Ever feel like you’re working one side more then the other when you’re at the gym? Are you more sore on one side compared to the other? We don’t do it on purpose, but when we are working out we are usually using our dominant side more then the other. This means that there will likely be a little imbalance in our body composition and both sides may even look different if the imbalance is severe enough. Studies have shown that having a 10-15% difference in strength between your right and left side significantly increases your risk for injury down the road. This is why when developing a workout program it’s important to incorporate both bilateral and unilateral exercises.
When we use one side at a time, we ensure that we are focusing on that side and activating those specific muscles. Unilateral exercises help identify strength imbalances so that your training plan can focus on improving these deficits. In order to really reach your full potential, it’s important to be objective in identifying any areas for improvement so that you can actively work towards having balance between both sides of your body. Unilateral exercises allow us to strengthen our smaller stabilizing muscles, which allows us learn awareness of our body in space and improves balance. Our core is automatically activated when we are performing unilateral exercises, which is also important for overall functionality and preventing injury. When you think about it, most sports and other physical activity happens one leg at a time. Even we you are simply walking; you have one foot on the ground at a time. Performing unilateral exercises helps ensure that you can preform as a well-rounded athlete and have a balanced aesthetic.
Bilateral exercises, on the other hand, focus on overall strength and power. When we use both sides of our body, we can lift much more weight then when we are just using one side. Bilateral exercises help develop a base of power for your workouts and increase strength overall so that way you can also lift heavier. Explosive movements, like jumping, require extra force using both sides of your body for optimal success. Bilateral exercises also require you to activate your core in order to prevent injury to your back – if you don’t keep a tight core when you’re deadlifting or squatting hundreds of pounds, your back is in for some trouble.
One type of exercise isn’t better then the other. While they both have their benefits, they also have their drawbacks. If you are only focusing on unilateral exercises, you won’t be improving your strength like you do lifting heavy with bilateral exercises. Similarly, if you only focus on heavy bilateral lifts; your balance and overall stability may suffer, which in turn may hurt your ability to continue to increase weight on your lifts. This is why identifying imbalances and weakness early on and incorporating both unilateral and bilateral exercises into your program is key. By having a balance between both, and developing your training to help even out any imbalances you identify, you will get the best of both worlds!