Unilateral training is performing exercises on one side, such as single leg, or single arm, side plank. Our body is always figuring out ways to compensate for a lack of certain muscles or ranges of motion to achieve the desired move. Running is an extremely repetitive activity, especially road running. Our body tends to do small compensation to allow our hips, knees, and ankles to flex and extend in the running stride, and it tends to be magnified with increases in training volume. This can be caused by some weakness/muscle inhibition on one side of the body, which may force the other side of the body to work harder to compensate. Even if we tend to have a proper running form or stride, certain muscles and tendons may be working overtime to support inactive, weaker muscles. When we perform double leg exercises, like squats or even running, the weaker side of the body or muscles, the stronger side or stronger muscles have to work harder to support the weaker ones. Our double leg exercises might look balanced, but once we start doing some single leg, or single arm exercises, then we realize that some of our muscles on one side are weaker than others.
What can cause some muscle or tendon issues or injuries, is that over time, the stronger side may start to get tired from overuse and start to recruit other muscles and tendons that normally should not be supporting your training. For example, your knees are activated to try and stabilize your hips instead of your glutes. The running form might look balanced for a while but over the long term training, it can cause some serious injuries.
Performing unilateral exercises can expose weak muscles, help to identify asymmetries in the body so we can start to fix our muscle imbalances. Unilateral exercises can help to fix some injuries, but also prevent injuries. If we have any muscle or tendon issues, physio therapists will always recommend unilateral exercises to provide muscle repair and strengthening. When we have some weaker muscles on one side than the other, they tend to get disconnected from our brain. By performing unilateral exercises, we reconnect those weak muscles to our brain. Even when we run long-distances, once we get more tired, some muscles, especially glutes, tend to shut down and disconnect from our brain. To reactivate and reconnect our glutes regularly while we run, can help with our endurance, strength and performance, as well as preventing injuries.
Benefits of Unilateral Exercises for Runners
Correct and reduce imbalances that could cause injuries
Build core stability
Build functional strength
Improve your proprioception and mind-body connection
Unilateral exercises force each side to work and strengthen independently, which can help correct imbalances. When we work on each side independently, our stronger more dominant side muscles can’t compensate and take over. When we perform bilateral moves (squats, bridge, both arms strength exercises), we can compensate, we can rely on our dominant side. This will create imbalances which can lead to injuries. If we don’t strengthen our weaker side or underactive muscles, we can get some intense aches and pain on both side of our body.
All the unilateral exercises can improve our balance, core stability and mind-body connection. Standing on one foot, or loading on one side like a side plank, or perform single arm row or single arm press up adds in an element of instability, which challenges our core. Standing on one foot, we activate all those stabilizing muscles that will improve our balance. When performing unilateral exercises, we have to focus on our weaker muscles, we can add a few extra reps on the weaker side to help those muscles get as strong as the other side.
Performing these unilateral exercises will help prevent injuries, truly fix our running form, increase our strength, and running speed and performance.
Unilateral Exercises for Runners
Single-Leg Box Jump
Single-Leg Wall Sit
Single-Arm Dumbbell Press Up
Single-Arm Dumbbell Bicep Curl
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Single-Arm Dumbbell Tricep Extension
Single-Arm Resistance Band Power Pull
Side Plank Star (leg lift)
Side Plank Hip Dip
Plank Shoulder Tap
Plank Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Rotation Press Up
Single-Leg Push Ups
Plank Opposite Arm and Leg Lift
Perform 15 reps or 30 seconds for each exercise/each side 2-3 sets.
Perform Single Muscle Exercises, Balance the Body, Run Stronger!