Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Training Lower Body: Unilateral vs. Bilateral

First off, if you are not training single leg movements for the lower body, you are crazy. Life and sport is on one leg. You don't run two legs at a time..... rabbits do. Actually the reason for this post is not to state that single leg training is great for athletic performance or that it activates more stabilizers but rather to show that it is safer for most.

Here is what I want you to think about. If I were to have a 200 lbs person barbell squat (bilateral) 300 lbs, that would be a 300 lbs load on their back right? So that would be 300 lbs of spinal load. If I took the same person and performed a single leg squat variation (split squat, RFE split squat, SL squat) with 100 lbs, we would essentially have the same load on the lower body with FAR less load on the spine.

200 lbs person + 100 lbs load = 300 lbs (100 lbs would actually be a much, much larger load in a SL squat because the 300 lbs total would be on ONE leg. I am using the #'s to simplify)

Bodyweight really doesn't matter that much when squatting or deadlifting bilaterally but it definitely plays a HUGE part in unilateral exercises. I can't say that it is 100% of their bodyweight they are lifting but I would say it is a high percentage.

The thing is, many people have present or past low back issues. Single leg training is a great way to avoid exacberating or reintroducing back pain. I am not saying don't train the lower body bilaterally. I am just suggesting that most athletes and regular people don't need to train bilateral movements heavy if they can get it through single leg training.

I find myself using bilateral lower body training less and less with my clients and athletes. Everybody is getting so strong in the single leg exercises that I really don't miss the bilateral stuff.

For those of you using single leg squats, I will show you a better way to single leg squat in the next post.