Unilateral Training

Unilateral training refers to using one limb at a time, as opposed to bilateral training which involves both limbs.

A leg press and seated row are bilateral movements while a single leg press and single-arm dumbbell row are unilateral movements.

Many actions in everyday life require us to use only one limb at a time. Regardless of what specific activity you are training for, unilateral moves help show weaknesses or imbalances within the body. It’s the discovery of these weaknesses, and corrections, that allow us to further improve our health and performance.

I personally love doing full body compound movements, training multiple muscle groups at a time. These are extremely efficient and result in a bigger central nervous system response, thus a better hormonal response, leading to better strength and body composition.

However, I always keep at least one isolation exercise or unilateral movement in my clients (and my own) daily routines. This way, we never allow one dominant muscle group to compensate for a weaker one, thereby exacerbating the imbalance.

If you are just starting to incorporate unilateral training, try a simple dumbbell row – one knee and hand on a bench, back straight, other arm hanging straight holding a dumbbell. “Row” the weight up to about the armpit, trying to pull the arm up and over with the shoulder blade (but don’t twist the torso).

Another simple move to start with would be standing on one leg. This can be done while doing other movements, such a bicep curl or internal shoulder rotation, or it can be treated as its own movement. Standing on one leg will reveal weaknesses at the joints, in the leg or core muscles, or even neurological proprioception issues.

My favorite unilateral movements, as exemplified above, are for the legs and the shoulder blades.
Unilateral training for the legs will reveal weaknesses or incoordination in the lower body, but also instability throughout the core, and may even provide an opportunity for postural analysis. Movements like lunges or single leg dead lifts (SLDLs) are my go to movements for clients trying to increase strength, stability, and function.

Unilateral training for the upper back is useful because it will teach an individual to move the arms in concert with the shoulder blades. If an individual is only using their shoulder muscles, when reaching, lifting, or moving loads, they risk rotator cuff injuries. However, if they can incorporate all the muscles of the upper back, they will have a safer strength potential.

Some advanced movements to work towards would be things like a one-legged squat (pistol squat) or a one-arm pull-up. To achieve either of these, the muscles, stabilizers, joints, and bones throughout the entire body have to be strengthened perfectly.

So, if your workout has stagnated and you’re having trouble adding repetitions or weight to your movements, try incorporating a few unilateral movements to reveal imbalances and weaknesses.

And remember: a personal trainer can help guide you through this process of exercise selection, providing motivation, and finding areas to improve upon safely, guaranteeing long-term improvement!

Weightlifting Belts

I know I’m always talking about controversial topics nutritionally, but today I want to talk about a frequently debated topic in the world of fitness – the use of a weightlifting belt.

Ever since I have started powerlifting, I have worn a weightlifting belt during my primary lift (bench press, squat, deadlift) when I am working over 75% of my maximum. I don’t wear it during warm-up sets, in the 40-50% range, and as soon as I finish my heavy lift for the day, I set it aside.

I think a belt can be a very effective tool but, like many things in the fitness community, it can be easily misused.

The point of a weightlifting belt is to ensure maximum intra-abdominal pressure during maximal lifts.

Injuries in the weight room occur most frequently when an individual is not as “tight” and focused as they should be during a lift…or when they attempt something they can’t properly do.

A thick belt, tightened around the core, can provide a lifter with something to focus on pushing their stomach against, ensuring a full and engaged diaphragm, as well as sufficient tension throughout the rest of the body.

Before I started wearing a belt, I tried incorporating deadlifts into my routine multiple times. Each time, I quickly took them out because I would mess my back up and not be able to stand up properly for multiple days at a time. I have never once had a problem with my back since I started wearing a belt.

However, if a belt is used because an individual simply hasn’t developed proper back or core strength, it can be problematic.  If an individual is using a belt to force a weight to move, that is too heavy for them, this is also problematic.

Very often I will see lifters wearing a belt while doing bicep curls, turning purple in the face, with their eyes bulging. This is a sure way to cause an immediate injury, an overtraining injury, mask weaknesses in the body, or cause cardiac events from blood pressure elevation and lack of oxygen.

I have never told a client that they must wear a belt but, if I am working with a client that is focused primarily on strength, using movements as technical and potentially dangerous as squats or deadlifts, I will certainly discuss the benefits and give them the option of wearing a belt.

In conclusion, I do not believe a weightlifting belt is 100% necessary for powerlifting but, as long as you build a strong core through properly programmed assistance lifts, a belt can aide in one’s lifting long-term.