Wanna be 20% stronger instantly?
Try training one limb at a time
Bodypart: Arms, Legs
Forgive the geopolitical comparison, but when it comes to lifting heavy weight
, it doesn't always take a coalition of muscle. Sometimes, unilateral action is just what the situation calls for.
Bench press. Barbell row. Leg press. All of these moves are spectacular for building strength
and new muscle
because they allow you to move so much weight
, but they each depend on the strength of two limbs working in concert to complete the lift. Weaker limbs are compensated for by the strength of stronger ones and undertrained muscle groups are given a pass. For example, if you are right-handed, chances are your left arm is a bit weaker - your triceps would be less capable of carrying their own weight, so to speak, on moves like bench presses and dips. That's why dumbbell work is so valuable - because it exposes, and with regular training, corrects these imbalances. Some machines, such as the Smith and Hammer Strength machines, can offer similar benefits as well.
2 REASONS, 20 PERCENT
Why bother using one limb at a time? For starters, it takes longer. But forgetting that for a second, doesn't this limit the amount of weight you can use? Yes and no. If you can barbell curl 100 pounds, then you can actually expect to dumbbell curl 55-60 pounds for as many reps in each hand. That means that you're about 20% stronger
when training with one arm than you are when training with two. There are two reasons for this.
Researchers have found that subjects who train with one limb at a time are able to recruit more total muscle fibers
and produce more force
than when training bilaterally. Call it survival instinct - without the other limb to assist in the move, your brain enlists more muscle to get the job done.
If you consider the single-arm overhead press, you're creating a natural imbalance. With no weight on the other side to balance things out, your core musculature must engage
in order to keep your torso erect. So your working arm isn't totally alone in this equation - your abs, obliques and transverse abdominis need to join in as stabilizers, adding peripheral assistance to the lift.
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Unilateral training not only allows you to eliminate imbalances and recruit more total muscle - making you stronger and bigger
in the long run - but it is also much safer than many barbell moves. If you fail before completing the lift, you can simply drop the dumbbell or rerack the machine. Another bonus? You're never without a spotter when training unilaterally. With your upper body exercises, in particular, you can simply use your free arm to help the other through a rep.
You can build a coalition of muscle - even if you have to negotiate it one group at a time. Here's a sampling of exercises that you can use to start building unilateral strength.
Chest: Hammer Strength chest press, Smith machine one-arm bench press, one-arm dumbbell bench press, one-arm machine press
Back: Hammer strength pulldown, Smith machine one-arm barbell row, one-arm bent-over row, one-arm seated cable row, one-arm cable pulldown
Shoulders: Standing one-arm overhead press, seated one-arm overhead press, one-arm overhead machine press, one-arm cable overhead press
Biceps: One-arm dumbbell curl, one-arm preacher curl, one-arm cable curl
Triceps: One-arm pressdown, one-arm overhead dumbbell extension, one-arm lying dumbbell extension
Legs: Single-leg press, single-leg extension, single-leg curl, single-leg calf press