performing an exercise that utilises only one limb at a time.
How often do you go to the gym and see someone performing a barbell bench press? Every single time I bet..
How often do you go to the gym and see someone performing a single arm dumbbell press? Never…
Unilateral training has a number of huge benefits, however it’s extremely uncommon. After hitting a plateau on my barbell shoulder press (while pressing 140lbs one side was lagging behind) I decided to implement unilateral training, specifically single seated dumbbell shoulder press.
After performing this unilateral training for 3 weeks I was then able to revert back to my regular barbell press and continue to progress. Now, I do not currently use unilateral training in my routine consistently as my workout regime is based around the major compound lifts, all of which are performed with a barbell. Although whenever I feel as if I am about to plateau, encounter an injury on one particular side or feel a muscular imbalance I will switch back over to unilateral movements.
Let’s take an in depth look into the benefits:
Unilateral Exercises Benefits
Strengthen your Joints
Unlike barbells and machines, individual dumbbells are unstable; this places greater emphasis on each joints connective tissue. This tissue must adapt in order to keep up with the demand being placed upon it when you are performing unilateral exercises; therefore they become stronger due to the load instability.
Strengthen your Core
While performing unilateral exercises your core (abdominal region & lower back) is under constant tension, if it wasn’t you’d immediately twist or fall to the side bearing the load (the dumbbell). The core workout you’ll get from stabilising a heavy weight on an exercise such as the unilateral dumbbell press or unilateral shoulder press is far greater, and more functional than that from a conventional abdominal workout consisting of crunches and leg raises.
While focusing on lifting with each individual limb far greater emphasis on coordination is apparent, as opposed to bilateral training using a barbell or machine. Unilateral training is also proven to increase muscular recruitment (also referred to as HTMU, high threshold motor units) this improvement is most noticeable in beginner lifters.
Increase Bilateral Strength
Unilateral strength gains will translate over to bilateral strength gains, as you correct any muscular imbalances or individual lagging muscles your bilateral equivalent exercises will also improve, my shoulder press mentioned at the start of this post is a prime example of this transfer.
The 2 upper body unilateral exercises I recommend you try include:
Dumbbell Bench Press
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
What are your thoughts on unilateral training and unilateral exercises? Have you tried it before? Let me know in the comments below!