For over a decade now, fitness professionals have been arguing about unilateral and bilateral training. As a refresher, unilateral means "one side" or "one limb." Think of a one-arm dumbbell bench press. Bilateral means using both arms, or both legs. Think of your standard barbell bench press or squat.
Which one should you put your focus on? Well, many "functional" fitness gurus preach that you should primarily use single-limb movements. They'll tell you to do a lunge exercise in lieu of a back squat because it's more "functional."
On the other side, you have the three exercise crowd who preach that all you need to do is bench press, squat, and deadlift.
In truth, there are pros and cons to unilateral and bilateral training, so it is imperative that you perform both in your training program.
Benefits of Unilateral Training
All single limb exercises require a lot of core stabilization. Lunges, single-leg deadlifts, single-arm presses, and single-arm pulls all require you to activate your core so that you don't fall over while performing them.
Unilateral exercises also allow you to work out some of your muscular imbalances which can lead to improved posture and enhanced athleticism.
Drawbacks of Unilateral Training
Focusing only on balancing and stabilizing can be a detriment to getting stronger. In order to get stronger, you actually have to lift weight. Lifting appreciable amounts of weight and continuously overloading is generally easier to do with bilateral exercises.
Benefits of Bilateral Training
The most beneficial aspect of bilateral training is that you're going to be able to lift more weight. When you get your whole body firing for a back squat or a deadlift you're activating a ton of musculature.
Activating more muscles means more motor neurons must fire for you to perform the movement. More motor neurons firing equals more horsepower under your engine. Large bilateral movements are going to give you a bigger engine.
Bilateral movements also require some serious core activation. In order to hit a heavy back squat or deadlift, you have to have an incredibly strong core so that you don't injure your back.
Drawbacks of Bilateral Training
A lot of times the bilateral crowd turns into the "bench, squat, and deadlift only" crowd. If all you do is train these three movements, you may become really strong, but your movement and balance might not be so great.
If you're an athlete who needs to be functionally strong in a variety of different positions, you're going to want to work in some lunges and other movements that require you to maintain balance and stabilization.
Use Both, Wisely
You should be performing both unilateral and bilateral training to have a well-rounded training program. The trick is structuring your exercises appropriately.
The strength and conditioning coaches are always here to help! A personal training package is a great way to work with an expert coach who can develop the best plan for you!