Why YOU should be doing unilateral exercises (single leg or single arm work)
They work your balance and stability – The muscles responsible for stabilising the body (called local muscles) must work harder. In most cases it's going to be your abs working harder in addition to the target muscles but it also improves your balance and the stability of your joints. This also helps your training in the gym carry over to real life: how many times do you lift things up in a perfectly balanced squat position?
Allows us to address asymmetry in the body – Through injury or just less use, everyone has a weaker side. Unilateral exercises let you work on the muscular imbalances without your stronger side being able to compensate. You want to aim for a balance (even if you’ll never hit it) because it will help you perform better in and out of the gym as well as avoid injuries in the long run. Swing the pendulum closer to neutral to avoid unhappy complications down the line.
Get more of a training effect using less weight – You can’t lift as much weight on your left arm when compared with both arms but don’t worry, you’ll still be challenging your muscles, it means the risk of slinging heavy iron around is minimised not to mention the effort of setting up heavier weights or if you just don't have access to a huge selection this can be a good way to expand your options. This can also be easier on your back as it has to support less weight. If you can overhead press 30kg with both hands, pressing 15kg in one hand will provide a similar force to the muscles in the shoulder with all the additional benefits of u.
Increased metabolic response – Unilateral exercises take longer to complete because both sides are exercised separately but also require your stabilising muscles to be working the whole time. This incites a greater metabolic response leaving you out of breath and with your heart racing. In other words, single side exercises are getting you stronger and can be great for increasing your endurance! (if that's your thing).
Unilateral exercises are great when used in conjunction with compound bilateral movements, perform your squats first, then add in some lunges to your program to really burn your legs! So if you don't have unilateral exercises in your program, they can be a great addition for: training balance, increasing the stability of joints, addressing asymmetry caused by injury or daily use, using less weights and (if you're a trainer like me) for exhausting energetic clients.