Unilateral Training: Work Smarter, Not Harder

by Lindsay Kent 16 Comments

Unilateral Training: Work Smarter, Not Harder

In your training toolbox, it’s important to have an array of methods to progressively challenge the body to change and grow. Unilateral training is a necessity to enhance overall force production, avoid compensation issues while lifting, and engage more muscles to increase overall performance and synergy of the body’s movements.

Unilateral training means stabilizing a load on one side of the body or using only one limb to work with a weighted exercise.

The benefits of this type of training are numerous, including increased muscle recruitment. When lifting with one limb or one side of the body, you recruit more of the stabilizer muscles often neglected during bilateral (meaning both limbs or even weight distribution) training. More calories get burned, and there is a more even distribution of strength throughout the body, decreasing overcompensation patterns and injury. The body’s mechanics are greatly improved with the synergy of these muscles, creating enhancements in coordination patterns and more seamless movements for athletic performance and weightlifting.

Strength can be improved as well with this method and is specifically referred to as the bilateral deficit. Unilateral movements dictate that the sum of the individual efforts of a single limb will end up being greater than the total force production of the lift if it was bilateral. Therefore, you will build more overall strength without having continually loaded the body with heavier weights.

Unilateral training will decrease the continual stress of heavy lifting on your joints, literally halving the load you place on your spinal column through heavy, compound lifts such as squats and deadlifts. Tremendous amounts of force overtime create quite a bit of wear and tear on the spinal column, leading to back issues and injury. Unilateral training will help to reduce these issues.

Some key exercises to include are one-legged stiff-legged deadlifts, single legged squats, one-arm dumbbell presses, and one arm cable row movements. You can also perform movements such as lunge variations, split squats, leg presses, leg extensions, and hamstring curls by loading the weight on one side of the body only or using only leg or arm during the movement.

Here is a sample structure to help you incorporate unilateral training into your regime! Enjoy ☺ 

Make sure to complete a dynamic warm-up first, especially to activate the nervous system properly for the increased demands that will be placed on the body. 

Dynamic Warm-Up

  • High Knees - 1 minute
  • Skipping - 1 minute
  • Jump Rope - 1 minute
  • Frankenstein’s – 50 “steps”

Unilateral Leg Blast!

Rest 45 - 60 seconds after each superset

  • Unilateral DB Deadlift
    5 sets x 15 repetitions
    • Superset
  • Each Leg Unilateral Cable Hamstring Curl
    5 sets x 15 repetitions
  • One Leg leg Press
    5 sets x 20 repetitions
    • Superset
  • Reverse Lunge Swing Kick (no tap in between if you can!)
    5 sets x 20 repetitions
  • Heel to Butt Squats (hold onto Smith bar machine for deep squat)
    4 sets x 12 repetitions
    • Superset
  • Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (barbell across back)
    4 sets x 12 repetitions
  • One Leg Hypers
    2 sets x 12 repetitions

Stay BeautyFit Strong!

Yours in health and fitness,

Lindsay Kent

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Lindsay Kent
Lindsay Kent

ISSA CES Professor, Master Trainer, Spokesmodel, Fitness Editor/Writer, NPC Figure Competitor

Lindsay Kent loves helping others to strive to be their best selves physically, mentally and emotionally, and is continually inspired to work with others change their lives through sharing her passion and knowledge. Lindsay believes that anyone can improve their lives and find their true self-worth and purpose, and she loves being an integral part of that journey. Lindsay is a Professor for the International Sports Sciences Association’s College of Exercise Science, and runs her own online training business, Lindsay Kent Fitness. She is an ISSA Master Personal Trainer which comprises several specialty areas, and is a current Spokesmodel for the ISSA and has been featured as the spotlight trainer and fitness professional in top fitness mags such as Oxygen and Muscle and Fitness Hers. She also writes columns and features for various fitness publications while also working as a fitness editor. Lindsay currently competes as an NPC figure competitor.


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