One of the fitness goals that many work towards is having a balanced body in both physique and strength. While as humans we have bilateral mirror symmetry it’s typically not exact. One eye might be slightly bigger than the other. The right foot may be shaped a little differently than the left. The same goes for the muscles in our body in regards to both strength and shape. Sometimes the differences between right and left are genetic and other times due to external influences such as always picking things up with the right hand. I know that my right upper arm has always been slightly bigger than my left, and that my left thigh is slightly bigger than my right. A lot of times these size discrepancies go unnoticed, but if the difference is ~0.5 inches or more it can be visible. More importantly, having unbalanced strength between the sides of the body can possibly lead to an injury.
Resistance training in general can help balance out our bodies, but if care is not given, the unbalance can be made even worse. When doing lifts with a barbell or machine often times the stronger side will take over without us even knowing it. Unilateral exercises are often the key to fixing these situations. One sided movements can be done with dumbbells, cables, and some plate loaded unilateral machines like Hammer Strength. Exercising one side of the body at a time can also help develop a ‘mind-muscle’ connection. This enables us to achieve more results from all our individual exercises. This type of training also makes the core work overtime to keep our body stabilized. I suggest doing at least one unilateral movement for each muscle group fairly often and sometimes do a full workout this way.
Unilateral Training Tips:
- Always have the weaker side dictate how much weight is used and the rep count. Then match on the stronger side.
- Start all sets with the weaker side.
- Do your best to keep your body straight when doing unilateral exercises. Try not to lean or twist the body. Keep your core engaged throughout the movements.
- Vary up your unilateral training by using dumbbells, kettle bells, cables, and machines with a unilateral option.
- Start with lighter weight and build for safety. One typically cannot do 50% of their standard exercise weight with one side right out of the gate.
Here are some of my personal (and favorite) exercises that I perform unilaterally:
Quads: Leg Extension, Leg Press, Bulgarian Split Squat
Hamstrings: Lying Leg Curl, Seated Leg Curl, Single Leg DB Romanian Deadlift
Calves: Single Leg Standing Calf Raise, Calf Jump, Calf Press
Chest: Hammer Strength Machine Press, DB Press (flat and incline), DB Fly (flat and incline)
Back: DB Row, Hammer Strength Machine Pulldowns and Rows, Cable Rows
Delts: Lateral Raise (standing and bent), DB Press (seated and standing), DB Upright Row, DB Front Raise
Biceps: All variations of cable and DB Curls
Triceps: Overhead DB Extension, Lying DB Extension, Single Arm Pushdowns, Kick Backs
Example of a unilateral upper body workout:
- Unilateral Hammer Strength Pulldowns 5 sets of 15,12,10,8,6 reps.
- Unilateral Hammer Strength Low Row: 5 sets of 15,12,10,8,6 reps.
- Unilateral Flat DB Press: 4 sets of 12,12,10,8 reps.
- Unilateral Incline DB Fly: 3 sets of 12 reps.
- Unilateral Side Raises: 5 sets of 15,15,10,10,6-8 reps.
- Unilateral Standing DB Overhead Delt Press: 4 sets of 15,12,10,6-8 reps.
- Unilateral Reverse Pushdowns: 5 sets of 20,15,10,6-8,20 reps.
- Unilateral Overhead DB Ext: 4 sets of 10-12 reps.
It will take time and consistency, but including unilateral training into your routines will help bring balance to the force…I mean your body.
Annihilate to Motivate,
Michael Wittig, ISSA CPT
IPE Natural Pro 3x Champ