The secret of making consistent gains is to keep your body’s stress adaptation system off balance. This is easy. Change the way you train – even slightly – and you’ll continue making gains longer. Unilateral training – working out one side of the body at a time – is a very effective and alternative training method that will put you back on the road to making gains in mass and strength. Unilateral training takes more time than training both sides of the body at the same time. But, it has some advantages that will make it a worthwhile alternate training method.
Unilateral training involves exercising one side of the body at a time. For example, doing one-leg squats you work the right leg for 10 reps and then the left leg for 10 reps. This will give you a super overload that will help balance your muscles and speed your progress. Unilateral training shocks the muscles so they develop quickly. The method works and is backed by solid scientific research. Unilateral training:
• Helps isolate muscles better than training both sides of the body at once.
• Creates more muscle involvement because of bilateral deficit. This means the total weight you can lift with each limb working independently is greater than two limbs working together. Training with one side of the body at a time loads the muscles more than working them together.
• Increases the strength of the inactive side.
• Increases blood flow to the muscle more than occurs during two-leg training.
Lower Body Unilateral Training Exercises
You can use unilateral training for the upper or lower body. Following are some examples of lower body exercises using unilateral training methods. Examples of upper and whole-body exercises that lend themselves to this technique include seated overhead dumbbell extensions, one-arm preacher curls, alternate dumbbell curls, standing cable curls, overhead cable curls, and single-arm reverse grip pushdowns. Advanced trainers can do one-arm pull-ups and push-ups.
Single-Leg Squats on Smith Machine.
Single-leg squats are best for working the glutes and isolating the quadriceps and hamstrings. Doing them on the Smith machine helps you keep your balance and protect your knees from injury. Adjust the height of the bar so you have to bend your knees slightly to stand under it. Use a towel or squat pad on the bar to keep it from digging into your upper back. At first, don’t use any weight on the bar. Place both feet shoulder-width apart and about 12 inches or so in front of the machine so you lean into the bar. Put as much weight as possible on the right leg. Squat down – keeping your weight on one leg – until your leg breaks parallel. Do three sets of 15 repetitions with each leg. After you finish the exercise using the right leg, immediately do 15 reps using the left leg. One set means you did 15 reps using your left and right legs. Rest one minute between sets.
After you feel comfortable doing single-leg squats with both feet on the ground, do the exercise with one leg on the ground and lift the other leg behind you. This will isolate and work the leg muscles even more. Change your foot placement if you feel any knee pain. Add weight and drop the reps to six to 12 as you become better trained.
Single-Leg Knee Extensions.
Use a standard, seated two-leg knee extension machine. Begin with your right leg and use a weight that allows you to complete 15 reps easily. Do this exercise slowly and strictly. After you finish doing it with the right leg, immediately do 15 reps with the left leg. Rest one minute between sets. Do three sets of 15 repetitions with each leg.
Progress slowly on this exercise. Many people develop kneecap pain from doing knee extensions. Prevent pain and injury by adding weight very slowly and by doing the exercise strictly (don’t jerk your upper body trying to complete the repetitions). You should feel a burn in your thigh muscles, particularly during the last two sets. Add weight and sets and drop the reps to eight to 12 as you become better trained.
Single-Leg Leg Curls.
Use a prone bench-type hamstring curl machine (the kind where you lie on your front side). Place the back of your right foot on the pad and draw your right foot toward your butt, while keeping your abdomen, hips and thighs on the bench. As with the other exercises, do three sets of 15 reps with each leg with a one-minute rest between sets. Don’t cheat – let your hamstring muscles do the work. Add weight and sets and drop the reps to eight to12 as you become better trained.
Single-Leg Calf Raises.
Use a standing calf raise machine. Stand on your right foot between the shoulder support pads. Slowly, drop your right heel until you feel a stretch in your calf muscle, then rise up on your toes as high as possible. Do three sets of 15 reps with each leg, with a one-minute rest between sets. Start off with a light weight and progress slowly. Do your reps slowly and under control. Add weight and sets and drop the reps to eight to 12 as you become better trained.