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Monday, December 24, 2018

Strength Coach- Unilateral Training and the Bilateral Deficit

Mike Boyle

“What if the way we had always done it was wrong?”
Lee Cockrell- Creating Magic
Any time we bring long held beliefs into question there is bound to be controversy. However, imagine that I was going to show you a new spin on lower body strength training that would allow you to train with heavier weights and yet was far safer and potentially more effective than what you currently do? I think many intelligent coaches would at least initially say “show me”.
click me

Unfortunately, as I began to describe how to lift heavier loads more safely, our sense of what is conventional and acceptable would take over. As I began to describe unilateral exercise as a method to use greater, not lesser loads the automatic reaction is “but I'm using less weight”.

In truth, you might be using less weight than you would use in the comparable bilateral lift but you would still be using more weight with the targeted muscles. By working only one side at a time you use what appear to be lighter loads. However, this is primarily a problem of math and secondarily a problem of perception.

As an example, a 1 Leg Straight Leg Deadlift using 135 lbs supplies 135 lbs to the involved leg and a load of 135 lbs on the spine. Using 225 lbs in a conventional two leg Romanian Deadlift ( yes, I hate the term but many find it recognizable) places 225 lbs of load to the spinal column but supplies only 112 lbs of load to the posterior chain of each leg ( if we assume equal contribution from each leg for discussion purposes).

In this example the targeted muscles are the glutes and hamstrings and, the unilateral exercise involves a higher load for the target muscles (glutes and hamstrings). The added bonus is a lower load to an area of injury concern ( lumbar spine). In other words, the unilateral exercise provides more posterior chain load with less low back stress. Can that be a bad thing? The rational answer is no, however our reaction is often more emotional than rational.

The next complaint or rationalization revolves around the thought that “the exercise doesn't look like what I'm used to “. Unilateral exercises are viewed as weird, different, dare I say functional? Unfortunately, I would again have to say that is not a good reason not to lift heavier loads, is it?

Another frequent complaint about unilateral exercise is that these new training ideas require too much balance. This is the most interesting complaint from the free weight community. If I brought up machine based training, comments like “free weights blow away machines”, “machines don't allow you to balance and stabilize the weight” etc. etc. would immediately come to mind. In fact, for years we have been told that free weights are superior to machines because you are required to balance the load and are incorporating important, underworked stabilizers?

However when the thought process moves one step further and we ask someone to perform a unilateral exercise the argument is often reversed. The unilateral opponent takes the position that unilateral exercises are not good because they are too unstable and require too much balance? Funny? In one breath we glorify free weights because of the balance and stability requirements and in the next breath denigrate unilateral training because of the balance and stability needed? To me this sounds like more of the Simon Senek lament:

“Why can't we do what we have always done?”

Is it really just the change that we dislike? Do we cling to ideas that are outdated even in the face of solid evidence?

Henry Ford had a great quote that parallels my position on unilateral training.

“If I'd listened to my customers I would have invented a faster horse”

If I'd listened to everyone else, we would still be doing back squats and proclaiming them as the King of All Exercises.

Unilateral training is not accepted primarily because it is different and secondarily because it is unconventional. Fortunately (for me) or unfortunately ( for most everyone else) the evidence is becoming more and more clear that unilateral training allows for training with higher loads on the targeted muscles. Join for $1 to read the rest of this article and much more!............

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