For those of you who don’t know a unilateral exercise is one in which your limbs are used interdependently. There are many different unilateral exercises that you could be using to supplement your training in order to become stronger, and prevent injury or imbalance.
I know that many people don’t even like to train legs at all but I’m going to go out on a limb (what a pun!) and write about the importance performing unilateral exercises for your legs. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the use of unilateral exercises for leg training and much of it is due to people being unwilling to accept the fact that new ideas are not always from the devil.
Here are two reasons why you should incorporate some unilateral exercises into your training and two exercises that I personally love to use that have helped me greatly.
Injury Prevention (Increased mobility and balance)
Since I am extremely vain and egotistical any exercise that allows me to lift more weight is usually the one that I choose to do. How else am I supposed to impress the ladies? With my intellect? I don’t think so.
Because of this crippling character flaw I have relied on bilateral movements (Back Squats, Front Squats and Deadlifts) for the vast majority of my training. As a result of this I have developed an imbalance in my legs. My left leg is stronger than my right and as a result I have developed a few injuries that have been nagging me for over a year.
Being without the use of a barbell for the last 3 months has been a blessing in disguise for me. I have been forced to use unilateral leg exercises almost exclusively for that time and surprisingly I have been feeling much better. My legs are starting to get closer together in strength and my injuries are starting to go away.
Many injuries and imbalances are caused by an overuse of bilateral exercises. Most of the time you won’t even notice this imbalance until it is blatantly obvious or you injure yourself. It is very important that you utilize unilateral exercises in order to strengthen and mobilize each leg separately and avoid annoying injuries.
Although you can heavily load many unilateral exercises most of them put you in positions that decrease the compression on your spine and give your back a break. If you have back pain try out a few of the exercises that I recommend later on and see how you feel in a month. Spoiler alert, you’ll feel better.
When you think about it (but don’t think too hard), most athletic activities require single leg strength. Jumping, kicking, and sprinting are all done on one leg so doesn’t it make sense that we should be training our legs independently? I will answer that for you: “Yes it does make sense Mark, you are so smart” Oh stop it other Mark you’re making me blush.
When you first try the two exercises that I recommend later on you will find two things. 1. You suck at them and 2. They are really hard, and you suck at them.
This is because we are not used to working out on one leg. There are deep stabilizing muscles that are being used that may not be activated in a squat or a dead lift and your core is going to be under more stress than it is used to.
Adding in unilateral exercises either before or after you preform a bilateral exercise will increase your core strength and challenge you mentally. There is nothing more that present Mark hates more than seeing that past Mark programmed 4 sets of 10 Bulgarian Split Squats in a training session. They are the one of the things that come close to making me cry. The other things are not important. Ok fine. The scene in Titanic where the old people are lying on the bed together as the water rises around them makes me cry. God. You people are so nosy.
Bulgarian Split Squat
Damn. This exercise sounds badass doesn’t it? That’s because it is.
Here is a step by step guide on how to do it.
1. Buy a track suit.
2. Grow a moustache.
3. Put your back leg on a 6’’-10’’ box. Do not use a bench as this can put too much stress on your lumbar spine.
4. Lower your back knee slowly until it touches the ground.
5. Ensure that your front knee should not be going past your toes.
6. Stand back up and try to do it 12 more times.
7. Become a man or woman.
Here is a video that is much more helpful than my explanation:
Reverse Lunge with a barbell in the front rack position
I stole this exercise from Eric Cressey who is a great coach and who’s website/blog you should check out if you want to be smarter: http://www.ericcressey.com/blog
Preforming the Reverse lunge with a barbell in the front rack position means that you have to remain in a much more upright position engaging your core muscles and making sure that there is less force imposed on your spine.
Here is a video that shows exactly what you should be doing:
It is best to start off with bodyweight when performing these exercises. I would recommend 3 sets of 10-15 reps to start and then trying to increase the weight that you are using gradually. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or message us on facebook!