8 Benefits of Unilateral Exercises

8 Benefits of Unilateral Exercises

Many trainers design programs based on the number of joints being used during the exercise. Compound exercises use more than one joint (and therefore one than one muscle) and isolation exercises target one muscle and have one joint in action. Another characteristic to program is whether you perform an exercise isolating one side of the body.

Unilateral exercises are those that work one side/one limb or the movement is very biased towards one side. Unilateral exercises force an individual to limit movement compensations, which are easily hidden in bilateral exercises. You will find when you work one movement pattern, on one side, you will also become more aware of your core and how to stabilize.

Here are 8 benefits of unilateral exercises

  1. Helps you identify imbalances in your body.
  2. Through this identification, unilateral exercises make it easier to control making improvements during the movement pattern.
  3. Further strengthens the stabilizing muscles recruited during that movement.
  4. Improves balance overall (especially leg exercises).
  5. Improves muscle awareness.
  6. Often an individual can lift heavier weight.
  7. The exercise is often more core-intensive than bilateral.
  8. Many of the upper-body exercises require ‘anti-rotation.’ This is a relevant and valuable secondary goal, which improves core strength & stability.

There are several ways to perform unilateral movements. I have chosen the cable machine. Most of the exercises included will improve posture, while strengthening the shoulder and core. You will notice that there are a few bilateral exercises mixed into this program. I recommend inserting one bilateral exercise after 2-3 unilateral movements in an effort to feel ‘grounded.’   It can also provide a rest for the core.

This series below is intended to be very core & upper body intensive. All exercises should be done at a controlled tempo. Before beginning these exercises, make sure you have adjusted the height of the cable/pulley and chosen the correct attachment.

Here are some great exercises to try on the cable machine along with important tips.

  • Lateral press down
    1. Focused on lateral shoulder (deltoids) strength
    2. Requires lateral core stabilization
    3. Engages the lat / upper back
    4. Avoid leaning
    5. Use the long handle attachment
  • Rear Shoulder Flye
    1. Rear shoulder or deltoid strengthening
    2. Strengthen the upper back & improves posture.
    3. Focus on shoulder blade retraction
    4. Anti rotation movement
    5. Use the long handle attachment
  • Deep Front Raise
    1. Focused on shoulder strength
    2. Requires upper back stabilization
    3. Adjust your stance once you begin lift
    4. Requires core stabilization
    5. Can be single arm or both
    6. Use the long handle attachment
  • Straight Arm Extension Overhead
    1. Rear deltoid & upper back strengthening
    2. Strengthens core
    3. Keep arms straight throughout movement
    4. Avoid leaning back during lift
    5. Use long handle attachment
  • Two Handed Chop
    1. Great rotation movement uses the entire body
    2. Adjust grip on bar for fluid rotation
    3. Adjust your stance so your weight stays center throughout movement
    4. Use long straight bar
    5. Avoid lifting shoulder during exercise
  • Unilateral Bicep Curl with Dumbbell Stack
    1. Challenging exercise & unique combo
    2. Strengthen bicep & upper back
    3. The dumbbell stack strengthens the upper back & forces amazing stabilization
    4. Strengthens posture muscles
    5. Strengthen side body sections of core
    6. Use long handle attachment
  • Side Plank Flye
    1. Test your side plank before beginning lift
    2. Secure your feet against machine or large dumbbells
    3. Hold side body crunch during flye movement
    4. Strengthens chest and shoulder (secondary)
    5. Side body stabilization, great anti-rotation exercise
    6. Use long handle attachment
  • Swiss Ball Twists
    1. Focus on core rotation
    2. Reminiscent of a Russian twist
    3. Control the cable as it returns
    4. Requires isometric strength of upper body
    5. Use long handle attachment
  • Seated Row with Leg Elevated
    1. Challenging & unique combo
    2. Core intense
    3. Recruits adductors (inner thighs) due to med-ball squeeze
    4. Can easily be modified by placing feet on the ground
    5. Targets back muscles
    6. Use long handle attachment

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