SINGLE-SIDE STRENGTH TO IMPROVE YOUR PERFORMANCE
Think about it - running is a single side sport, so is cycling and so is swimming. Regardless of speed or pace, at any one time, one leg is creating the drive whilst the other is recovering. We don't go two-foot hopping around a half marathon do we! So when wanting to increase our strength for these types of sports we need to make sure we are as strong on one leg as we are on the other.
Not surprisingly we all tend to have a favoured or dominant side. Now we don't tend to notice this on a day to day basis, but when it comes to sports performance even the smallest discrepancies could be holding you back. Especially when the milage increases, these side-to-side imbalances can lead to some pretty nasty overuse or compensatory injuries. So how can we highlight these weakness and work on balancing them out?
Strength training through single side exercises allows us to start targeting these imbalances. When compared with training using two feet (or arms), more effort is required meaning more muscle fibres are recruited, leading to greater overall gains in strength and stability.
"Bullying" our weaknesses through single side work will force our body to work hard without relying on our more dominant side. So not only do we prescribe these exercises to highlight imbalances but we use them to strengthen too. These exercises will also challenge and strengthen our connective tissues (tendons and ligaments) due to the instability created. Doing an exercise whilst balancing on one leg will improve the stability of our joints - this is what we mean when we talk about improving structural strength.
So if you have a weaker left glute for example, should you focus all your time and energy on just that left glute?
The short answer is no. Rather think of your strength work as a whole-part-whole method. Yes you will spend some time focusing on the weaker side but you also need to bring it back to the whole body movement. It is also important to understand that training your single side (unilateral) will not do a great deal for your maximal strength; if you are looking to increase your overall strength then you include exercises with evenly distributed body weight (2 feet or 2 arms)
Ironing out these imbalances won't happen overnight but it will make a huge impact in your over all performance and injury prevention, so be patient.
Why not give these a go...(from the comfort of your own home)
You don't need to be in the gym for this one, just grab the kitchen chair and get going.
Chances are you'll soon realise it's much harder than it looks, so to start with just do the 'standing up phase' with one leg, then return to sitting with both feet on the group. Really think about driving up with the weight in your planted heel, this will engage your glutes (backside). Do 3 x 6-8 reps to start with progressing on to sitting and standing on just one leg. Lower the surface to increase the intensity.
Remember weaker side goes first!
Same applies to this exercise, you will probably need to start without any added weight to start with. Raise your back foot on a small step, maintaining a nice tall posture and a split stride position that's wide but not overstretched, sink down into a lunge position. Again drive up with the weight in your front heel. To add load at home, shopping bags are a good alternative! Do 3 x 6-8 reps to start with.
Images: Kriss Hendy