BEST SHAPE EVER!
WANT TO BULLETPROOF YOUR BODY AND GAIN REAL STRENGTH? JOIN THE UNILATERAL-TRAINING REVOLUTION. / EMILY ABBATE
3 full-body workouts to get you ripped and ready for summer.
Jay T. Maryniak has got used to the stares. They come whenever he does what looks like a plea for Instagram attention, grabbing a loaded barbell, lying on the floor, then standing and hoisting the barbell overhead with one arm. “It doesn’t bug me,” he says.
That’s because Maryniak (pictured), a certified trainer and strength and conditioning coach, knows what he’s doing. He’s venturing into the world of unilateral training.
Unilateral exercises engage primarily one side of your body to move resistance. That’s a change-up from classics such as push-ups, deadlifts, and military presses.
Those moves make you use your body symmetrically, muscles on both the left and right sides holding similar responsibilities.
Unilateral-training concepts have been around since the late 1800s. Circus strongmen such as Eugen Sandow performed the bent press, which had you lift a heavy weight to your right shoulder, bend to the left, and straighten your right arm with the weight overhead. It challenged more than sheer strength, demanding shoulder flexibility and stability, along with core strength. But that didn’t filter into mainstream workouts, in which bodybuilding moves have long ruled. In most gyms, you’ll see guys doing curls and bench presses, moves that don’t truly challenge your core – or mimic how your body moves in real life.
When you lift a weight with just one side of your body, as you might when you hold your five-year-old in one arm, the abdominal and oblique muscles on your “non-working” side work to stabilise your torso. The same thing happens during unilateral moves such as the exercise that leads people to stare at Maryniak: a barbell Turkish get-up. It’s comparable to a dumbbell curl with the weight only in your right arm (a simple example of a unilateral move). “We’re preparing our bodies for the unplanned events that take place in our daily lives,” he says. “And we’re building joint strength that bulletproofs the body.”
That last part is why Maryniak fell in love with unilateral work three years ago. When he turned 30, he found himself battling minor injuries, many born from constantly lifting heavy. Unilateral moves challenged his stabilising muscles so much that he often lifted lighter loads.
Most weighted moves, from CrossFit exercises such as the snatch to bodybuilding mainstays like the bench press, can be done unilaterally. The more unilateral work you do, says coach and trainer Jeff Cavaliere, the more athletic you’ll become. Most athletic actions, such as a sprint, don’t let your limbs operate symmetrically. Your body is “cross-wired”, says Cavaliere, left arm and right leg moving together. Training limbs individually hones those cross-wired mechanics. Master those, and you’ll move better on the rugby or soccer field – and maybe draw more attention at the gym, too.