Uni-lateral Training: Fact and Fiction

The best thing about the fitness and strength industry is that you can always rely on it for some really good laughs. The fact that unilateral exercises have sparked such heated debate is amusing, and as always, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

First, let’s examine the pro-unilateral crowd: these people generally believe that one-legged squats are safer than regular squats due to the lighter load on the back; or, because they work each leg independently, you can get a much more even effect on both legs; or, that they have a bigger carryover to sporting movements.  There are other arguments I’m sure but these are the ones I hear all the  time.

Here’s the thing – anyone who’s lifted any weight in their lives realizes that doing a one-legged movement with 50% of their squat training load is not the same thing – your other leg does come into play and as the weights get  heavier, even more so. So a 200 lb. one-legged squat doesn’t really equal a 400 lb. squat.

And even if the load on the back is less, is blindly reaching a leg back (searching for the elevated platform) while standing on one leg really any safer than  squatting with two legs firmly planted on the ground?  Whether these one-legged movements carry over to sporting events all depends on    whom you read, but people really, really need to realize that weight room work for  sports is nothing more than GPP. The sport specific term – and crowd – has  overplayed and overstayed its welcome.

Some movements lend themselves better than others, but to throw away stalwart movements like squats and deadlifts is nothing more than a publicity stunt. Sure, if the athlete has massive limitations and one-legged movements are ALL he can do, then I’m all for it, but I’ll be damned if I teach a young athlete or an  uncoordinated lifter how to perform a movement on ONE leg, rather than two.

Now to those that disregard all one-legged movements; again a knee-jerk reaction  to the other side of the spectrum. These lifts do have a place – not necessarily in replacement of bigger lifts – but when done correctly and with a full range of  movement, they offer a lot of benefits, namely flexibility in the hips.

For many, a one-legged squat or lunge offers a tremendous weighted stretch to the  hip flexors, something that’s much needed in athletes. In conjunction with a solid squat program, you now have the best of both worlds.  Whatever you choose to believe, just understand that the industry is full of people who want to ruffle some feathers and get people talking about them – any publicity is good publicity. Taking a ridiculous stand against something that is  easily dissectible with common sense will only work against you. – Jim Wendler

Got a question for Jim Wendler? Email him at northofvag@gmail.com. Legitimate questions will be answered via the website/blog. All older questions will be answered in time via www.JimWendler.com. If the answer is clearly answered in any of the 5/3/1 books, your question will not be answered.

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  • Comment by Nick — September 11, 2011 @ 6:42 pm

    Good article Jim. I think for any sport that involves running, single leg strength training is great to focus on during the off-season. As the athlete transitions to more conditioning during the pre-season, and moves into the season, they should lay off the single leg work and keep up squats, cleans, and deadlifts using 5/3/1. Then again, squats, cleans, and deadlifts are done year round too.

  • Comment by Mike — September 12, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

    Great read Jim! However, my goal is to get athletes stronger and faster with the least risk of injury and I do feel that the rear foot elevated split squat is safer than bilateral squatting for most of my athletes.

    I think every coach has their own philosophy. I am definitely not saying the way I train clients is better. It just feels right to me as your methods feel right to you!

    Keep up the good work.

  • Pingback by Defending Your Beliefs « Michael Boyle’s Strengthcoach.com Blog — September 13, 2011 @ 8:41 am

    […] I’ve yet to come across someone who isn’t a fan or at least respects Jim Wendler.For those of you interested on his opinion:http://www.jimwendler.com/2011/09/uni-lateral-training-fact-and-fiction/ […]

  • Comment by zach even - esh — September 16, 2011 @ 10:00 pm

    Jim Wendler is my homeboy, let it be heard here FIRST, Jim’s REAL name is James Wendlersteinberger

    That’s the #TRUTH people

  • Pingback by Don’t miss these great links! | Chris Beardsley's Garage Gym — September 22, 2011 @ 9:03 am

    […] Wendler has launched his own site under the radar and here he talks about the advantages and disadvantages of single and two legged squatting.  As always, […]

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