If you want to build a stronger, leaner, more muscular body, unilateral training is a goldmine workout for men over 40. It not only builds strength and muscle mass but improves balance, coordination, stability, and proprioception—all critical aspects of overall fitness and functionality.
Want To Build A Better Body Over 40? Unilateral Training Is How to Do It
For most men, putting on muscle and burning fat are their top priorities. While plenty of workouts can accomplish that, most workouts you’ll find are designed for younger men with peak testosterone levels—something men over 40 might not have. And they’re also designed to do one thing and one thing only: build mass. But what about things like balance, stability, and coordination that tend to lack as we age but are no less important? That’s where straying from the conventional bro splits of bodybuilding style workouts is gold.
Whether you’re an athlete or not, unilateral training is a must. If you’re not doing it or you’ve never heard of it, research suggests that you could be missing out on major gains in core stability, joint integrity, and strength. And adding it to your training program not only boosts performance but can leave you with insane results that conventional bilateral training programs can’t.
Ready to dive into the best (and only) unilateral workout you’ll need? Let’s do this.
Unilateral vs. Bilateral Training: What’s the Difference?
Most exercises we do are bilateral—they use both sides of the body to perform a single exercise. For example, squats, deadlifts, chest presses, or shoulder presses. Unilateral exercises, however, are any single-leg or single-arm movement; you only use one side of your body at a time to perform an exercise.
In most cases, people are more dominant on one side of their body, which usually correlates to the hand they use to write. But when you have strength imbalances, isolating movements to work just one side of the body is effective for balancing strength and helping your weaker side catch up. Unilateral training is also great for avoiding overtraining or overusing the dominant side, which can isolate and correct muscle imbalances, improve balance and coordination, utilize and strengthen core muscles, prevent injury, and facilitate rehabilitation post-injury.
But if you think about it, how often do you perform movements bilaterally? So, why would you only train bilaterally?
Unilateral strength training is incredibly effective for building strength and balance because it enables you to focus on one side of the body and promotes equal strength between both sides, thereby increasing joint strength and stabilization to encourage stronger, healthier joints that are less prone to injury—something that’s a huge part of any workout for men over 40.
On the other hand, if you’re training to build maximal strength, you can’t get any better than bilateral training in that you can simply lift more with your entire body. But bilateral training allows for compensation and strength imbalances because one side inevitably works harder than the other. The result is the unequal building of strength and de-stabilized joints, which set you up for injury. So, while bilateral training is important for building strength, it shouldn’t be your sole focus, especially for men over 40.
Benefits Of A Unilateral Workout For Men Over 40
Training principles remain largely the same whether you’re 20, 30, or 65, but for older men, there are other factors we need to consider beyond brute strength and muscle mass. A workout for men over 40 should target other aspects of fitness, such as joint integrity and strength, injury risk, and muscle imbalances—and that’s what unilateral training does.
Let’s check out some of the benefits.
1. Correct muscle imbalances
If you’re only doing bilateral training, the risk of muscle imbalances is big. That’s because our bodies are naturally more dominant on one side—it’s called neural preference—meaning that side will always do more work. But it can also result from poor workout programming, improper form, or lack of mobility and flexibility.
But when you throw in unilateral training, you avoid that. Movements like Bulgarian split squats, dumbbell lunges, or DB Romanian deadlifts are great single-sided movements that build strength, balance, and coordination on each side of the body. With these exercises, each limb has no choice but to pull its own weight.
2. Improve core stability and strength
Regardless of your age, core strength and stability are imperative. Strength and stability are not the same, and proper movement patterns require both. Compound movements like squats and deadlifts target and activate the core to some extent, but they don’t hit it to the same degree as unilateral work does, which is why it’s a must in any workout for men over 40.
Poor core strength and stabilization can greatly contribute to pain and injury, especially low back pain. A 2005 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning looked at the effect of unstable and unilateral resistance exercises on trunk muscle activation and found that a single-arm shoulder press (a unilateral exercise) resulted in greater muscle activation and core stabilization in the trunk. If you want to effectively strengthen the trunk, back, or abdominal exercises using an unstable base is the most effective means. But you can also strengthen the core by performing unilateral resistance exercises for the limbs, even on unstable surfaces like a BOSU ball or stability board.
3. Enhance performance
If you watch the way humans move, most movement is unilateral. We don’t walk with both feet forward; we don’t pick things up using both biceps. If you want to bulletproof your body and master your movements to maintain health well into your 80s, incorporating unilateral movements into your training program is essential. And when it comes to athleticism and performance, unilateral will always trump bilateral.
Training for functionality is important, and unilateral movement patterns replicate most daily movements.
4. Reduce the risk of injury
Injuries are a big thing when aging is in question—you just don’t recover the same as you did when you were 20. But while injuries can happen at any age, most occur due to overuse, poor movement patterns, and muscular asymmetries. A 2008 study of strength imbalances and the prevention of hamstring injuries in professional soccer players found that the rate of muscle injury was higher in players with untreated strength imbalances compared to players with no imbalances. But here’s the good news: unilateral exercises are great for identifying strength imbalances and supporting proper muscle development, which can help to correct and prevent muscle imbalances, improve movement patterns, and reduce the risk of injury.
5. Improve muscular stimulation
Want to maximize your strength and muscle gains? You need to activate your muscles properly. While bilateral exercises do, studies show that unilateral exercises may be more effective in improving muscular stimulation than bilateral exercises.
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning looked at EMG differences between three lower body movements with respect to activation of the glute maximus, biceps femoris, and erector spinae. Researchers found that EMG activity and strength recordings were higher in unilateral limbs than in bilateral movements. So, what does this mean? Unilateral training may promote greater muscle stimulation, improving muscular development and growth.
Muscle Building Unilateral Workout for Men Over 40
If you want to pack on muscle mass, burn fat, and build strength, here’s what you’ll need to do.
Perform each exercise for 30 seconds of work, followed by 30 seconds of rest, one after the other, for two straight rounds.
This workout should take you around 20 minutes in total.
- One Arm DB Swings 30×2
- One Arm Chest Press to Skull Crushers
- DB Clean to Reverse Lunge
- Loaded DB Ab Crunches
- Single Biceps Curls
- Single Bent Over rows
- Single Racked Squats
- Single Shoulder Tripe Raise
- Single Side T-Raise Rotation with DB
- Thrusters/Mountain Climbers
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