Exercise can sometimes be daunting, with all the terminology, crazy trends and freakish-looking equipment. Bilateral exercise is simple because you use both sides of your body at the same time with machines, barbells or dumbbells. Unilateral exercises are a bit more complicated, using one side of your body at a time. If you're a woman looking to start a new fitness program, bilateral exercise is the optimal way to increase strength, build baseline stability and enhance your natural feminine curves. The stronger you get, the better your muscles look, which ultimately results in a better-looking you.
If you're new to exercise, you will benefit the most from bilateral exercise because it builds proper form and muscular stability. Once you are stable using your whole body, you can progress to unilateral exercises, which tend to involve more core activation by incorporating dumbbells, cables and single-leg progressions. If your goal is strength and muscle building, then bilateral exercise is the way to go, suggests T-Nation. You can lift heavier weights using your whole body than you can using only one side.
Bilateral exercises don't account for unilateral weakness, when one side of the body is weaker than the other. According to the National Council on Strength and Fitness, performing only bilateral exercise can continue to strengthen one side of your body while hindering the other. For example, if you perform a machine chest press and are right arm dominant, your right side may take over the movement subconsciously. In this case it's beneficial to also incorporate unilateral exercise into a weight-training program. Both unilateral and bilateral exercises have pros and cons that are completely dependent on your fitness goals, so one is not necessarily better than the other.
Lower-body bilateral exercises include movements in which both feet are on the ground and actively involved with the workout. Squats, barbell back squats, barbell front squats and deadlifts are prime examples. Lunges or lunge walks are bilateral since both legs are actively involved, even though it appears to be a one-legged movement. These exercises are the best for shaping your butt and hamstrings, a problem area for most women. The heavier you lift, the better your booty looks, so pick up some weights and get to it.
Traditional weight stack machine exercises such as chest presses, shoulder presses, seated rows, biceps curls and triceps extensions are bilateral because the weight distributes evenly across the handles, which move uniformly with each other. One arm could theoretically work harder, but both handles still move together. Bilateral barbell exercises include biceps curls, shoulder presses, bench press, upright rows and lying triceps extensions. Contrary to popular belief, lifting heavy will not make you bulky, but rather toned and shapely. Jump on the machines and free weights at least twice a week to build feminine muscle and tone your entire upper body.
- National Council on Strength and Fitness: Using Asymmetrical Exercise to Correct Bilateral Training Problems
- T-Nation: Unilateral Movements Make You Weak
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning; National Strength and Conditioning Association; Baechel, Thomas R. and Earle, Roger W; 2008
Riana Rohmann has been working for the Marine Corps doing physical training and writing fitness articles since 2008. She holds personal trainer and advanced health and fitness specialist certifications from the American Council on Exercise and a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology and exercise physiology from California State University-San Marcos.