Everybody want to get stronger and put up more weight on their bench, squat, or deadlift. We automatically think that the only way to do this is to throw more plates on the bar and just go for it . . . Let’s take a time out and think about what we have learned. Some people are right handed, some are left. Track stars have a dominant foot they push off of when on the starting block. Basketball players have a larger vertical when jumping off of one foot rather than the other. The same applies to weight training. Think about it, have you ever seen another (or been that) person who is throwing up weight on the bench and cannot quite lockout one side at the top? During these bilateral motions, our dominant side can actually pick up slack from the weaker side, creating an even bigger gap in performance between left and right.
So how do I improve my weaker side? Unilateral training, that’s how. Switch from barbell bench press to dumbbell bench press. This forces your muscles to respond to the same amount of weight individually. I will be honest. I love barbell curls. I was shocked at the difference in endurance and strength my right arm possesses over my left . . . It is not the prison house effect . . . at least, I don’t think. My right side has always compensated for my left and assisted with getting the heavier weight up to chin level. By improving your weaker side you will not only improve strength, but you will also reduce chance of injury.
This form of training forces your body to recruit more muscle fibers to perform the same motion as a bilateral or barbell exercise. This gives several benefits. If you are only focusing on one side at a time, it will force your weaker side to perform at the same level as the dominant side. It also forces your core to engage more to offset and stabilize the rest of the body with the imbalance of weight being lifted from side to side. Ding . . . now you are getting abs too.
This type of exercise can be done with the various body parts. Bench press can be done with dumbells and rotating every other (do not push both sides at same time). Biceps through dumbbell or kettlebell rotating curls (left to right). If you are more focused on legs, try the leg press machine (single leg), complete an entire set on your left then do the same number with right. It would not be wise to attempt a squat with one leg tied to your hamstring. Throw a barbell over your shoulder and perform lunges to focus on the same muscle groups. Chainsaws or bent over dumbbell rows are a great unilateral movement to workout your back and biceps.
I am not saying that you need to change out all of your powerlifting techniques and go 100% unilateral and dumbbell. I think it is smart to switch your programs up so you do not become stagnant. Try to incorporate at least one unilateral exercise into each session to improve strength and overcome weaknesses that you may not even be aware of. If your suffering from the prison house effect, try changing hands every now and then.
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