Unilateral training is any exercise where one side of your body is moving or working differently than the other side.
The world of calisthenics has a rich history of unilateral training. Most body weight exercises progress through shifting your weight from one side to the other.
However, walk into almost any gym and you’ll find the vast majority of movements are bilateral. Both the right and left side are doing the same movement, with the same load at the same time. While bilateral movement isn’t bad, it falls short of unilateral movement in the following ways:
#1- Unilateral movement is crazy functional.
Your body was built to move with your right and left side independent of each other. Almost everything you do, from opening a car door to throwing a punch is done in a unilateral fashion. Doing unilateral exercise trains your muscles, joints, tendons and nervous system to produce power in a balanced and controlled fashion in an unbalanced situation.
#2- Unilateral movement builds a bullet proof body.
You’re only as strong as your weakest link. You can be super strong and stable in bilateral movements but still weakened unstable in unilateral movement. This sets up your body with strong muscles with minimal balance and control in awkward positions. This sort of thing is a recipe for injury. It’s how someone can squat 500 pounds but then blow out their knee jumping down from a few steps.
Unilateral training ensures your while body is strong and stable even when the use of your strength is thrown off kilter.
#3- Unilateral movement builds crazy muscle.
Sure bilateral movement can build lots of muscle, but such movements are very taxing to the body as a whole. Bilateral movements also can produce a large total amount of force thus requiring larger amounts of weight. While this weight can make the muscles work really hard, it also places more stress on the joints and nervous system.
On the other hand, unilateral movements can tax the muscles to the hilt with a fraction of the weight or resistance. This means it’s easier to work a muscle group much harder for a much longer period of time.
#4- Unilateral movements expose weakness and faulty movement patterns
Unilateral movements require even strength and capability between your right and left side. If something’s weaker or less stable then it becomes very obvious very quickly.
#5- Unilateral movements blast your bilateral movements to new levels
Lastly, unilateral movements will greatly strengthen and improve your bilateral exercises. If you want to be able to do more pull ups, some archer style pull ups will be just the trick. When I started doing more single leg squats going back to 2 leg squats almost felt like I was cheating, even with a lot of weight on my back. Nothing will break you out of a rut with your bilateral exercises like unilateral training.
I recommend focusing on at least 1-2 unilateral exercises in each workout. Even if it’s just part of your warm up you’ll notice a huge difference within a few weeks. I’ll post a video with some unilateral movements soon.