Benefits of: Single Leg/Arm Training
If your training currently only consists of major strength lifts using a barbell and performing the lift bilaterally (2 limbs) then you are missing out on some serious benefits that single leg/arm work can provide.
While yes there is nothing better than being able to load up the bar heavy and squat or bench press a max effort. There is certainly a role for completing some form of single leg/arm exercises. If you aren't currently completing any unilateral work try adding it in to your program for the next training block (4-6 weeks) to see the benefits it can provide for you.
If you are involved any form of sport then unilateral training is a must! It is essential for decreasing the risk of injury as well as enhancing performance. Think about when you are running, you are always on one leg, hence training that way is crucial.
Benefits of Unilateral training
Even though you won't be able to lift the same heavy loads unilaterally you will actually increase your control and stability, which will add to the strength of the major lifts.
High muscle activation
Studies have shown that during unilateral exercises there is the same if not higher levels of muscle activation, particularly through the smaller muscles that play a role in joint stabilisation and control
Minimal spinal load
Because of the reduced load, it will limit the load that goes through the spine. But still getting a high load through the limb.
Increased joint proprioception and stability
When the exercise is performed with one leg/arm it increases the load on the joint to stay balanced and controlled. For example the single leg squat - ankle/knee/hip are all working together to stay balanced, keeping pelvis stable and helping keeping everything in line throughout the movement. And for the shoulder increasing its proprioception is the key in helping to reduce the chance of an injury occurring.
Improved movement symmetry
If you are only performing bilateral movements it can be hiding weaknesses in your body. For example, your left side might be over compensating for a weak right side during the squat. During single leg work you have to have the strength to be able to perform the movement without assistance from the other side of the body. Making you a more symmetrical athlete - and stronger
Increased core strength
By performing the movements unilaterally it increases the control required and the core plays a key role in maintaining this control. For example during a single arm DB bench press, your core is working over time to stay balanced on the bench. The core will always be challenged to resist the body from rotating during these movements, leading to increased strength.
Examples of unilateral exercises
Single leg squat Single leg arabesque Split squat
Single arm DB bench press S/A DB bent over row S/A DB shoulder press
Try and include some form of unilateral exercise in your training program to notice the improvements in your major lifts as well as improving your balance and proprioception. They are a must have for any athlete involved in sport to increase their performance but also decrease the risk of injury.
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