Marta Montenegro: Time Off From Bilateral Exercises

The fitness world has moved to circuit training (eight to 10 exercises performed one after another without rest); high intensity training (short burst of maximal intensity followed by recovery periods at low intensity); and multi-joint exercises (exercises that use more than one joint/muscle at a time).

What do all these exercise approaches have in common? They emphasize less time at the gym while maximizing results.

Certainly, when you combine bilateral and multi-joint exercises you will activate more muscle mass, thus producing a higher metabolic response. Since the effort will be higher too, you will tired sooner, and finish your workout in 30 minutes rather than an hour. Isn’t this great?

It is, but it may be time to add unilateral exercises to your exercise program. Athletes often develop more than 10 percent greater strength in one extremity over the other. This can happen to you if only stick to a two-arm shoulder press and never weave in an unilateral shoulder press.

Strength Balance

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Experts agree that one main problem of too much bilateral exercises is that the strongest side will take a greater load, which deepen the muscle imbalances and may increase the risk of injury.

It’s not just a matter of having the right leg stronger than the left one, but also the added pressure on the joints. In a recent study where bilateral, multi-joint exercises (e.g. squatting) was compared to unilateral, single joint exercise (e.g. leg extension), researchers showed the average peak knee moment force was 12.8 percent greater in the dominant limb compared to the non-dominant limb.

The weakness of one extremity over the other shows up in powerful moves, and also in exercises where you hold a muscle contraction and there’s no move—e.g., plank. Another study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, concluded that when tests evaluated different outputs properties between dominant and non-dominant upper limbs, the dominant side overcame the non-dominant limber in the majority of tests.

High Intensity Unilateral Circuit

In this exercise program maintain two of the proven fitness techniques: circuit training and moderate-high intensity. You can accomplish a great workout while working on your unilateral muscle-joint weakness, plus your overall workout time and calorie expenditure (your ability to burn a lot of calories) won’t be affected much.

In no time, you will make the weakness gap shorter and diminish your risk of future injuries.

Exercise Routine Guidelines

  • Perform this routine in circuit: one exercise after another without rest
  • Do 2-3 circuits, 10-12 reps. Select a weight that makes it hard to perform the last two reps. Rest 60 seconds maximum
  • In all exercises do one side and then move to the other
  • Do a light warm-up and stretch at the end
  • Do this routine twice a week with at least 24 hours apart
  • General technique guidelines: keep your back straight, chest up, abdominals tight, and don’t allow your knee to pass the toes
  • The exercises performed with a tubing can be done with the pulley machine as well