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Bilateral vs unilateral training

Bilateral exercises are exercises that use both limbs at the same time such as, the
back squat, front squat, chest press, shoulder press and deadlift and have been
used in training programs to improve, muscular strength, power and endurance in
the lower and upper limbs.
Unilateral exercises are exercises that put pressure on one limb at a time such as,
lunges, split squats, one armed dumbbell curls and the suitcase deadlift and have
been used it training programs to improve, muscular strength, power and endurance.
This article will be using past investigations and articles to study bilateral vs
unilateral training, the investigations and articles that will be used for this article are
(Bruno, 2013; DICKIN et al., 2011; CAPPA and BEHM, 2011; Matkowski et al., 2011;
Musk, 2013; Pieciak , 2013 & Waller, 2008) and will be used to give a grater insight
into the advantages and disadvantages of bilateral and unilateral training.
The aim of this article is to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of both
bilateral and unilateral training so that athletes can make an educated decision to
whether or not they want to train bilaterally, unilaterally or to incorporate both types
of training into their training program.

Bilateral training advantages
During bilateral training the maximum amount of weight can be used because the
weight is being supported by two limbs instead of one and therefor the weight is
being supported by the whole body. (Pieciak , 2013) bilateral training provides more
stability and puts less pressure on the muscle that are used to stabilise joints during
contractions and more pressure is put on the agonist muscle therefor more strength
gains will evident in the agonist muscle. (Pieciak , 2013) Exercises, such as the
squat and deadlift, are tried and tested methods that have created powerful athletes,
huge bodybuilders, and all-around strong people for years and years. (Pieciak ,
One investigation suggests that the use of bilateral training approaches have shown
improvements in paretic limb mobility, paretic limb functioning, in bilateral limb
function and in neural responsiveness across a range of severity levels. (Waller,
The investigation by Waller, (2008) shows how bilateral training can be used in
rehabilitation for patients recovering from a stroke and has been shown to have
positive results.

Bilateral training disadvantages
During bilateral training a bilateral defect occurs in athletes this is as a result of one
limb being naturally dominant and therefor the dominant limb is able to produce more
force through a full range of motion.
One investigation suggests that the proposed hypothesis for the deficit has primarily
been suggested to be the result of an incomplete activation of primarily fast-twitch
fibres. However, other researchers have suggested that the deficit may be due to,
incomplete activation of the actin myosin cross bridges, limiting factors of the central
or peripheral nervous system not fully activating the contracting muscle or co-
activation of the antagonistic muscles, which reduces the force produced by the
agonist muscles. (DICKIN et al., 2011)
During bilateral exercises there is more force placed on the spine and it has been
suggested that bilateral training isnt sport specific as a result of most sporting
actions require an athlete to push off one leg and land on one leg (i.e. when a
goalkeeper jumps to catch a cross or when a rugby player pushes of one leg to
change direction and avoid being tackled) however, there are examples within sport
that uses bilateral movements, (i.e. a throw in in football or when eccentrically and
concentrically contracting the lower limbs during Olympic rowing) this indicates that
bilateral training could be more beneficial for athletes that perform more bilateral
movements while competing. (Pieciak , 2013)
Unilateral advantages

The total load on the spine is reduced during unilateral training because the athletes
will train using roughly half the weight they would use during bilateral training.
(Pieciak , 2013)
The split stance used in unilateral lower body exercises is more similar to an athletic
stance because one foot is pushing off. (Pieciak , 2013)
It has been shown that athletes can move more weight per limb during unilateral
movements when compared to bilateral movements. (Pieciak , 2013)
The muscles used to stabilize the joints during contractions are utilized more during
unilateral training. (Pieciak , 2013)

Unilateral disadvantages
When training unilaterally balance becomes an important factor and therefor athletes
that have poor balance have a disadvantage when training. (Pieciak , 2013 &Bruno,
Athletes cannot train using the maximum amount of weight their body can withstand
because the weight is only being supported by one limb.
Unilateral vs bilateral
There are advantaged and disadvantages for both bilateral and unilateral training as
highlighted previously in this article furthermore, some studies have found no
significant difference between bilateral an unilateral training results.
One study analysed bilateral and unilateral hurdle jumps and concluded that there
was no significant difference between the two. The study compared vertical ground
reaction force, contact time and rate of force development to determine any
significant differences.

This article has highlighted the main advantages and disadvantages when training
bilaterally and unilaterally and overall for both the advantages outweigh the
disadvantages, therefor according to the information gathered a training program
that incorporated both bilateral and unilateral training would help to provide the
benefits from both training techniques.
However if the athlete has a specific training goal one technique may be more
beneficial than the other depend on the training goal and the athlete.


Bruno, B. (2013) Are Bulgarian Squats Superior to Regular Squats?. [Online]
Available from:
regular-squats [accessed 15 May 2014]
COUNTERMOVEMENT JUMP TRAINING. J Strength Cond Res. Vol. 25, No. 10:
DICKIN, D.C., SANDOW, R. and DOLNY, D.G. (2011) Bilateral deficit in power
production during multi-joint leg extensions. European Journal of Sport Science. Vol.
11, No. 6: 437-445.
Matkowski, B., Place, N., Martin, A. and Lepers, R. (2011) Neuromuscular fatigue
differs following unilateral vs bilateral sustained submaximal contractions . Scand J
Med Sci Sports. Vol. 21: 268-276.
Musk, R. (2013) Bilateral vs. Unilateral Exercises. [Online] Available from: [accessed 15 May 2014]
Pieciak , M. (2013) Unilateral vs. Bilateral Training Is the Squat Dead?. [Online]
Available from:
training/ [accessed 15 May 2014]
Waller, S.M. (2008) Bilateral arm training: Why and who benifits?.
NeuroRehabilitation. Vol. 23: 29-41.