Perhaps some of you have heard that, if you strength train with one arm, the other arm gets a bit stronger just by association. That is actually true! A huge analysis of studies on this has shown an 11.9% to 17.7% increase in strength of the non-trained limb, depending on the type of training. There is currently quite a bit of research going on about using this phenomenon in the area of rehabilitation.
Very cool! But, are there any other benefits? If so, what are they? At the end of the day, is it better to train both sides at once, or one side at a time?
Turns out there is a lot to be said for training one side at a time. Here are a few of the benefits:
- Particularly for upper body exercise, you will use your core to counter the destabilization caused by using only one side of your body to do the exercise.
- When using primarily one side in lower body exercises like stationary lunges, active lunges, step-ups, or single leg dead lifts, the most active leg will have to stabilize more than if both legs were being used for a double-leg exercise.
- When doing upper or lower body exercise with one side, you can become aware of differences between the right and left sides in terms of ability to do the exercise. This gives you an opportunity to fix that! For instance, if one side is weaker than the other, you can bring that side up to speed by doing an extra set on that side. Or, you can do a few extra repetitions on the weaker side until it catches up.
- For the most part, the things we do in real life (IRL) or most sports (tennis, golf, bowling, soccer, basketball) are done using motions that are not symmetrical. So, in that sense, training one side at a time mimics most of the activities we do.
- Here’s the geek part: Studies have shown that most of the time, training one side at a time actually makes you stronger than training both sides at once. Meaning, your nervous system AND the system that lays down more muscle are more activated with one-sided training. There are some exceptions, but they are few and far between.
To be fair, there are a couple of things about training both sides at once that need to be mentioned.
- It saves time. You can still get a boatload of benefit from training both sides at once. If that’s all you have time for, it’s still good.
- Sometimes, if you have a history of back pain or soreness, training one side at a time can add compression to your spine that can cause discomfort. In this case, you should leave this type of training out of your workouts. You may be able to gradually add it in if your back settles down.
So there you have it! Grab one dumbbell, stand on one leg, do exercises like lunges, one-arm rows, one-sided front raises, one arm tricep extensions, and whatever else you can think of! In the long run, you will get more bang for your buck.
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