Most exercises that form staple workout routines are bilateral.
You’ve probably done plenty of bilateral training without even thinking about it.
But are bilateral exercises the best pick for your goals?
To help you better understand these common exercises, this article will cover what bilateral exercises are, their benefits, potential drawbacks, sample exercises, and a sample training session.
Table of Contents:
Bilateral Exercises Defined
A bilateral exercise is an exercise where both extremities are performing the same movement pattern. An example of a bilateral pattern in the lower body is a squat, where the hips, knees, and ankles are all flexing symmetrically at the same time.
The Benefits of Bilateral Exercises
There are three main benefits of bilateral exercises.
1) First, it is the best way to develop absolute strength. Since more muscles are used in the movement and balance tends to not be a limitation, you can create more intensity and lift heavier weights.
2) Second, it’s a great way to develop motor control in the bend and squat movement patterns. Engaging both extremities at once helps you handle the high time under tension needed to create motor control, as balance is not a limitation as it is in unilateral variations of these patterns.
3) Third, it is the best way to develop muscle endurance and strength endurance. Muscle endurance (ME) is the foundation for all other contractions. ME activities that are typically higher repetition, lower intensity, and have a higher time under tension. The limitation for ME training is motor control, and as muscle endurance is extended out over time, motor control begins to break down..
Strength endurance is similar to ME. However, it is done at higher tension than ME and the limitation is now the ability to overcome the external load, and not motor control. Strength endurance activities tend to be lower repetition, higher intensity, and lower time under tension. Learn more about muscle endurance and how to use the muscle endurance tree in this free guide.
Humans naturally find the most efficient way to move. One of the drawbacks of bilateral training is that you can develop compensatory movement patterns if one limb is weaker than the other or other movement asymmetries exist. In this case, unilateral training is a great way to fix an imbalance.
The Difference between Unilateral and Bilateral Exercises
The difference between unilateral and bilateral exercises is the number of limbs used in the exercise. In a unilateral exercise, only one side performs the movement, such as a single-arm bicep curl. Both extremities perform the same movement pattern in a bilateral exercise, such as a barbell bicep curl. You can learn more about unilateral exercises in this blog.
Bilateral Exercise Examples
Start the Goblet Squat standing with your hips as wide as your shoulders with the weight in the goblet position. Then hinge at the hips and squat down. Drive with your glutes and return to the standing position. This is one repetition.
The Barbell Bench Press is an upper-body horizontal pushing movement. Start lying supine on a bench with feet flat on the ground. Unrack the bar, lower it to the base of your chest, and push it away until the arms are locked out. This is one repetition.
Cable Overhead Press with Handles
Start the Cable Overhead Press With Handles with the cable ends in the middle position. Grab a handle with each hand and hold them in front of you. Then slowly press them over your head until your arms are locked out.
The Conventional Deadlift is a deadlift in which you stand with feet hip-width apart, shins lightly touching the barbell, gripping the barbell. Then maintaining a straight spine, squeeze your glutes and extend to a standing position. Then hinge at the hips and return to the starting position. This is one repetition.
Sample Training Session
A1) Dumbbell Bench Press, @2121, 8-10 reps x 3 sets; rest 90 seconds
A2) Conventional Deadlift, @2121, 8-10 reps x 3 sets; rest 90 seconds
B1) Seated Cable Row, @3131, 8-10 reps x 3 sets; rest 90 seconds
B2) Back Squat to Box, @2121, 8-10 reps x 3 sets; rest 90 seconds
Learn How to Choose The Right Exercises
There are thousands of exercises to choose from.
Take a quick glance through an exercise library, and you’ll be overwhelmed by all the options.
So how do you choose the right exercise for each training day?
- First, learn the seven movement patterns.
- Then, learn how every exercise fits within one of the seven patterns.
- Then, finally, learn how often a client should train a pattern based on their level of experience.
Straightforward right? Sign up for our free Coaching Blueprint and learn our simple system to improve your exercise program design skills.