength and coordination on both sides of your body.

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