The Solution is Symmetry

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

By: Trent Peterson

-NASM Certified Personal Trainer, The Gym at 99 Sudbury

Everyone has their strong side, their stiff side, their better-looking side, yet when we’re training we always tend to focus on both sides at the same time. Now don’t get me wrong, bilateral training (both sides simultaneously) has many benefits such as producing maximal forces, strength gains and being able to handle more weight. However, this doesn’t mean you should neglect unilateral training (one side at a time); it helps with core strength, fixing postural imbalances that develop from strength deficiencies and improve athletic performance.

As I mentioned earlier, everyone has a stronger side and you want to even this up as much as possible. This becomes apparent as you lift weights approaching your one rep max (a weight that you can only complete one repetition). Your weaker side will lag behind and your stronger side will try to pick up the slack possibly causing injury or at the very least postural imbalances. To fix this problem, use unilateral training with a slight adjustment, I will use the dumbbell bench press as an example. Use a weight that you’re going to do 6 reps on each side, if your left side is your weaker side do 6 reps pause for 10 seconds and complete 2-3 more repetitions for each set. So if you’re completing 3-4 sets, you’re adding an additional 6-12 reps on your weaker side to even things up.

Core strength is incredibly important when it comes to unilateral training as a stabilizer for the hips and spine. Using the Bulgarian split squat as an example, when you set your foot up on a bench and you’re about to drop into the squat your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles need to be in alignment. To maintain proper alignment in these joints you must keep your core activated and keep tension throughout the body, if one of those four are out of whack then it creates problems with recruiting the proper muscles to fire and the possibility of injury increases.

If you watch any sports, most of them rely on movements where the power is transferred through one foot. Sprinting, skating, cutting in football, kicking a football or kicking a football (European style), taking a shot in hockey, being able to transfer power to one side quickly is the base of developing speed and agility essential for sports. Lateral skater hops are a great exercise to test your balance, power, and flexibility and have a good carryover to most sports. Starting with your left foot planted with your right foot elevated and behind your left leg you will bend your left knee and push off as quickly as possible to jump laterally landing on your right leg with your left foot elevated and behind your right leg, repeat as quickly as possible.

Using a combination of both bilateral and unilateral exercises will help shore up most of the weak links in your training and lead to bigger and better gains.