Whether you are in a sport or trying to maintain independence in later life, imbalances within the musculoskeletal system can be paramount either for or against you. Using unilateral (single-limb) training can be a useful tool to maintaining, or gaining balance between our limbs. By medical definition unilateral is: occurring on, performed on, or affecting one side of the body or one of its part. Exercising with unilateral protocols can help to gain overall strength and force production. If one side of the body is stronger there will be an overall increase in force when both limbs are used in conjunction.
Unilateral exercise is commonly used as physical therapy after an injury has occurred, however it can be used to assist with reduction on the propensity of injury. The use of unilateral exercise assists in training muscles how to fire, for it will help with maintenance of balance in older life. When there is an imbalance present, the body will use the inappropriate muscle(s) to perform whatever movement is required or asked of it. We can see this in daily life when there is an injury to an ankle. We naturally coddle it to not cause more stress/injury, but at the cost of improper movement on the opposing hip, knee, and ankle.
As we have all heard the core is the base of everything! It is important to nearly every activity in life. Unilateral exercise causes the core to activate at a much higher rate then bilateral training. Exercise causing the core to remain stable will in turn translate to better sports performance, posture, reduced injury, and retention of activities of daily living (ADLs) as we age. The ability to control our body in free space, and in multiple planes of movement is directly correlated to the core, which also benefits from the use of unilateral training.
Exercises that are unilateral are anything that uses only one side at a time; here is a short list to spark the mind:
Bulgarian squats (Split squats)
Single arm Dumbbell press (or Kettlebell)
Single leg squat
Single arm row (Dumbbell / Kettlebell / Band)
Single arm press (Dumbbell / Kettlebell / Band)
Single arm Kettlebell swings
This is not an extensive list, but should provide help to realize what is unilateral, and where you can incorporate this into your training regime.