B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning – Articles 20
One Sided Victory
The benefits of unilateral training.
by Mike Mejia, CSCS
Are you looking to improve your speed and agility? Do you want to increase the velocity of your shot? Would you like to become stronger and better able to resist injury? If you answered yes to any, or all of these questions, I’ve got some good news for you. Despite what level player you might be right now, there’s plenty you can do from a strength and conditioning standpoint to help improve your game. It doesn’t matter if you’re just a little guy trying to make the travel team, or a high school aged girl looking to avoid knee injures. Even seasoned collegiate and professional level players can make major gains with the right strengthening approach. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking that exercises like squats, hang cleans and bench presses offer the best way to improve athleticism.
Not that I’m trying to imply that the exercises mentioned above are somehow worthless- when done with proper technique, they, as well as many others that fall under the umbrella of traditional “gym-based” training can be quite effective. It’s just that lacrosse, like most sports, is a game where things rarely happen in a symmetrical fashion. Meaning that you’ll seldom have two feet plated firmly into the ground applying even pressure, or attempt to stick check an opponent by firing both arms out at the same speed and trajectory. Typically, one limb, or side of the body will be applying most of the force, while the other acts to help stabilize your position, in preparation for its chance to shoulder most of the load. This is exactly what happens in running, for instance, where one leg drives down into the ground to propel you forward as the “recovery” leg cycles through and readies itself to strike with your next stride. Similar things occur when you make a quick cut to change directions, or fire a shot on goal.
Seeing as how so many of the things you do on the lacrosse field happen asymmetrically, does it make a lot of sense to do most of your training with both limbs working at the same rate? Or, instead would it be a better idea to start doing more unilateral exercises (where the focus is more on one limb at a time) so that in addition to increasing strength, you could also work on improving things like balance, coordination and dynamic flexibility? Or, in other words, the kinds of things that are going to help make you a better, more well-rounded athlete. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.
The other great thing about unilateral training is that its an excellent way to help detect strength and flexibility imbalances. Granted, we all have a dominant side that we’re going to be a little better at using. However, if you find that one side is significantly weaker, or less flexible than the other, that’s ultimately going to have a negative impact on your athletic ability and leave you more susceptible to injury. Keep in mind, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If you have a major weakness that’s going unaddressed because all of the strengthening you do is bilateral in nature, sooner or later you’re going to run into a problem. So,why not fix it now, before it has the chance to wreck your game.
The drills featured below can either be sprinkled in to your current regimen, or used to make up a workout all their own.
One of the first things you’ll notice is that none of them require a lot of added resistance, at least at first. This means they’re great for athletes of all ages and ability levels. Younger kids, or those with less training experience can do them using their own body weight and light resistance bands, whereas stronger, more fit athletes can add in a little more in the way of external loading. Be careful though; regardless of which category you fit into, they’re bound to present a real challenge. So don’t look to load them up until you’ve mastered the proper technique for each.
Unilateral RDL: Stand balancing on one leg, holding a medicine ball, or dumbbell in your hands (younger athletes can do the drill with just body weight). Keeping your torso erect, begin by hinging at the hips and lowering your chest towards the floor, while simultaneously driving your hips back and lifting your other leg up until it’s just about parallel to the ground. In the finish position your body should form a straight line from your head to your back leg and your support knee should be slightly flexed. After pausing for a second, stand back up by driving your heel into the ground to emphasize your glutes and hamstrings. Repeat until you’ve completed 8-10 times and then switch legs.
Bulgarian Split Squat: Begin standing about 2-3 feet in front of an exercise bench with your back to it. After reaching back to place the instep of your back foot on the bench, gain your balance and then maintain an upright torso as you descend into a squat. Once your forward leg is parallel to the ground, pause for a second and then press back up to the starting position. Continue until you’ve completed 8-10 repetitions per side, then switch legs. *Note: Once you’ve mastered the form you can hold light dumbbells to increase the difficulty level.
Side Lunge: Even though both feet are on the ground for this drill, the uneven weight distribution makes it great for helping improve your ability to change direction. Begin standing with your feet positioned about twice shoulder’s width and your feet and knees pointed straight ahead. Pick one side to start to and sit back into your hips as you attempt to get your thigh about parallel to the floor. As you do this, your torso should stay as upright as possible, with your heels flat on the ground, your knees and toes pointed straight ahead your opposite leg completely straight. After pausing for a split second, push back up to the starting position and repeat to the other side. Continue until you’ve completed 8-10 repetitions on each side.
Unilateral band row with rotation: Hook up a resistance band to a sturdy object and stand several feet back from it. Hold the band in one hand with your arm completely extended and feet about shoulder’s width apart, with your knees slightly bent. Keeping your torso up tall, begin pulling with your upper back as you simultaneously rotate your body to face to that same side. In the finish position, your legs will remain slightly bent and core braced tight, with your elbow pointed directly behind you. Return to the staring position and then repeat until you’ve completed 8-10 repetitions and switch sides.
Windmill Push-up: Once again, despite the bilateral start to the exercise, the addition of the rotation helps improve both shoulder and core stability. Get into a push-up position with your shoulders lined up directly over your wrists, your back flat and feet about shoulders’ width apart. Begin by descending down into a push-up until your chest is slightly below the level of your shoulders. Pause for second, then push back up and as you near the top of the movement, lift one arm off the ground as you rotate towards one side. As you do this, turn your feet to the side so that in the finish position your weight is on the sides of your feet, with your arms stacked in a vertical line as you balance on one side. Hold that for a split second, making sure your hips are held up high and then return to the starting position and repeat the entire sequence to the other side. Continue until you’ve done 8-12 repetitions in total.