Training Tips from CrossFit Games Athletes – How to Break Strength Plateaus With Unilateral Exercises

One of the best ways to overcome a plateau in traditional bilateral movements like the squat, strict press, or bench press is to incorporate more unilateral training. When you use both arms or legs, it is easy for your body to naturally compensate for your weaker side. But by training each side individually, you can not only get more from your lifts, but gain a higher quality of movement by evening out imbalances and reduce your risk of injury.

Unilateral movements also allow you to strengthen your body throughout a bigger range of motion.

Think of a strict press with a barbell, where you can only move in one plane, vs. a single-arm dumbbell Arnold Press, where you can rotate your arm throughout the entire range of motion as you press up. This rotation allows you to access a whole new range of strength, which you can then apply to any type of press you perform.

Source: Revival Strength

Lastly, I believe unilateral training often gets overlooked as a very powerful training tool for strength work and body composition training. When we training unilaterally we often will end up doing double the work as it will be a requirement to train both sides of the body in equal repetitions. This often means more time under tension throughout the training session since R + L as separate exercises adds up to more than doing them together in bilateral movements. Think 8 Split Squats/leg = 16 vs 8 bilateral squats.

Functional Bodybuilding is a balanced approach to getting you stronger across all of the movement patterns you need for functional strength such as horizontal and vertical push and pulls, bending, squatting, core, etc. When you incorporate unilateral training into your strength work for several weeks and then come back to that pesky press, you’ll be amazed at how much better it can feel. 

Here are five of my favorite unilateral moves for a range of movement patterns. Give them a try as extra strength work on their own, or incorporate them into your session after your big compound lifts of the day.

1. Knee Flexion – RNT KB Rack Split Squats

Reactive Neuromuscular Training is a powerful training concept that can help both beginners and advanced athletes connect mind to muscle in a variety of movement patterns. Whether you are trying to learn the split squat for the first time, or you are recovering from a tough intensity training cycle and just need a week or two of fundamentals to get your body feeling right again, the RNT Split Squat will help get your knee tracking better, hips functioning in coordination with your quads, and smooth out your squatting.

This exercise should be performed at first with a phasic tempo. This means you lower and raise yourself at the same cadence. A tempo I like to prescribe is 2121. 

  • 2 seconds down
  • 1 second pause bottom
  • 2 seconds up
  • 1 second pause top

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