6 Key Moves for Unilateral Strength Training
Strengthening your weak side—yes, you have one—is essential for preventing weightlifting injuries. So add these single-limb moves to your workout.
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Question: How many single-limb exercises have you been incorporating into your workouts?
If you said none, it might be time to re-think your approach. Training both sides of your body at once may be good for the ego, but it enables your weaker side to hide behind your dominant side—and ignoring that can set you up for injury. In fact, research shows that strength and coordination differences between limbs can range anywhere from 3 to 25 percent.
“It’s one thing to do a basic squat on a balanced base of support," says Neal I. Pire, MA, CSCS, FACSM, founder of PUSH at Volt Fitness in Glen Rock, NJ. “It’s a whole other thing to perform the same basic movement on one foot. Deep hip and core stabilizers have to fire to keep your unsupported hip from collapsing downward, and stability of this type allows us to walk and climb stairs more efficiently—and reduces injury potential.”
With that in mind, these six training combinations will help you incorporate unilateral exercises into your workouts. You'll want to start with the basic bilateral version of the move, and then follow up directly with the unilateral exercise, says Pire. He also recommends that you consider your goals when determining the best weight to use: aim for 8 to 10 reps (per leg for all) for strength, 4 to 6 reps for power, and 12 to 15 reps for hypertrophy (growth).
COMBO #1. Squats to...Single-Legged Squats
A. Balancing on your right leg, bend your left knee and lift your left foot off the floor.
B. Slowly squat as if you’re about to sit, keeping your right knee pointed forward, in line with your ankle and hip.
C. Return to start, then repeat on other side. Work up to 10 reps on each leg.
COMBO #2. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts to...Single Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
A. Stand on right leg, holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in right hand.
B. Keeping right knee slightly bent, perform a stiff-legged deadlift by bending at the hip, extending your free leg behind you for balance.
C. Continue lowering the weight until you are parallel to the ground, and then return to the upright position; repeat for desired number of reps and then switch sides.