Single-sided Strength Training Improves Endurance Performance

There’s been a debate for some time over whether single-sided strength training has and advantage over double-sided (doing a one-armed chest press vs doing a conventional barbell bench-press, for example). There are reasons to expect it to be better, such as getting your obliques involved in a one-armed chest press, and the fact that the total load lifted by the two sides individually is more than the total load in a double-sided lift. That is because one side is usually stronger than the other, and the double-sided exercise can be limited by the weaker side. But as discussed in a recent article in Alex Hutchinson’s Sweat Science column, studies have shown mixed results until now.

Single-leg press (https://ignorelimits.com/how-to-single-leg-press/)

He goes on to review a recent study that showed a pronounced advantage for single-legged vs. double-legged leg presses and endurance performance, however. The protocol was to alternate legs in a single leg press, vs. lift with both legs simultaneously. The alternate legs led to significant more improvement in time to exhaustion in a cycling endurance test. This makes sense based on the principle of specificity- it helps if the training you do matches the actual movement in your chosen sport. Alternate legs while pushing obviously is closer to the actual cycling motion that double-leg presses.

Standing Climbing. This is how I look doing it (in my dreams). https://roadcyclinguk.com/how-to/technique/technique-from-bronze-to-gold-in-2013-part-six.html

I was already doing this because I enjoy it. I do “on-bike” leg strength training, like standing up to pedal in a big gear up hill, which is close to alternating single-leg presses. I also like to do single arm presses, which are close to a jab in boxing, and the canoe paddling motion which alternates sides. In all these cases I enjoy the motion because it simulates an actual sport movement. But that’s just me. If you enjoy double-side movements better, by all means do them. I agree with Alex’s concluding remarks that you should do whatever type of strength training feels better for you.

[update 09/09/21: please see the very helpful suggestions in the comments by UltraIan below]

5 thoughts on “Single-sided Strength Training Improves Endurance Performance

  1. Great article: I adhere predominantly to unilateral leg strengthening but also compliment with bilateral work.

    Deadlifts and RDL using free weights (barbell) but unilateral using kettlebell for RDLs and ac weighted vest for Bulgarian Split Squats, Pistol Squats and Step ups.

    Utilising a Plyo box is also superb obviously for plyo work (unilateral and bilateral) It’s also great for Pistol Squat progression exercise even if you”re not really interested in the Pistol Squat as it targets the glutes hamstrings and quads brilliantly, especially when combined with BSS and Step ups on a Plyo box. Eccentric Step Downs off a Plyo are extremely effective.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The step downs are performed slowly to maximise the strengthening affect during the eccentric phase.

        The Pistol Squat progression exercise is really valuable even if you don’t intend to master the Pistol Squat itself which is a challenging exercise of course. Basically assume the starting position for the Pistol whilst on a Plyo box or similar but the leg that would usually be held out infront of you would instead not need to be held horizontal as it would hang off the side of the box. This allows you to practice a single Leg Squat without the same degree of flexibility as the regular Pistol.

        Single leg exercises off a box are numerous and extremely effective, but obviously you don’t need a box for all exercises. I love all of this kind of stuff. Thanks again for the article. All the best Ian

        Liked by 1 person

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