Unilateral training is a unique approach to weight training where exercises are done with one arm. You commonly see this with bicep and tricep training or other smaller muscles. But have you ever attempted this type of training with the bigger compound movements? I have and here is whats I found.
Chances are, like most lifters, you have heard some negative things about unilateral resistance training. Before dedicating myself to unilateral training for a few weeks a time I was a part of this camp. Excuses like “without a barbell I can't load as much weight” or “I am uncoordinated unilaterally” are often used but to what end? The fact of the matter is attacking these weaknesses can be great for your strength training and be a great anecdotal approach to barbell training.
Here are some other great benefits to unilateral training:
1. Increased Caloric Burning: Busting through a heavy set with a barbell will burn high amounts of calories in any lifter. However with a unilateral approach you will be doubling the effort just by approaching an exercise one arm or one leg at a time. Think about it in the instance of a dumbbell bench. If you pick your weight for a set of 8 close to your 8rm and hit it with your left hand you have worked your left pectoral. Now drop the weight, reset, and hit it with your right pectoral which remains unfatigued. This is a great way to recruit a maximal amount of muscle fibers will incorporating a bit of conditioning and a higher level of fat burning to any routine.
2. To Add Strength: Less weight is a common complaint when it comes to unilateral training. But here is a different approach. Lets use the example of dumbbell bench again. If you grab a dumbbell you believe that you can only push for 6 reps while knowing that you are attempting a set of 8 and push that dumbbell with one arm for 6 reps. You can then transfer the dumbbell to the other arm for t he 6 reps, then back to the first arm for 2 forced reps. You would then repeat with the alternate arm. This is a great way to push your limits beyond your own workload capacity as well as a great way to perform a drop-set without a partner.
3. Excellent core training: We all associate core training with crunches and planks but a lot of the work we get in our core is from our heavy compound lifts. When we do heavy lifts one arm at a time is causes the side without weight to tense up and anchor that side. This will be great stabilizing training for heavy barbell training when you decide to go back to that type of training. If you use big lifts like dumbbell bench or standing dumbbell military press that is a great way to develop a great set of obliques.
4. Those coordination problems you're having? They are good for you. Many people don't know it but a lot of weightlifting and especially powerlifting has a lot to do with a well trained nervous system. For starters, coordinating each muscle to fire and be tight for a he
avy lift is very important for injury prevention and maximum production. Using one arm at a time will allow you to focus on the coordination of each lift and train your nervous system
This article isn't to say that barbell training is bad or that unilateral training is superior. However ignoring one for the either could mean that you are leaving some serious untapped potential and muscle on the table.