Unilateral exercises are single-leg or single-arm movements. The primary benefit of unilateral exercises is the ability to train both sides of the body equally. It prevents overusing, overtraining or compensating with the dominant side, which helps to isolate and correct muscle imbalances which can aid in injury prevention and rehabilitation.
Most people will have a dominant side of the body that they feel stronger and more coordinated using. Although this is normal, it can become dysfunctional when imbalances move outside this normal range. This creates muscular imbalances which become exaggerated when only performing bilateral (both sides working at once) movements. This creates asymmetries that can result in injuries or pain within the body. Including unilateral movements in your activation series and training program will work to counter any imbalances.
Unilateral Rehabilitation Benefits
Unilateral training can be highly beneficial in early stage rehabilitation through the principle of cross-education. When you train one side of the body the other is also stimulated. This is a neural event that occurs due to the crossed pathways in the brain.
In the case of an injury, where you are unable to use the injured arm or leg, training one side of the body can create ‘gains’ in the other side also.
Unilateral training is also beneficial when you are able to use the injured or painful side of the body. As discussed above, often pain or injury is a result of muscular imbalances. Therefore unilateral training can more specifically target the “weaker” side, or in the case of the imbalance being between two muscles in the one side – like overactive traps and under active lats, performing an exercise on one side at a time allows you to better concentrate on performing the exercise correctly, as you only have to focus on what one side of the body is doing.
Sports Performance Benefits
Developing explosive power for athletes should entail unilateral exercises. Simply put, in sport, power is usually generated from one leg (sprint, change of direction, jumping off one leg for a lay up in basketball or jumping for high jump) or one arm (almost all throwing, swimming, javelin) at a time. This principle applies to general population training as well, if you are able to develop power, strength and control performing unilateral movements, this will translate to improved bilateral movements (think squats, deadlifts, bench press etc).
Unilateral movements also have the additional benefits of (in most cases) improving balance, proprioception and core strength.
Some of My Favourites
- Side lying clam
- Lying dumbbell external rotation
- One arm row (cable, kettlebell and dumbbell variations)
- Single arm pull down
- Single leg glute bridge
- Single leg romanian deadlift
- Single leg rear foot elevated hip hinge
- Step ups
- Side plank
- Kneeling windmill
- Turkish get up
Treatment Through Physiotherapy
Did you know at Trained Physio & Fitness we have a fully equipped 24/7 gym? Check out the details here. Physiotherapy has several goals including promote healing, reduce pain, avoiding aggravation, optimising physical function and global strengthening to restore normal movement patterns. To see how I can help you BOOK ONLINE TODAY
Written by: Olivia Strelein
- BSc. Physiotherapy (Honours)
- BSc. Exercise and Sport Science
- Personal Trainer