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Unilateral and Bilateral Movement Training

For over a decade now, fitness pros have been arguing about unilateral and bilateral training. As a fresher, unilateral means "one side" or "one limb." Think of a one-arm dumbbell bench press. Bilateral means using both arms or both legs, like a standard barbell bench press or squat.

Which one should you put your focus on? Well, many "functional" fitness gurus preach that you should primarily use single-limb movements. They'll tell you to substitute some weird lunge exercise for a back squat because it's super "functional."

On the other side, you have the three-movement people : " All you need to do is bench press, squat, and deadlift and you wont need to do anything else.”

In truth, there are pros and cons to each, and you should be doing both, but let's break it down.

Benefits of Unilateral Training

When it comes to unilateral training, we've got to talk about the core. You have to do a whole heap of core stabilization every time you do a single-limb exercise. Lunges, single-leg deadlifts, single-arm presses, and single-arm pulls all require you to activate your core so that you don't fall over. Unilateral training  allows us to work out some of imbalances and symmetry through the whole body.  Nobody wants to look like Quasimodo !!!

Drawbacks of Unilateral Training

 TECHNIQUE, TECHNIQUE TECHNIQUE ….. For some reason, the "unilateral functional training crowd" turns into the  most awkward  looking people at the gym.  Yes, doing a single-leg squat on a BOSU ball may seem like a good idea, but unless you're doing it properly you really won't benefit from this. 

Focusing mainly on balancing and stabilizing will be a detriment to actually getting strong. Remember, in order to get strong, you actually have to lift some weight. You need both limbs for that.m Also, if your strapped for time remember, unilateral exercises take more time since you have to train both sides or limbs separately.

Benefits of Bilateral Training

First, you're going to be able to lift more weight. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that two limbs are stronger than one. When you get your whole body firing for a back squat or a deadlift you're activating a ton of musculature.

Activating more muscles means more motor neurons must fire for you to perform the movement. More motor neurons firing equals more horsepower under your engine. Large bilateral movements are going to increase your power and strength. 

Bilateral movements also require some serious core activation. In order to hit a heavy back squat or deadlift, you have to have an incredibly strong.

Drawbacks of Bilateral Training

A lot of times the bilateral crowd turns into the "bench, squat, and deadlift only" crowd. If all you do is train these three movements, you may become really strong, but your movement, balance, and the overall look of your physique might not be so great.

If you're an athlete who needs to be functionally strong in a variety of different positions, you're going to want to work in some lunges and movements that require you to maintain balance.

But Which One is Really Best for you?

If you could only do one, pick bilateral. Becoming stronger overall is going to give you some serious "go" muscles. If you were a football coach which one would you choose, the athlete who specializes in single-limb balance training, or the one who lifts fweights?

If you're an athlete, strength is the primary determinant of success out on the field. Bilateral movements are going to increase your strength more than unilateral movements. In addition to making you more powerful and less prone to injury, being able to produce more force will also help you move faster. Have you ever seen a weak Olympic sprinter? Nope.

If you have the time I say Use Both, Wisely

You should be performing both unilateral and bilateral training to have a well-rounded training program. The trick is structuring your exercises appropriately.

  1. Begin with bilateral movements since they're going to work more musculature.
  2. Perform unilateral training later in your session to work out imbalances and isolate specific body parts.

Take Home Message 

In conclusion bilateral resistance exercise training seems to have a better outcome and training sessions are used more by powerlifters and Olympic lifters.

 If it is overall muscle strength you are better of using a bilateral training exercise compared to a unilateral exercise. Though if you want to build muscle strength in one limb then unilateral exercises are you for. The training session and what you are training for is what will need to be thought about before deciding on a bilateral or unilateral resistance training session. They both have their pros and cons so it is down to the individual as either training exercises are not wrong, they have their own benefits, remember train smart be mindful and adapt your workout for you and your goals.