Proper exercise selection is one of the core features of any effective strength training program.
Traditionally, bilateral exercises make up the bulk of most training routines, with lifts such as the squat and bench press taking precedence over unilateral exercises.
These lifts have been a staple of strength-focused programs for decades. When we talk about strength and power, we typically refer to bilateral movements, the ones that use both limbs in unison, as opposed to unilateral exercises which work one limb at a time.
Unilateral training offers a range of benefits that often can’t be matched by bilateral movements.For starters, unilateral exercises more closely mimic sport-specific movements, which can translate into better on-field performance.But it doesn’t just end there. Here are a few more reasons why every strength enthusiast should consider focusing on single-limb training:
– Unilateral training gets the job done, and more. By effectively recruiting the target muscles (ex: quads) and increasing recruitment of stabilizing muscles (the lateral and medial hip musculature in a single-leg squat), we can train more muscles at once.
– Increased need for core strength, stability and balance, often due to a smaller base of support (ex: one foot on the floor vs. two).– Immediate feedback with regards to limb symmetry (or lack thereof), which can be helpful in injury-prevention.
– Single-limb exercises require less external load compared to their bilateral counterpart.
– Unilateral training is a great way of overloading target muscles without taxing other areas of the body. For example, single-leg exercises may be an efficient way to gain or maintain strength and muscle mass while decreasing spinal loading in the presence of low-back injuries.
So, should you ditch the back squat and focus on split-squats instead? Not necessarily, but if your goal is to attain maximal strength while steering clear of injuries, it may be worth reevaluating your exercise selection to include more single-limb training where appropriate.