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Lifters who just focus on the big bilateral lifts of the squat, press, and deadlift family will get strong but can develop muscle imbalances. The body will always resort to plan B to finish the lift, and this is not always good.
Having a strength imbalance by itself is not a huge deal. But over a period of time, it may increase the risk for wonkier technique, which may help increase the risk for injury. Ever witness a lifter struggle to lockout on one side of their body? The defense rests.
Performing unilateral lifts as part of your accessory routine will lead to better and stronger bilateral lifts, reduce injury risk, and lead to better muscle development.
Here we will dive into the advantages of unilateral exercises, how to determine if you have a strength imbalance, and four exercises to reduce them.
Besides the vanity benefit of better muscle development here are four reasons why unilateral exercises are important.
Before getting into the tests there are a couple of obvious ways to determine strength and muscle imbalances. First, pay attention to your bilateral lift form. Have trouble locking out one side over another or does one side feel ‘easy’ and the other side difficult? Second, check the size of the muscle in question. Does one leg or arm look larger than the other? If you can’t tell measure, it too see if there is any size discrepancy.
Here are another two tests to determine if your quads are stronger than your hamstrings and 5RM unilateral push/test to see if you have pressing or pulling imbalances between arms.
Your hamstrings should have around 60 to 75 percent of the strength of the quads. It’s not the perfect ratio, but knowing the strength between your quads or hamstrings will point you in the right direction. No need for fancy equipment, just access to a leg extension and leg curl machine.
Note: Do this for both left and right legs.
Most of us have strength imbalances between our left and right sides due to activities of daily living. Don’t keep feeding this imbalance with bilateral barbell exercises. Instead, unilateral work will help turn this weakness back into strength and your lifting numbers will improve as a result.
Note: Core strength will be a factor in unilateral upper-body work.
There are many exercises that will work here but these four will strengthen muscle imbalances between sides and will aid in your fat loss or hypertrophy goals.