Unilateral exercises are important because we all generally have one arm and one leg that is more dominant ans stronger than the other. Close your eyes and let yourself fall forward. The leg that comes up first to break your fall is your dominant leg. These limbs are often be up to 15% stronger than their counterpart.
One side can compensate for some weakness in the other, but any great imbalances can predispose an athlete for injury. You can lower your risk of injury immensely by adding some unilateral movements into your training, even if its only once or twice a week.
Unilateral Exercises for Crossfitters
1. Bulgarian Split Squats
This exercise can build tons of strength and even flexibility in the hip flexors and quads without stressing the lower back too much. By placing the back foot on a bench, we actively stretch the hip flexors and quads one leg at a time. You can also load up this exercises quite a bit to improve overall lower-body strength and muscle growth.
Use a front rack position or dumbbells on each side, you will feel the difference.
- Line up in front of a bench and consider placing an Ab Mat or some other type of padding on the floor to protect the knee in the bottom range of motion.
- Stand on top of the platform, reach back and place the top of the foot on the top of the bench. The majority of the weight should be kept over the front foot (around 80%), with the additional weight on the rear foot (around 20%).
- While keeping the torso mostly upright, descend under control until your knee lightly touches the pad.
- At this point, drive through the heel of the front foot, back to the starting position. Keep a neutral head, pelvis, and spine throughout the range of motion.
- Don’t allow the knee to drift too far in front of the toes or shift from side to side. If you’re prone to knee aches and pains, sit back more and maintain a vertical shin throughout the movement.
2. Deficit Bulgarian Split Squat
The same as above, but with the additional benefit of increasing single-leg stability and flexibility throughout a larger range of motion. Use The recommendation here is the use of Dumbbells as the front rack position can bring you trouble in the deficit position.
- Using a deficit that’s too high, which alters technique.
- Not keeping control throughout the movement.
- Not touching the pad and skimping on range of motion.
- Using a bench that’s too high, which may cause hip flexor/groin pain.
- Rising up onto the toes.
3. Single Leg Deadlifts
The Single Leg Deadlift is a powerful exercise which isolates out one leg in the deadlift process. It requires balance and focuses work on the hamstrings, glutes and lower back. This is a great core exercise that will also help to strengthen the posterior chain.
- Stand tall with your feet together and your toes facing forward. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand, or hold one in each hand. (Holding kettlebells in each hand is easier on your core because it balances out the load from side to side. This allows you to go heavy and train pure hip strength on one leg. You can then watch for and correct left/right strength asymmetries. The focus will be on initiating and driving forcefully with your glutes. This hip drive with stability is the same for both double kettlebells and single-arm kettlebell single-leg deadlifts. )
- Position your hands on the front of your thighs with your arms straight. Face your palms toward your legs. If using only one dumbbell, hold the weight slightly to the right side of your hip and face your palm in, toward your outer thigh.
- Tighten your stomach by pulling your navel toward your spine to protect your back. Look straight ahead to keep your neck in line with your spine.
- Shift your weight onto your left foot and lift your right foot slightly behind you.
- Inhale and fold forward from your waist as you keep the dumbbells close to your legs. Keep your arms straight as you continue to fold forward and lower the weights toward the floor. Raise your right leg straight behind you as you move forward into the deadlift.
- Keep your back straight as you fold forward. Continue to look straight ahead throughout the exercise. Fold forward until the dumbbells reach the floor, or until you feel a slight stretch in the back of your left leg. Bend your left knee if you are extremely inflexible; otherwise, keep your left leg straight, but not locked at the knee.
- Exhale, contract your left glute and slowly return to the starting position.
4. Single Arm Dumbell Overhead Lunge
By holding a single kettelbell or dumbbell overhead while performing a lunge, you’ll be building upper body, lower body, and core strength, as well as increasing power in your legs. This variation of the basic lunge exercise works the entire body and has tremendous benefits for almost all athletes.
- Start in a standing position with or without a dumbbell or kettlebell overhead in your right hand.
- Keep your right arm fully extended with a good grip on the dumbbell or kettlebell.
- While maintaining good posture (back straight, chin level with the floor) and keeping your core tight, take a step back with your left leg and lower your knee towards the floor but do not touch the floor with your knee.
Don’t bend your elbows throughout the lift or let the weight fall during the exercise.
Don’t let your front heel lift off of the ground during the exercise.
5. Single Arm Dumbbell Snatch
The one arm dumbbell snatch is a great whole body exercise that blasts the shoulders, core and obliques. You also get explosive hip extension and this exercise can be used for cardiovascular endurance as well.
- Using an overhand grip, grab a dumbbell in one hand and stand with the feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Descend your hips to the floor until your knees are bent at 90-degrees and the dumbbell is resting on the floor.
- Quickly pull the dumbbell toward the ceiling while simultaneously extending your knees and hips and raising your body on the balls of your feet. Keep the dumbbell close to your body.
- As the dumbbell reaches its highest point, quickly rotate your elbow under the weight and extend your arm. The dumbbell will rest over the top of your shoulder with the palm facing away from your body.
These can also be done with a kettlebell but it requires a bit more technique than the dumbbell version so you don’t slam your wrist with the kettlebell on each rep.
6. Kettlebell Overhead Press
The kettlebell press is unlike a normal barbell or dumbbell press. This is because of the offset nature of the kettlebell which increases the range of motion.
- Clean one kettlebell to the racked position at the shoulder (i.e., with you hand below your chin, elbow in contact with your torso).
- Pause motionless in this position for long enough to make sure you will not be using the momentum generated by the clean for the press. Be sure to keep your focus straight ahead.
- Press the weight upward with your knees locked. Grip the floor with your feet, contract your quadriceps and pull your knee caps upward. Keep your glutes and abs tight, minimizing back bend.
- Recruit your lats, biceps, and grip while pressing. (See the strength tips listed below.)
- Actively exhale (i.e., through clenched teeth) while pressing the weight up.
- Lock out your elbow and pause motionless with the weight overhead .
- Working in the same line of action, actively pull the weight back down to the racked starting position.
It is important to instantly contract your abs, glutes, and lats when you receive the kettlebell. This action is similar to that of taking a body punch; exhale on contact. You can practice heavy kettlebell cleans to help improve your skill at loading the tension for the press. Recruit your grip. Crush the handle of the kettlebell, especially at the sticking point. Make a fist with the free hand in one-arm presses, especially at the sticking point. Try squeezing a gripper or a ball in the free hand.