Uni-lateral Training: Fact and Fiction
The best thing about the fitness and strength industry is that you can always rely on it for some really good laughs. The fact that unilateral exercises have sparked such heated debate is amusing, and as always, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. First, let's examine the pro-unilateral crowd: these people generally believe that one-legged squats are safer than regular squats due to the lighter load on the back; or, because they work each leg independently, you can get a much more even effect on both legs; or, that they have a bigger carryover to sporting movements. There are other arguments I'm sure but these are the ones I hear all the time.
Here's the thing – anyone who's lifted any weight in their lives realizes that doing a one-legged movement with 50% of their squat training load is not the same thing – your other leg does come into play and as the weights get heavier, even more so. So a 200 lb. one-legged squat doesn't really equal a 400 lb. squat. And even if the load on the back is less, is blindly reaching a leg back (searching for the elevated platform) while standing on one leg really any safer than squatting with two legs firmly planted on the ground?
Whether these one-legged movements carry over to sporting events all depends on whom you read, but people really, really need to realize that weight room work for sports is nothing more than GPP. The sport specific term – and crowd – has overplayed and overstayed its welcome. Some movements lend themselves better than others, but to throw away stalwart movements like squats and deadlifts is nothing more than a publicity stunt. Sure, if the athlete has massive limitations and one-legged movements are ALL he can do, then I'm all for it, but I'll be damned if I teach a young athlete or an uncoordinated lifter how to perform a movement on ONE leg, rather than two.
Now to those that disregard all one-legged movements; again a knee-jerk reaction to the other side of the spectrum. These lifts do have a place – not necessarily in replacement of bigger lifts – but when done correctly and with a full range of movement, they offer a lot of benefits, namely flexibility in the hips.
For many, a one-legged squat or lunge offers a tremendous weighted stretch to the hip flexors, something that's much needed in athletes. In conjunction with a solid squat program, you now have the best of both worlds. Whatever you choose to believe, just understand that the industry is full of people who want to ruffle some feathers and get people talking about them – (for them) any publicity is good publicity. Taking a ridiculous stand against something that is easily dissectible with common sense will only work against you.
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