Sunday, August 19, 2012


One of the greatest sins in my book is the disregard, and even contempt, that I see out there for any sort of exercises that are single-limbed in approach.  I know where it comes from too:  you just can't move the same amount of weight with one one limb that you can move with two.  In the world of weights where the most iron moved is the sole measure of value, a unilateral move is just shit. 

I take a different viewpoint.  As I've said before, weight is simply a means to increasing the difficulty of the movement.  If the movement needs a lot of weight to make it hard then isn't the movement itself a little too easy?  A movement that requires less weight to be considered very difficult is actually a more efficient use of the weight available to you. Those of you blessed with piles of iron obviously don't see the value in this.  In a way, you're kind of the strength training version of pampered house pets.  Welcome to the jungle!  Out here, we learn how to make the most of the least.  Unilateral work is the way we can do that. 

Ben Bruno wrote a pretty good article over at T-Nation where he described his year-long experiment with training his lower body, one leg at a time.  Apparently, he did this in response to a back injury.  The single-legged approach was more kind to his back.  I've heard this approach parroted by a couple of sports-based strength trainers.  I can't comment on it since I don't have an injured back and I haven't done a lot of the work he described but he obviously learned how to get some serious leg training within his limitations.  Iron junkies might balk at the notion but it still worked very well. 

This guy seemingly never takes the weighted vest off... allegedly not even for sex. 

My experience with unilateral leg training for the past few months has been pretty simple:  Pistols.  Honestly, I suck at them.  Granted I suck a lot less now than I sucked in January when I admitted to myself that the fact that I look like a fool while attempting these was simply unacceptable to a guy who runs a "bodyweight blog."  Still, I admitted it and I think that's a lot of people's problem with these:  they don't want to admit that they don't do these because they can't do these.  Pistols have a way of telling the mind a story of a trainee who spends too much time sitting down, getting tight and stiff and then spends their precious gym time lying to themselves that there's something wrong with muscles in and around the hips that don't impress girls too much.  So, they ignore them, throwing them into the trash heap of, "they're just a trick".  I decided to take a giant shit on this scenario and get my ass to the grass on one leg. 

When we move to single-limb, upstairs version, we come to one of my favorite ways to train the upper body, as well as another reason why unilateral work is so awesome:  it's a great, great way to strength train under time constraints.  Just simply blast one limb, doing a movement until you're exhausted.  All you've got to do is break long enough to catch your breath (a little) and then do the other side.  It's possible to get a lot of work in a very short period of time training like this. 

Oh, and training on one arm can be brutally difficult!

We began with the wonders of unilateral training's ability to make great training with a limited amount of weight to move.  A deeper exploration reveals that there is a lot of other benefits to this approach to progressive strength training.  They than work around injury to get stronger and expose weaknesses in need of strengthening just as well as they can serve as a means to make what's strong even stronger.  That kind of approach deserves more recognition than it's currently getting.  Don't make the same error of not realizing a good thing when you see it.