Introduction

Sometimes it pays to be different; for those of you that regularly attend the gym to undertake some form of resistance training, how many of you stick to the same old routine time after time, with little or no variation in regards to exercise, resistance, sets and repetitions?

In essence, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and you could argue that you are undertaking regular exercise and positively contributing towards a healthier lifestyle. However, if you’re looking to push yourself and continue to strive towards new goals, then this method of training can sometimes leave you stagnant and feeling as though you are treading water.

Unilateral Training

One method of training which has the ability to allow you to step away from the norm and continually push forward is that of unilateral training. Despite the numerous potential benefits on offer, this method of training is often overlooked or completely omitted by individuals. With this in mind, the purpose of this article is to consider some of the key benefits offered through this training method and examples of how such exercises can effortlessly be implemented into your current training regime.

Before moving on to consider some of these benefits, let us firstly consider a definition of unilateral training. It can be described as the following: exercise involving the use of one limb at a time.

For example, to target the biceps region in this manner you could utilise a single dumbbell and complete a set of dumbbell curls on the left arm before switching over to the right arm. This technique can be applied to almost all target muscles and exercises.

The Benefits Of Unilateral Training

Although taken at face value it would appear that unilateral training targets the same muscle groups through the same planes of movement, when drawing comparisons against traditional training methods it reveals some very fundamental yet significant differences.

Primarily, unilateral training will disclose instantly any strength imbalances and muscular weaknesses that might exist between your left and right sides.

Training unilaterally can help identify and address strength imbalance & muscular weaknessTraining unilaterally can help identify and address strength imbalance & muscular weakness

No one likes to be told or find out that they have a fundamental strength imbalance or muscle weakness. However, if this is discovered you should not consider this as a negative – it provides you with an area for improvement. Through proper dedication and effort to eradicate this training issue, you have the potential to really take your training and gains to the next level.

For example, previously you might have only undertaken bicep curls using a barbell. On switching to a dumbbell, you immediately realise that you can manage ten curls on your left side but only six on your right side. This would suggest a fundamental and significant muscle imbalance that could potentially have gone unnoticed through continual use of a barbell.

Furthermore, and utilising the same example, unilateral training can also bring about positive neurological benefits. The reason for this is because it takes twice as long to complete individual bicep curls with a dumbbell as it does to perform them together with a barbell. Ultimately, this creates a higher metabolic demand as well as recruiting further stabilising muscles compared to its barbell equivalent. It really does create a win-win environment for you and your physique to further develop.

So what other benefits are on offer through unilateral training?

  • Improves bilateral strength in any given target muscle.
  • Enhances musculoskeletal balance, movement and coordination.
  • Brings about strength increments in the supporting postural muscles.
  • Development of contralateral strength gains (Fu, 2009).

With regards to the latter, making reference to the ‘development of contralateral strength gains’, this phenomenon is also more commonly known as the ‘contralateral strength training effect’. Previous research has concluded that if exercises are performed to increase muscle strength on one side of the body, voluntary strength can also experience increments on the contralateral side. Findings suggest that any increments are approximately half of that demonstrated on the trained side (Carroll et al, 2006).

Throughout this article, unilateral training examples have been provided utilising dumbbells and the biceps target muscle. Yet unilateral training is not limited to arm exercises alone and can be applied to almost each and every body part. With this in mind, several exercise examples of unilateral training for the upper body will now be provided, to demonstrate how effortlessly such exercises can be incorporated into your current training regimes.

Upper Body Unilateral Training Examples
Chest Exercise: Single Dumbbell Chest Press

How To Execute:

  • Select a dumbbell suitable to obtain your required repetitions.
  • Sit down on a flat bench with dumbbell resting on your lower thigh.
  • Shift dumbbell to your shoulder region and lie down in a controlled manner.
  • Position the dumbbell to the side of your chest with your arm bent.
  • Press dumbbell upwards with elbow to the side until arms are extended.
  • At the peak of your movement slowly lower the resistance back to the start position.
  • Perform the required repetitions before moving onto the opposite side and repeating.

Single Dumbbell Chest Press Demonstration Video:

Shoulder Exercise: Single Dumbbell Shoulder Press

How To Execute:

  • Select a dumbbell suitable to obtain your required repetitions.
  • Sit down on an inclined bench with dumbbell resting on your lower thigh.
  • Shift the dumbbell to your shoulder region with elbow below wrist.
  • This is your starting position.
  • Press dumbbell upwards until arms are extended overhead.
  • At the peak of your movement slowly lower the resistance back to the start position.
  • Perform the required repetitions before moving onto the opposite side and repeating.

Single Dumbbell Shoulder Press Demonstration Video:

Back Exercise: Single Dumbbell Bent Over Row

How To Execute:

  • Select a dumbbell suitable to obtain your required repetitions.
  • Kneel over the side of a bench and support yourself with your knee and arm.
  • Position the foot of your opposite leg slightly back and to the side.
  • Grasp your dumbbell from the floor.
  • Pull the dumbbell upwards until your upper arm is just beyond horizontal.
  • Slowly return until your arm is extended and shoulder is stretched downwards.
  • Perform required repetitions before moving onto the opposite side and repeating.

Single Dumbbell Bent Over Row Demonstration Video:

Final Word

So there you have it, the benefits of unilateral lateral training and several key unilateral exercises for the upper body to get you started. Remember, unilateral training can be applied to a range of equipment and exercises and is not just limited to dumbbells and the upper body.

If you already train unilaterally and have any exercises which you consider key, then why not share them with our readers below in the comments section?

Besides all of the incredible benefits listed above, unilateral training is also a great way to bring about change to your exercise regimes and allows you and your body to experience something completely new and different. There are simply too many benefits on offer for unilateral training to be overlooked and omitted any longer…