I got this question from a blog reader after seeing my blog post on the benefits of unilateral training for mountain biking…
Q: “Hey James, given all the benefits of unilateral training why would you want to use bilateral training?”
A: This is an interesting question and one I have thought about. I will say that my primary reasons would be because you can expose your body to higher intensity levels (i.e. weight) with bilateral training and often more than simply your unilateral weight X 2. For example, if you can single leg squat with 50 pounds I guarantee you that you can front squat far more then just 100 pounds.
This does provide your body with a stimulus you can not get from unilateral training and it can be beneficial. For example, knowing how to generate max tension in your body can help brace yourself for a fall – I’ve credited heavy deadlifts and the tension I learn to generate from them with helping be walk away from some hard falls.
The guy who has really championed the use of unilateral training is Mike Boyle and even he sees a benefit to and uses bilateral exercises. I think that the point is to limit the use of bilateral training and make sure that you are including a heavy dose of unilateral work, especially for the lower body.
I’ll also say that time becomes a concern when using exclusively unilateral exercises. For this reason I use a lot of alternating reps for the upper body (where you alternate sides for the prescribed number of reps) and save the true unilateral stuff for lower body exercises.