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Almost everything we do in the gym is bilateral, but almost everything we do outside the gym is unilateral. Get some unilateral training and load up your core for improved posture, strength, stability and endurance.

Bilateral Vs. Unilateral

While the vast majority of movements we do in the gym are bilateral – two-sided – the vast majority of the movements we perform in life aren't.

A list of great, effective lifts to hit in the gym might run: bent row, bench press, back squat.

But a list of things you’re required to do in life might involve either unilateral activities like holding a load steady with one hand while working on it with the other, or staggered activities like pushing a car (one hand will be in front of the other, one leg will be in front of the other – it’s bilateral, but the loading isn't equal).

And on the sports field? Forget bilateral loading.

From a stabbing tackle in football (staggered) to a two-leg takedown in wrestling (staggered), from a baseball batter’s swing (staggered) to a pitch (unilateral), it’s staggered or unilateral all the way.

The movement might be ‘bilateral’ when you make a staggered movement – when you swing the bat for instance, you hold it in both hands. But that doesn't mean the load is bilateral: it’s way out to one side of the batter, where the bat hits the ball. It’s unilateral.

In no way am I arguing against doing bent rows, bench presses and back squats. For building raw strength, big, heavy bilateral lifts are hard to beat, though proponents of staggered training and unilateral lifts can offer some convincing evidence for their views and we’ll go into some of it later. What I am doing is suggesting that 

you can improve the carryover of strength earned in the gym to the actual activities you want to do by using unilateral loading.

Going Beyond Movement Comparisons

The argument goes beyond movement-for-movement comparisons. The best training for a movement isn't always doing that movement, past a certain point – that’s why so many powerlifters back off from deadlifts so often, using rowing movements to build strength that carries over to the deadlift without trashing their recovery. Instead, I want to focus on one of the most important, neglected and misunderstood aspects of training – as well as the most talked about. 

The core.

What Is the Core, Anyway?

Too many people think core training means training the ‘six-pack muscles,’ the rectus abdominus that links the ribcage to the hips along the front of the abdomen. Others think any stability exercise is core training, and they’re half right for the wrong reasons, as we shall see. But the core is more than that. 

Think of the core as a box.  Its base is the pelvic floor muscles, its roof is the diaphragm, and its walls are the rectus abdominus, the transverse obliquii, the quadratus lumborii and the lumbar erectors spinii.

Understood this way, the core basically has two jobs: to produce force and to resist force, and the ability to resist force is by far the most important. When you push that car, or pull that bar, you generate force with your legs and transmit it through the spine to the shoulders, arms and ultimately hands. It all has to go through the core!

A weak core is a herniated disc, trapped nerve or torn muscle waiting to happen.

It’s power from strong legs left behind before it can get to strong arms and be used, dissipated in body English and absorbed by soft tissues, leading to damage.  It’s bad – but it’s easy to fix.

So let’s fix it.

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