Bulgarian split squats, single arm dumbbell presses, walking lunges, kettlebell snatches–we have all seen these and similar movements in the Strength or WOD.
Unilateral movements, movements that work one arm or leg at a time, are valuable tools to help you move well inside and outside the gym.
One of the main benefits of unilateral movements is that strength imbalances and movement asymmetries can be addressed. We’ve all noticed that one arm/leg seems to be a little, or maybe a lot, stronger than the other. If you’re right-handed, your right arm will likely be stronger than your left, in part because you actually use it more to write, hold and carry items, etc.
In regular everyday life or when moving without load or under light loads, these strength imbalances may not be obvious or appear to make a difference. But when you are trying to lift under moderate or heavy loads, these imbalances can become apparent and possibly even contribute to the risk of injury down the road.
Besides just pure strength, one arm or leg may have a greater range of motion or flexibility than the other. Again, usually our dominant side has the advantage here, but not always. Asymmetrical range of motion or flexibility can contribute to issues down the line in the same way strength imbalances can.
That’s where unilateral movement comes in! When you are working on something such as a loaded box step up, both sides of your body are moving the same load, even your weaker side. Your weaker side is getting stronger, and when you do these movements regularly, the strength difference between your legs will start decrease. When you spend time on mobility, working each side separately, over time your less mobile side will begin to improve.
Will these imbalances ever go away completely? In all likelihood, no. But the closer your arms and legs are to each other in terms of strength and mobility, the safer you are AND the more load you can move safely.
By the way, a great way to get an assessment of where your imbalances and asymmetries might be and how to work to decrease that gap is to get a Functional Movement Screen. This is one of the purposes of the FMS and many corrective movements are targeted specifically at fixing these issues. (Talk to Jenn about your FMS!)
So the next time you see goblet hold walking lunges in a WOD, celebrate this opportunity to develop the strength and mobility in your weaker leg. Get excited about single arm kettlebell swings because your grip on your non-writing hand will get stronger! One-sided work is great for your whole body. All for one, and one for all!
Posted on Thu, July 6, 2017
by Jenn Casey