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Advantages Of Single Arm Or Single Leg Training

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I’d do a few things differently if I could start my 20+ years of training all over again.  Here’s one that has come to mind:  I would have done more single arm and (especially) single leg movements.  I don’t regret spending most of my time and energy on the “big” lifts (squat, deadlift, etc.).  But I’ve come to appreciate the advantages of training one limb at a time.   Maybe I’ll give you some food for thought if (like me) you’ve spent several years using only alternating dumbbell curls as your single arm or leg training.

The first time I really thought about this was while watching a video made by the legendary Ed Coan (if you don’t know who this guy is, you need to find out).  He was inspired when he saw a guy doing one-legged leg press at the gym.  This particular trainee had only one leg (the other had been amputated).  Ed decided to do single-leg leg press as one of his primary assistance movements.  I figured if it was good enough for Coan, it was definitely good enough for me.  This exercise has since been a staple in my leg training.

Using the Triple Threat Muscle program was another eye-opener.  The first phase (four weeks) utilizes 100% single-leg movements for leg training.  It was a breath of fresh air, and it proved to be much more challenging that I would have imagined.

I’d like to share a few potential advantages of single arm or single leg training:

Variety:

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a big believer in the basic, compound lifts for building a muscular physique.  I think most beginner trainees spend too much time on isolation movements, etc.  Having said that, most of us need some variety to keep our training interesting (those who have been working out for a few years will understand what I mean).  Single arm/leg training has been a great way for me to change my routine while sticking to natural movements.

Strength/Size Imbalances:

I still remember reading Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding as a teenager.  He noticed one of his arms was slightly smaller than the other, so he developed a habit of flexing the “smaller” arm when asked to pose.  This served as a constant reminder to improve his symmetry.  Needless to say, he also added some extra sets/reps to make his arms more evenly sized.  I’m guessing most of you aren’t concerned about competing in Mr. Olympia.  But many of us do end up with a leg or arm that is slightly smaller or weaker—an imbalance.  Training one limb at a time is a good way to correct these imbalances for the sake of symmetry or (more importantly) strength.

Training with Less Weight:

I’ve been doing an upper/lower body split, training three times a week.  A few days ago it was time to do Romanian deadlift.  But there was a problem: my back was really sore.  I’m not talking about the kind of mild soreness you can work through—I’m talking about the “I’m going to injure myself if I’m not careful” kind of sore (I can recognized the difference).  The solution was pretty simple:  single leg Romanian deadlift.  These single leg movements allow me to train with less weight and still get an excellent workout for the muscle groups I want to target.  This is a huge advantage when you need to give your spine a break.

Athleticism:

Single leg and single arm training makes a lot of since from an athletic perspective.  Let’s take, for example, an offensive lineman.  He fires off the line with both legs, but after that he’s going to be driving—one leg at a time.  We could also consider an MMA move: the superman punch.  This movement requires the practitioner to be able to perform an explosive technique while jumping from one leg (I realize my explanation for this technique is simplistic and crude, but hopefully you get my point).

Concluding Thoughts:

I’d encourage you to consider what I’ve said and incorporate it into your training.   Maybe you could start by mixing in some split squats or one-legged Romanian deadlift on leg day.  Try single arm incline press on the day you train chest or “push.”  You may be surprised with how much stimulation you get with relatively little weight.

About the Author:Kevin is a blogger and a gym rat.    He’s the author of Lose Fat, Gain Muscle (Strongandfit.net).

One comment

  1. Unilateral training is something I also wish I had known about 20 years ago. No doubt, this way of exercising would have saved me from frustration and injury.

    These days I am wiser, and frequently employ lunge exercises like the one-legged squat in place of the traditional two-legged squat. Not only is this movement more lower-back friendly, but this style of exercising allows you to train the stabilizer muscles more vigorously which helps develop functional strength – a crucial benefit of unilateral training.

    Great article. Thank you.

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