Whether you realize it or not, it’s natural to have a dominant side of your body. For me, my left side tends to overcompensate and work a bit harder thanks to an old injury on my right side. Luckily, there’s a way to correct those muscle imbalances and strengthen specific muscle groups. Cue unilateral exercises!
“A unilateral exercise is any movement that involves the use of a single limb or one side of the body at a time,” says Mike Hamlin, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and founder of Everflex Fitness. For example, think lunges, single-leg squats, and one-arm presses. “Unilateral refers to movements performed independently by one side, and in the fitness space, this contrasts with bilateral exercises, which is when both sides of the body are engaged simultaneously,” he explains.
You may be wondering, are unilateral exercises really necessary if I train bilaterally? Yep! “Including unilateral exercises in a routine is important for addressing muscle imbalances, enhancing stability, and promoting functional strength on both sides of the body,” says Hamlin. “By isolating each side, unilateral exercises help correct strength discrepancies between limbs, reduce the risk of injuries, and improve overall athletic performance.” On the flip side, only training bilaterally can increase the chance of muscle imbalances if you favor one side over the other (even unintentionally), he adds.
In terms of how often you should incorporate unilateral exercises, it depends on your goals. “For muscle building, incorporating unilateral exercises two to three times per week in a well-rounded routine is effective, but for injury rehab, daily or as prescribed by a physical therapist may be necessary,” says Hamlin. “Weight loss benefits from a combination of unilateral and bilateral exercises three to