- "1 at a Time! Unilateral Resistance Training"
- "A Leg Exercise that is Better than the Squat!"
- "EXERCISE WARNING: Don't "Waist" Your Time on the 'Side-bend'."


Previous articles have addressed the importance and benefits of single-leg training. By focusing on one side of the body at a time, the trainee may develop more balanced strength in their body. But unilateral training is not for rehabilitation only.

In fact unilateral training is in fact more sport specific because it allows you to match your sport movements. For example, running time is spent 80% supported by one leg therefore you must be able to perform maximally in single-leg movements. For the bodybuilder, unilateral training offers both a new stimulus to the muscle (training variety) and a program providing greater muscle isolation.

Many bodybuilders already perform single-limb training for their biceps (curls) or shoulders (lateral raises) so why not for the chest as well (single-arm DB presses)? This is such an extremely effective technique for developing strength that it should be applied to all muscle groups in the body. Every muscle that is paired (left and right side) should be trained unilaterally (one side at a time), even the muscles of the chest and back.

For bodybuilders wanting a change in their program, a novel stimulus for growth, or an exercise to address the limiting factors in their bench press, single-arm upper body training is the bomb! Likewise, lower-body unilateral training should not even be an issue to debate. For athletes, unilateral training is extremely beneficial for sport performance and should be the preferred technique. Football blocking and tackling, throwing, and grasping movements are all obvious sport actions that would benefit from unilateral training.

The barbell bench press is excellent for developing muscle mass and general strength but a single-arm DB press is more sport-specific! In addition, pre-existing strength imbalances may be corrected by incorporating unilateral training. Single-leg exercises require one side of the body to perform the exercise with absolutely no assistance from the contra-lateral muscle. This is "target" strength training at its best!

The majority of sprinting or skating is spent with the weight supported on one-leg, obviously demanding high levels of single-limb strength. In addition to developing the muscles that support the weight of the body, unilateral training addresses the movement-specific neuromuscular pathways and helps benefit performance in unilateral activities. The addition of a novel training stimulus (i.e. lunges instead of leg press) will develop the neuromuscular system to become more efficient in single-leg activity and should enhance balance and power. 

Due to the novelty of the training stimulus, muscle soreness can be expected in the days following single-limb training. Some clients report extreme soreness in the triceps after their first time doing a single-arm DB flat press! However, neuromuscular adaptations will occur quickly and will enable the lifter to increase the resistance after only a couple of training sessions in addition to a reduction in muscle soreness.

In addition to soreness, unilateral training may also increase workout length but it has many benefits. You may reduce strength imbalances and allows you to target priority areas, for example a lagging or rehabilitating limb. To help equate strength disparities, perform a set with the weak side first and then perform the identical number of reps for the strong side.  This allows the weak side to "catch-up" while maintaining the strength of the superior limb.

Individual workout considerations

You might want to perform unilateral exercises prior to bilateral movements (particularly for the legs) because there is a higher demand on the nervous system for coordination. Otherwise it is a personal preference to train either mode first, but like any other program, consider changing this and most of your training variables after 3-4 weeks.

Sample UNILATERAL exercises to substitute for traditional bilateral movements

* DB presses (single-arm flat bench, incline, shoulder press, etc.)

* DB rows

* Hammer strength equipment (one-side at a time)

* Pulldown options (use the D-handle and perform single-arm pulldowns)

* Lower-body (lunges, step-ups, & 1-leg squats, deadlifts, and machine movements)


Regardless of whether you consider the squat the "king" of exercises, there may be actually be a better exercise for leg development and performance enhancement. First, the squat is one of the best exercises because it demands force production and balance from almost every muscle of the thigh and lower leg, BUT/ it does not have as maximal transfer to sports that have a great deal of lateral movement. 

The squat lacks a lateral movement component and therefore does not train the adductor ("groin") muscles. However, lateral movement is a component of almost all sports, specifically hockey, soccer and basketball and must be addressed in a proper training program. Most sport movements are not linear and straight-ahead but involve a lateral or diagonal component. 

A creative strength coach must develop exercises that recruit many muscle groups, incorporate balance, and strengthen the legs. We could use the adductor machine, but this is an "isolation" exercise and is less effective because it is performed in the seated position. Rather we should use the wide stance squat because it has greater transfer to sport.

The technique    

Stand with your feet greater than shoulder-width apart. Perform a regular squat, going as deep as possible while maintaining a straight lower back. Reach a position similar to that a catcher achieves behind home plate. The movement may be awkward, so start with a conservative weight. Return to the upright position by extending at the hips and knees and contract the adductors (groin) and attempt to bring the legs to the mid-line.

Although there is no lateral movement of the legs, the adductor muscles will have a greater contraction in comparison to a normal squat, and all the other muscles that work so hard in the regular squat must contribute as well.

Because this is a new movement, soreness is to be expected. It may be hard on the connective tissue in the area at first, therefore you must progress slowly in load & volume. Over time the area will strengthen and help to prevent injury during sports. Another reason for caution in this exercise, is that most likely the area will be weak, as it is often neglected in most training programs. So go slow, but be consistent and you will see and feel the benefits.


This is an exercise that too many people spend way too much time on. I will explain, but first a description of the exercise:

"Dumbbell side bend"

Stand erect and hold light dumbbells in hands. Bend to your right as far as possible without moving your torso forward, then return to the upright position by contracting the abdominal oblique muscle on the opposite side. Perform all the repetitions for the right side and then switch to the left arm and repeat.

Now a little anatomy: There are 2 oblique abdominal muscles on either side of the trunk, an internal oblique and an external oblique. The external oblique muscle fibers run medially and inferiorly (the same direction that the fingers point when the hand is put in the pocket) and the internal obliques run in the opposite direction (and are underneath the external obliques). 

The "side-bend" exercise effectively recruits the oblique abdominal muscles to laterally flex the vertebral column. A second function of the oblique abdominal muscles is to simultaneously flex and rotate the trunk. The contraction of the right external oblique & the left internal oblique together result in lateral trunk flexion to the right side. The contraction of these same two muscles can also result in trunk rotation to the left side.

The area of the oblique muscles is commonly referred to as the "love handles". This is a prominent area of subcutaneous fat deposition and is often a desired area for body fat reduction. However, it is important to note that the performance of the "side bend" exercise will not promote fat loss exclusive to this area. In fact, when the exercise is performed with a relatively heavy weight, the end result of this exercise could be muscle hypertrophy, the complete opposite effect wanted by individuals seeking to reduce the overall size of the "love handle" area.

The optimal training prescription for the reduction of body fat over the oblique muscles is a combination of total-body resistance training (emphasize exercises training the large muscle groups of the body), moderate-duration and high-intensity aerobic exercise, and dietary manipulation. 

For the general population, oblique exercises are obsolete. Your time in the gym is better spent using larger muscle groups to promote a greater caloric expenditure. Although the area is important for athletes to strengthen, the "side-bend" is a poor exercise choice. Use the twist crunch and its variations because this trains the obliques in flexion and rotation, a movement much more specific

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