Unilateral Training | The Benefits & Best Exercises To Do

Unilateral Training | The Benefits & Best Exercises To Do

True bodybuilders know that training your legs is crucial to an all round perfect, proportioned body. However a vast majority train both legs bilaterally, both at the same time, instead of unilaterally, one leg at a time. While training both legs together, for let’s say a squat or leg press, is beneficial, you cannot get the muscle fibers in both legs to contract all its fibers since one leg will always be more dominant and take most of the workload. This can cause many problems, such as strength differences on one side of the body, and obviously disproportioned muscles. It can causes imbalances that may not even be noticeable at first, but in the long run, can ultimately cause injury.

The best way to get the size and strength of both leg muscles equally the same is to train them unilaterally. This way, every fiber of the quads and hamstrings, and calves on the right and left side of your body are fully contracted and used properly. Unilaterally training legs can be time consuming, considering you have to train each exercise twice essentially, but it is well worth the well proportioned and symmetrical legs. This does not mean you have to take out bilateral movements from your training. After the heavy compounds, squats and dead lifts, are done then train your accessory movements unilaterally for the perfect leg workout.

Benefits of Unilateral Training

Training legs is very taxing on the body. Every time you squat, the weight is placed on your back causing your spine to withstand all of that force, and be compressed. With training one leg at a time, you cannot use as much weight on the bar, therefore taking a lot of stress off the back and decompressing it. That is very important because you don’t want to have a fatigued lower back all the time – trust me. If your lower back gets injured, life can become very difficult and very painful to do even the simplest of tasks, like picking up a box off the ground. That reason alone is all you should need to want to train legs one at a time.

For those who aren’t impressed by the first benefit, the second one is the fact that if one side is weak, your weight on the bar using two legs will be less because of it. Training one leg at a time, causes both muscles to grow and become stronger at the same pace and will carry over to the exercises that require using two legs. It also increases stability within each muscle as well. Although some may think training one  leg at a time is pointless , this is one of the best ways of training legs if you have lower back issues or knee issues as well. This style of training can help strengthen the muscles along with the joints themselves, since there will be less workload and stress on the joints, it gives them time to get acclimated and recover properly.

Basic Unilateral Leg Exercises That Need to be in Your Training

  • Lunges – this is the most common leg exercise that is done when thinking of unilateral work. It focuses on the entire leg; the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes at the same time. Done with proper form, can alleviate knee pain, and cause great growth within the legs.
  • One legged leg press – The second best exercise , in my opinion, for overall leg development. This exercise can be done with feet up high, or low, and hit many angles of the leg. Depending on the positioning of your foot, will determine what muscles you emphasize more; high position targets the gluteus Maximus, and the hamstrings more. While lower positioning of the foot can emphasize the quadriceps more. Also, having your foot in towards the middle of the machine, will hit the outer most part of your quadriceps, while having the foot out towards the end of the machine, will target the abductors and adductors of the leg.
  • Stiff legged deadlift with one leg – This exercise can either be done with dumbbells or a barbell, but be careful not to use too much weight, or else you will be more likely to pull something. Stiff legged deadlifts are meant to be a stretched position exercise for the hamstrings, not so much a power exercise, so use lighter workloads for this. An alternative to this exercise, would be Bret Contreras’ well known exercise; the single leg prisoner back extension. This is essentially just a hyperextension using one leg at a time, but still works the same muscles as the stiff legged dead lift but with little to no weight needed.
  • Lastly, to make sure your entire leg is developed, a unilateral calf raise should be added into your program as well. If your gym has a machine calf raise, simply just raise one calf at a time , contracting hard at the top and pausing for one second then descending slowly with a deep stretch at the bottom of the exercise. Since our calves get worked daily from constantly walking on them, they hardly ever get stretched with weight on them. Therefore , the stretch at the bottom is the most important for this exercise.

Give this training style a few weeks, and you will see very noticeable strength and size in your leg muscles. Training your legs is very important and must be a priority. Since many people forget their legs are apart of the bodybuilding lifestyle, they usually are lagging behind the rest of the body, so heavy compounds and high volume, unilateral accessory work will help bring them up very quick.


Contreras, Bret. Testosterone nation.

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