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Unilateral Vs Bilateral Lower Limb Training

When it comes to training for function, I will also try to incorporate both bilateral and unilateral lower limb training into ones training program (this will include some form of a squat and deadlift as well as lunge or single leg work).  Typically in a strength and conditioning program for athletes, I have observed that they will often train bilateral exercises (squats etc) as their primary exercise to maximise strength and power and then follow up with supplemental exercises that can include single leg (lunges, split squat, single leg squats, step ups etc).

I was recently reading the article titled “Unilateral Support Resistance Training Incorporating The Hip and Knee” which was published in the strength and conditioning journal in 2003 and thought I would discuss some of the key take home messages that have clinical relevance:

  • Hip and knee extensors are recruited during both unilateral and bilateral closed chain exercises.
  • Muscle recruitment patterns differ between bilateral and unilateral exercises i.e.   greater recruitment of the hip abductors is required in a single leg squat.
  • Ones line of gravity can differ between a bilateral squat compared to a single leg squat.  In addition, ones base of support is less in a single leg exercise compared to a bilateral exercise which may increase ones muscle and joint proprioception activity.  Therefore ones muscle activity in the hip, knee and ankle can increase.
  • A lunge and a step up are partial unilateral exercises because there are only short periods of complete unilateral support.
  • From a clinical rehabilitation perspective, unilateral exercises are beneficial to incorporate into ones training program because individuals require joint stability in all planes of motion. Common single leg exercises include single leg squats, step ups, lunges, banded resistance single leg work, wobble board/unstable surface single leg exercises and plyometrics.
  • From a clinical rehab point of view, closed chain exercises are often preferred and exercises such as the lunge are often ideal as it involves coactivation of the hamstrings and quadriceps.
  • When starting out with single leg exercises, start with bodyweight or less and focus on technique over adding external load.

This blog post was written by osteopath Heath Williams at Principle Four Osteopathy.  At Principle Four Osteopath we provide a range of services, including osteopathy manual therapy consultations, functional movement screening, exercise prescription, strength and conditioning and rehabilitation.

Principle Four Osteopathy is one of Melbourne City CBD and Docklands leading osteopathy clinics.  Both clinics are equipped with training equipment so that we are able to get you actively involved and moving towards a better moving you.

Principle Four Osteopathy CBD clinic is located at 29 Somerset Place, Melbourne 3000.

Principle Four Osteopathy Docklands clinic is located at 717 Bourke St, Docklands, 3008.

Book an appointment online at www.principlefourosteopathy.com or call 03 9670 9290.

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