Whether you train crossfit, powerlifting or bodybuilding (or anything for that matter), you primarily train bilateral movements. Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not!
Bilateral movements include almost all of the seven primal movements:
Barbell back squats, deadlifts, bench press and overhead press, bent over row and pulldowns are all bilateral movements. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these movements, or their variations.
Wait, what about #7? The seventh primal movement is a lunge which, funnily enough, is a unilateral movement. Now, to have a well-rounded training program, ensure that you move efficiently and develop a strong foundation, your training should incorporate all of the primal movements.
That means, your training would be 85% bilateral movements and 15% unilateral. Now this is the issue!
The first law of injury prevention: if you perform a pushing exercise (bench) then you must perform a pulling exercise (row). This allows you to maintain a 1:1 ratio, and prevent compensations from occurring. Essentially, its to prevent you from becoming tight and cranky through the front of the shoulders, and make sure you’re developing a strong and stable upper back.
None of the bilateral movements allow you to address side-to-side strength and mobility deficits. That’s why it’s important to incorporate more unilateral training. The second law of injury prevention: if you perform a bilateral movement (squat), you must perform a unilateral movement (lunge).
Nobody is immune to having little quirks, imbalances in muscle strength, muscle flexibility or joint mobility. It's just a way of life. Unfortunately, bilateral movements can exacerbate this issue.
Do you have imbalances? Here’s a simple test for lower body imbalances: lay down and perform 100 single leg glute bridges on each side. Make sure to hit full hip extension with a small pause at the top. Don’t stop, don’t pass go and collect $200, just get the reps done.
What did you feel? By ‘feel’ I mean, what muscles are burning or talking to ya? Let's hope it’s your glutes and nothing but da glutes. But, chances are, you felt something different from side-to-side. Maybe you felt your right glute, left hamstring and a bit of calves on both sides. Oh, and you felt your low back start to chat.
When you ask your body to perform a bilateral movement, it does what it must to get the job done. It focuses on quantity, not quality. Quantity is great for getting the job done in a pinch. Quality is great for efficient and balanced movement.
Since our training typically focuses on bilateral movements (as well as life in general) you need to focus more on unilateral training. Imagine this: if you have one leg that works more efficiently than the other, perhaps even has better range of motion, you’re going to rely heavily on that side to perform movements such as walking, sitting down or even bending over to pick up a pencil.
If you have a side that your body favors, it's going to do most of the work and therefore it will continue to get stronger and create a bigger imbalance. That’s why unilateral training is important.
Want to increase your performance and decrease your risk of injury? Unilateral training is a must! There is absolutely no way around it. Honestly, its doesn't take much to do either. You probably don't even have to add in a bunch of exercises. Rather, you need to substitute single arm/leg movements in for bilateral ones.
Here’s some examples of bilateral movements with their unilateral accessory lifts:
Barbell rows - single-arm rows with dumbbells or kettlebells
Barbell deadlifts - kickstand or single leg deadlifts
Squats - Bulgarian split squats or lunge variations
Bench press - bottoms up kettlebell presses
These are all easy exercises to perform that allow you to add more unilateral training to address any imbalances you may have.
Follow these two simple laws to increase performance and decrease your risk of injury:
If you’re curious how unilateral training can help you smash PB’s, recover from injury and stay injury free, send me a message, or you can click here to book a session.