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 Photo credit: InShapeNews, 2017 – Body Movement:

Nick Jack – CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach and Personal Trainer

This is a great question and one that comes up a lot from sporting athletes looking to find anyway of improving performance. Even though both types of movement work the same muscle groups they are very different in terms of the benefit to the body.

What are Bilateral and Unilateral Movements?

Most of us are very good with bilateral movements, however, perform poorly with unilateral movements, even though the same muscle groups are involved! Why? The main reason is there is significant more neural and brain connections to be made with unilateral training, as the less dominant side of the body struggles to do execute movement by itself. It is not strength that is lacking but more the coordination, timing and fine motor control that makes the movements efficient.  There are other factors like different base of support, different demands on muscles and joints to stabilize the body for movement. Bilateral training being much simpler allows for greater loads to be lifted. Now the question is, which one is better?

  1. Unilateral lower body exercises: These usually place your lower body into lunging, single leg and split stance positions. These exercises closely mimic real life movements such as walking, shovelling, playing sport, standing on one leg, climbing up & down stairs, stepping down big steps or ladders etc. Unilateral exercises demand a high level of stability, balance demand and coordination as compared to bilateral exercises. It also exposes weaknesses with muscular imbalances and mobility deficits more than a bilateral exercise can. As the exercises are more complex, the load and requirement for strength is sacrificed, until you can prove that you are able to stabilise with good form. This is why we often use these exercises before bilateral movements.
  2. Bilateral lower body exercises: We still cannot disregard bilateral exercises as they are still in everyday movement such as squatting up and down from a chair, picking up things up and down from the floor, so therefore, are the movement patterns of squatting and bending/ dead-lifting. The best part of these movements is their simplicity allows for greater loads to be lifted resulting in a large strength gains compared to unilateral exercises. However it must be noted that strength improves faster when you improve the body’s motor program at the nervous system. This is why a 50kg squat is superior to a 500kg leg press.

Your Program

In summary, your exercise program should focus majority of your early programming to improve functional unilateral lower body exercises over bilateral lower body exercises. This is applied to whether your goal is to rehabilitate your disc bulge, if you’re an athlete wanting to improve sporting performance, or even someone wanting to lose weight and maintain injury free. Once you have completed this you are ready to move to the next phase of enhancing overall strength with loads.

Nick Jack is a qualified CHEK Exercise Coach, Level II Holistic Lifestyle Coach and personal trainer. He runs a personal training business called NO Regrets Personal Training.

Nick likes to lift weights, cycle, run and triathlon. He has played almost every sport at one time in his life. Now, he enjoys spending time walking his dog and relaxing with his wife and friends.

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Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on each of the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

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