Written by: Mike Over
Running, sprinting, bounding, climbing stairs, getting in/out of cars.... all require you to use one leg... Yet how often are you also stuck having to use one arm... walking and carrying groceries, restaurant servers, daddy day care with baby carrying... Life in general requires a lot of neurological processing and the nervous system to work overtime!
Problem is, many of us don’t train to enhance our lives but rather push to burn off last night’s pizza and cookie binge. So, you have to add different things to your training. Just as Christian Thibaudeau from T Nation says trainability is your potential to improve in response to certain stress. Every time you repeat the same type of stress, your body becomes more and more adapted to it, which decreases its trainability. Every time you repeat a certain type of stress you make that workout less effective. So, if you never change your stimulus, you never grow. Although this study was upper body focused, even a slight (~2.5%) asymmetric load placement on the non-dominant side of the body leads to significantly greater non-dominant muscle activity, while higher asymmetric loading increased (~5%) muscle activity, without a decrease in the dominant side of the body in comparison to symmetric loading. This was all done with the bench press. The obtained results may suggest that it can be a useful approach for the reduction in muscle imbalances and improve the performance of both sides of the body, at the same time. Asymmetric loading can do wonders for your weak points and improve stability in areas not commonly hit and improve coordination, muscle symmetry and highlight underused areas. They help with:
- Improving functional movement patterns (for me, being a dad justifies this statement!)
- Stability and Balance
- Core Strength
- Reduce Dissimilarities
- Proprioceptive awareness (You can’t be thinking about your next meal or the girl in the corner of the gym or you will fail miserably)
- Mobility - Anytime you have to slow things down like you do with asymmetric work, you will naturally focus more on the core components of the movement, which means allowing yourself to hit deeper ranges of motion that you wouldn’t normally when using heavier loads.
Not to mention the keys to muscle growth go FAR beyond intensity, volume and progressive overload. You have to change the ways you DO your sets (tempo, type, zones, etc). A perfect example, many of us have a weak point in deadlifting from the initial pull off the floor. This highlights either your core, quads or lats are not up to snuff to get the job done. The fix? Something as simple of offset lunges can improve leg strength, core strength (anti lateral flexion) and even if you decide to hold the KB in the front rack position, you can get a solid lat builder. Along with banded deadlifts, zercher squats and direct isolation work, these types of drills can work wonders to break plateaus! So, if you haven’t added some single sided work, start light. A few good examples are single leg Romanian deadlifts, single arm front rack squats, offset lunges/squats and even step ups!
Many of us struggle with asymmetric issues, so prioritizing them in your sessions first can be beneficial. Personally, I will either put them after my warm up and/or power work at the start of my sessions or you can use as an assistance exercise towards the middle. If you go this route, I suggest you have some lifting experience so you are not completely fatigued in the nervous system so you can concentrate and perform good crisps repetitions. Anywhere from 6-8 reps per leg works well. Anything over 10 gets ugly and we are trying to get the most use out of the exercises, so don’t waste your time using junk volume. Get to a weight that is doable, yet challenging and get to work!
Sometimes I would superset these with a power-based exercise like so:
A1. Front Rack Loaded Single Arm Bulgarian Split Squat x 8
A2. Depth Jump to Split Jump and Hold x 2-3 per leg
Suitcase Reverse Lunge:
This is one of my favorites. The reverse lunge is a more knee friendly version for lunges which can help some load a bit heavier. Going from one side forces your core to work overtime, or you go tipping over like the leaning Tower of Pisa.
Sliding Reverse Lunge:
The sliding version is great for those who struggle a bit more with balance so the nonworking leg can remain intact with the floor. The key here is to still focus on keep more than 85% of the weight on the working leg. You can go higher volume here for sets of 15-20 reps to get a really good posterior chain firing. See example here.
Front Rack Single Arm Bulgarian Split Squat:
Nothing challenges you more than Bulgarian split squats, so naturally when you add weight on just one side of your body, it’s degree of difficulty becomes even higher. You can even get fancier and go from a deficit.
High Low Get-Up:
The getup portion forces you to keep your body tight and locked otherwise you come barreling down quicker than you realize! Bracing and pulling your hips into flexion can be an awesome way to get yourself ready, no matter what day it is! You can’t take a second to lapse, or lose tension or that weight may not serve you well.