Have you ever thought of training stronger with less equipment? Since the pandemic began in March, everyone has been desperately scavenging and sourcing fitness equipment for home exercise as gyms are forced shutdown. Unfortunately, they always end up with disappointments when they see the empty aisle at fitness section at their local Walmart.
Train Unilaterally and Why??
There are several reasons why therapists would opt for unilaterally strength training and here are the top few:
- It improves your balance
Most unilateral closed kinetic chain exercises such as backward lunges and single legged deadlift, drastically reduce base of support. Therefore, you will need engage more core muscles (e.g. abdominals obliques and gluteal medius), to avoid falling onto the ground.
- It is far more specific to active daily activities and sports
Do you realize when you pull a heavy door at the mall, you will use a big help from your leg on the opposite end? OR when you are trying to produce a powerful soccer strike, you will inevitably raise your opposite arm for counterbalance. This is because human movements are mostly contra-lateral movements.
- It requires less equipment
You will only need one dumbbell for the desired resistance. Dumbbells can be expensive investments or hard to get, especially since they are sold out almost everywhere since the pandemic hit. In most unilateral exercises, a single dumbbell with exercise ball or a resistance tubing can already create many variations of exercise. I personally like adjustable dumbbells as it’s far cheaper than a dumbbell collection plus it’s space-saving. If you are on a budget, you may use water bottles, can of tomatoes or laundry detergent instead of hefty dumbbells.
- It allows you to maximize the travel of range of motion in certain muscles
You can maximize the resisted range of motion in unilateral exercise. For instance, when you are doing a chest fly with single dumbbell instead of double, you can take your arm across the midline of your chest so that better target the inner chest muscles without hitting your hands to one and other.
- It exposes your muscle imbalance and weakness
Bilateral strength training allows us to create a more stable movements, but it also masks a lot individual weakness with compensation strategy. You will experience a substantial gain in bilateral strength by training unilaterally because it helps you to detect which side of the muscles are falling short in comparing to their counterpart.
My Favorite Unilateral Strengthening Exercises
Single leg deadlift
How to do it: Stand with your knees slightly bent, holding a dumbbell in one hand. Hinge forward at the waist and fully extend the opposite leg out to the rear, lowering the dumbbell towards your shin. Keep your back straight and do not allow your body to rotate. Contract your gluteus and hamstrings and return to a standing position. Depending on your desired weight, you can use a bottle of laundry detergent instead of a dumbbell.
Single chest press with stability ball
How to do it: Lie face up on a stability ball holding a dumbbell (or you can use an unopened can of tomatoes) at your shoulder. Keep your feet on the floor, your upper back on the ball and arch and tighten your glutes (Yes! This is an exercise for your glutes too!). Press the dumbbell straight up over your shoulders. Lower the dumbbell, keeping your elbows close to the body until your upper arms just break parallel to the ground.
Reverse lunges with dumbbell press
How to do it: Holding a dumbbell in one hand, step backward with the leg same side as the dumbbell and flex at the hips, knees and ankles until your front thigh is parallel to the ground. Press the dumbbell up to an overhead position while you are lowering your hip. Your back must remain straight and upright throughout the movement with the head up and your gaze forward. Keep your front knee inline with your toe and do not allow your heel to rise of the ground. Stand by pushing through your hip and returning to standing position. In the meantime, return the dumbbell to the shoulder position.
Complete the set on one side before repeating on the opposite leg.
Written by: Simon Chow, BKin. RMT. CAT(C). R. Kin.
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