Why is Unilateral Training Beneficial?
Unilateral training is based on the neurophysiological phenomenon known as “cross-education”. Simply put, cross-education is one of the coolest adaptations the human body makes. When we work unilaterally, or single sided, we not only see improvements in strength on the limb we train, but we also see up to a 22% increase in strength in the untrained limb.
When bilateral strength is tested through a two-sided activity, such as a two-footed squat, we often see something called a “bilateral deficit”, which basically means the sum total strength of two single-sided squats can exceed the strength of the same person’s two-legged squat. Practically speaking, what does a bilateral deficit mean to you? Ultimately, a bilateral deficit can lead to injury through overuse of the strong joint or limb because it’s picking up the slack from the weaker side.
There are several reasons it’s important to implement bilateral training in our programming:
- Most importantly -- injury prevention, as mentioned.
- Post-injury rehabilitation. If you’re injured on your right side, train your left side, and your right side will actually get stronger.
- Single-sided training addresses two basic principles of athleticism: balance and stability.
- To add variety to your workout.
- Unilateral activities require significant focus on the specific movement, when done correctly, adding a mental challenge and enabling us to work on our concentration ability.
- We have the potential to recruit more muscle fibers with single sided activities, thus building strength in a way that’s not possible with two-sided activities.
Overall, I am a firm believer in sprinkling these single sided movements in throughout your weekly and monthly programing. Some of the top end exercise scientists have now switched high level athletes over to all single sided movements because of the research that supports the decrease in injury from single sided training.
While some movements can be more difficult to perform single sided and loads cannot be matched as compared to bi lateral movements, it is important to make an effort to scale and modify these single sided movements so they can work for you. Weather this means decreasing loads or changing the range of motion, it is important to start with something and work your way up. Remember, unilateral training can have several positive effects on us ranging from increased strength to better balance and injury prevention.