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The integration of unilateral strength training for the lower extremity within an athletic performance programme

Authors:

Abstract

A consensus has recently developed among various influential coaches within the field, suggesting unilateral leg exercises should be more heavily incorporated into strength training programmes. Such recommendations tend to be based on the presence of the bilateral deficit (BLD), altered activation patterns during unilateral activities, the reduction in load on support structures such as the spinal column, and the correction of bilateral asymmetries in the lower extremities. This article will attempt to examine the research surrounding unilateral leg training and its potential to elicit gains in athletic performance.
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PROFESSIONAL STRENGTH & CONDITIONING / WWW.UKSCA.ORG.UK
ISSUE 33 / JUNE 2014 STRENGTH TRAINING
The integration of unilateral strength training
for the lower extremity within an athletic
performance programme
Louis Howe, BSc, ASCC,
Jon Goodwin, MSc, FHEA, CSCS,
ASCC and Richard Blagrove,
MSc, PGCE, ASCC, CSCS
OVERVIEW
A consensus has recently developed among various influential coaches
within the field, suggesting unilateral leg exercises should be more heavily
incorporated into strength training programmes. Such recommendations
tend to be based on the presence of the bilateral deficit (BLD), altered
activation patterns during unilateral activities, the reduction in load on
support structures such as the spinal column, and the correction of bilateral
asymmetries in the lower extremities. This article will attempt to examine
the research surrounding unilateral leg training and its potential to elicit
gains in athletic performance.
Unilateral leg exercises
Upon analysis of many performance-
enhancing programmes, it is easy to
notice that the ‘big rocks’ in exercise
selection are primarily bilateral-based.
Within the literature, such programmes
have led to tremendous consistency in
achieving the desired effect of improved
athletic performance.6,11,17 However,
a consensus has developed among
various influential coaches within the
field, suggesting unilateral leg exercises
should be more heavily incorporated
into strength training programmes
in an attempt to obey the principle of
specificity.43 Statements have even been
made that these movements may be used
as a potential replacement for the more
traditional bilateral movements.2 Such
recommendations in favour of adding
to or prioritising unilateral exercises
in strength training programmes,
particularly for the lower extremities,
tend to be based around four main
arguments:
1. Due to the bilateral deficit (BLD), the
potential for force production per limb is
higher during unilateral training. The BLD is
defined as the noticeable reduction in force
production seen with bilateral movements,
when compared to the sum of forces
produced by both limbs separately in the
same task42
2. Single leg exercises increase the
recruitment of muscles that provide local
joint stability, as well as increasing the
tri-planar loading of global stabilisers that
may potentially control excessive and thus
harmful compensatory motions
3. Unilateral leg training lowers the total
loading on the supportive structures (eg,
spine), as the external resistances used are
drastically reduced, with the suggestion that
this allows for a prolonged athletic career
4. The correction of asymmetries between
limbs and their corresponding muscle
imbalances.
Although unilateral leg training has
been proposed to offer the above benefits
over bilateral movements, few attempts
have been made to compare the merits
of conventional bilateral based exercises
versus a programme centred on the
use of unilateral movement skills. This
paper will therefore attempt to examine
the research surrounding unilateral leg
training and its potential to elicit gains
in athletic performance. Within this
review, unilateral leg training will be
defined as a movement in which one leg
develops force while the free leg either
offers a form of support for balance with
a minor role in force production (eg, rear
foot elevated split squat) or remains free
and contributes little to maintaining
equilibrium or total force production (eg,
single leg squats).
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Bilateral strength deficit
The effect of the BLD is only detectable
when simultaneous contractions
take place of homonymous limbs
during physical activities.18 Numerous
investigations have identified this
phenomenon,3,4,5,21,28,36,38,44 with several
authors suggesting programming
implications for an applied setting.
For the interested reader, Jakobi
and Chilibeck20 provide a detailed
explanation of the BLD and associated
mechanisms, which currently remain
uncertain. Several theories such as co-
activation of antagonistic muscles19
and spinal reflex inhibition, have been
discarded,18 whereas others such as
perceived exertion, a reduction in
contribution from the dominant limb
and the postural musculature have
been cited as more likely reasons for the
deficit. Currently a hypothesis involving
the supra-spinal mechanism, in which
a reduced cortical drive occurs during
bilateral muscular contractions,20
appears to provide the most robust
explanation.
One of the peripheral repercussions of
the BLD is its influence on muscle fibre
recruitment. Research investigating
unilateral versus bilateral contractions
have demonstrated that the reduction
seen in net force output with bilateral
contractions is due to the alteration in
the recruitment of motor units, with a
decreased activation of the type II, fast-
twitch muscle fibres.26 Vandervoort et
al47 compared the reduction of motor
unit recruitment during fast versus slow
movements, identifying a higher BLD
exists in faster activities.
Another interesting finding of this
study was that the bilateral movements
possessed a higher resistance to fatigue,
leading the authors to conclude that the
associated BLD was due to a decline in
the recruitment of the easily fatigued
fast-twitch muscle fibres.47 This finding
has been supported by both Koh et al26
and Hakkinen et al,16 who established
the BLD to be more noticeable during
faster actions when compared to slower
movements. Reductions in the rate
of force development – by as much
as 13% during bilateral contractions
– emphasise an obvious performance-
limiting factor of bilateral exercises
when investigated in a machine based
environment.48
Additional evidence for fibre
recruitment alterations during the
BLD has also been investigated and
compared between different muscle
groups. Chilibeck et al8 identified the
gastrocnemius as comprising a higher
percentage of fast-twitch fibres than the
slow-twitch dominant, soleus muscle.
When comparing the two plantar
flexors, the gastrocnemius was shown
to possess a greater BLD during an
isometric heel raise exercise with a
straight versus a bent knee.23 Other
evidence supporting this peripheral
response to bilateral contractions is
found in research in older populations,
with a decline in the BLD along
with a concomitant reduction in the
percentage of fast-twitch fibres – both
present during ageing.15
The specificity of the BLD and its
response to various environments
appears to be more definite than the
mechanism itself. Increases in the
complexity of movements involving
multiple joints has shown a parallel rise
in the BLD, with greater consistency
within the literature during combined
hip and knee extension exercises
when compared to research which has
isolating the knee joint.20 Dynamic
movements in contrast to their
isometric equivalent are also more
consistent in identifying a BLD.19 This is
true for both slower dynamic movement
tasks such as those involved in strength
training,46 as well as more ballistic type
actions, such as jumping.3,4,49
At present it is unclear whether this
phenomenon is due to either the
complexity of the movement or the
amount of mass required to perform
the task. Despite ambiguity around
the underlying mechanisms, current
literature illustrates consistency in
the presence of a BLD; therefore
practitioners should be aware of the
phenomenon and the benefits for
athletes of unilateral-based exercises.
It is important for the S&C coach to
understand the effect training has on
altering the BLD. The BLD has been
shown to be specific to the nature of the
sport. Both rowers45 and weightlifters18
possess bilateral facilitation, in which
force output is higher during bilateral
tasks than the sum of forces from
unilateral contractions. In contrast,
athletes who rely on displaying
high force outputs during unilateral
conditions have been documented to
possess a significantly more notable
BLD.3,4,6,49 Research dedicated to
investigating whether the BLD can be
changed has presented strong evidence
showing its alteration through training
interventions emerging in as little as
6-12 weeks.15,46
Practitioners working with elite level
athletes should also consider the
specificity of the BLD and how it
pertains to the training goal. Bračič
et al4 correlated the BLD in sprinters
during a counter-movement jump to
starting ability. Using two independent
force platforms, sprinters possessing
a low BLD exhibited higher peak
force values in the rear leg out of the
blocks. This led the authors to suggest
that sprint specialists who lacked
efficiency in the start may be inclined
to use more bilateral exercises in their
training programmes to facilitate
more explosive block starts.4 Further
research is required to collaborate with
their findings, potentially investigating
whether sprint performances that rely
predominantly on starting from a
single leg or split stance position, are
associated with a higher BLD.
Free resistance lower limb
exercises
Although the above research illustrates
that incorporating unilateral strength
exercises within a strength and
conditioning programme may provide
Another interesting
finding of this
study was that the
bilateral movements
possessed a higher
resistance to
fatigue’
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significant benefits via the BLD
mechanism, little research has been
conducted using free resistance lower
limb exercises. Reductions in stability
have been shown to diminish force
production.1 As such, reduced stability
in single leg exercises may compromise
any increase in force potential due
to the BLD. Further research is
required to establish the BLD in more
functional strength activities that tend
to be used by S&C coaches. As many
investigations presented used machine-
based exercise protocols, it would be
unwise to recommend – based only on
the BLD phenomenon – that bilateral
movements should be replaced within a
free weight training programme aimed
at maximal strength development, for
their unilateral equivalents.
Muscle activation during strength
exercises
One aspect of unilateral training that
is potentially less contentious is the
increased activation of local stabilisers
surrounding the working joints.
Stabilising muscles such as the gluteus
medius have shown increased activity
during a unilateral squat when compared
to the bilateral counterpart,27,34 as well as
during a single leg-unsupported versus
a single leg-supported variation of the
squat.13
Although bilateral and unilateral
exercises of similar nature (double
versus single leg squats) both require
movement patterns in a sagittal plane,
unilateral exercises demand muscles to
perform a stabilising function in both
the frontal and transverse plane beyond
that of double leg exercises.34 Therefore,
including single leg exercises may allow
an athlete to increase their capacity
to resist multi-planar forces. As such,
interventions emphasising unilateral
leg training with variations of step-ups,
lunges and single leg squats have been
shown to reduce excessive frontal plane
motion in the hip and knee joint during
straight line running.50 This is probably
due to high performance levels in
the single leg squat being positively
correlated with greater hip abduction
torque, trunk side flexion force and
earlier onset of contraction from both
portions of the gluteus medius muscle.12
Unilateral leg exercises therefore have
value as a rehabilitation and injury
prevention tool, as loss of hip abductor
function has been shown to correlate
with injuries to the knee region.14,37,40
Such interventions are known to reduce
pain symptoms in injured individuals
suffering from pathologies in the knee
area.24
As unilateral exercises show increased
activation of specific stabilising
muscles when compared to their
bilateral counterparts, the question then
becomes: does unilateral-based training
compromise the activation levels of
the prime movers during multi-joint
strength training movements? To date,
little evidence is available for comparing
single versus double leg exercises in
a high load environment relevant to
this discussion. Of the two published
papers that do exist, Jones et al2 showed
that a rear foot elevated split squat
produced similar electromyographic
(EMG) activity to a bilateral back
squat, in the vastus lateralis, biceps
femoris, gluteus maximus and erector
spinae musculature of ten resistance-
trained male athletes. McCurdy et
al,34 however, identified disparities
in recruitment strategies, with
reduced mean peak activation of the
quadriceps and higher gluteus medius
and hamstrings activation in the rear
foot elevated split squat. Therefore,
at present, EMG analysis suggests
that although bilateral and unilateral
exercises show similar prime mover
activation, unilateral exercises increase
activation of supporting stabilising
muscle and therefore on this basis
may warrant some form of inclusion
into a well-rounded resistance-training
programme.
Although unilateral movements may
appear beneficial for injury prevention
via improved lower extremity
biomechanical markers, improvements
in stabiliser activity may also affect the
transfer of bilateral-based exercises
to a sporting environment requiring a
high degree of unilateral stabilisation.
McCurdy et al32 investigated this transfer
of training effect in untrained subjects,
using an eight-week resistance and
jump-based programme. The authors
found no difference between groups
across various unilateral outcome
measures. Makaruk et al29 performed a
similar study in which only unilateral or
bilateral jump training was performed.
In their twelve-week investigation
on untrained females, both training
groups showed a significant increase in
jump performance in both the unilateral
and bilateral countermovement jump.
Therefore, any proposal that bilateral
leg training does not transfer effectively
to a unilateral environment is not
supported by the limited evidence
currently available.
However, there is support for unilateral
jumps possessing a greater correlation
to sprint performance when compared
to bilateral jump performance.
McCurdy et al33 demonstrated this
relationship in Division 1 women soccer
players, accounting the results to the
necessity of producing high levels of
force during a single leg stance phase
in both activities. Although the authors
recommend using unilateral jump
training for athletes who seek greater
speed gains during running, it is yet
to be demonstrated that a unilateral
based jump programme may improve
sprint performance beyond that of
bilateral exercises, especially in athletic
populations.
Axial loading
Another contentious area amongst
coaches who advocate unilateral over
bilateral strength exercises corresponds
to the compressive loads experienced
during bilateral training, and the
residual effect this may have over an
athlete’s career, compromising their
longevity.43 During single leg exercises
less absolute load, and therefore volume,
is required to maintain the same relative
intensity of muscle contraction in
prime movers.22 By adopting unilateral
strength exercises for the lower
extremity, athletes must lift close to all
of their body weight in unsupported
single leg training, and approximately
85% of the total load during single leg
supported exercise, such as the rear foot
elevated split squat.32
Reductions in the loads used, along
with adopting a reduced forward lean
of the torso during certain variations of
single leg supported exercises (eg, split
squats), should theoretically equate
to diminished compressive load on
the spine while providing adequate
overload for the lower extremities.
However, it is improbable that spinal
loading would be exclusively correlated
to the external resistance in a linear
fashion, as the muscular contractions
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required to prevent unwanted
compensatory motions in multiple
planes during single leg exercises are
undoubtedly high. During unilateral
strongman exercises such as a suitcase
carry, increased activation of stabilising
muscles such as the quadratus
lumburom and the abdominals have
been shown to create high internal
torque values being recorded in the
spine.35 This information applies to
unilateral leg exercises, as similar
mechanics are present with multi-plane
force moments needing to be resisted
when adopting a single leg stance,
especially under load.
At present, little research is available
concerning the three-dimensional force
profile the spine is exposed to during
single leg strength exercises, although
it is theoretically unlikely to reach over
the 17kN of compressive forces reported
by Cholewicki et al9 during the bilateral
deadlift exercise. However, there may
be a possibility of increased lumbar
motion in the frontal and transverse
plane during single-leg training,
if compensatory motions are not
adequately controlled by the relevant
active stabilisers. This unwanted spinal
movement, combined with a high
mechanical load, may expose the athlete
to a different mechanism of injury than
that of bilateral squatting.
Further research is clearly required to
gain a greater understanding for high
intensity unilateral strength exercises
and their implications on spinal loading
in three-dimensions.
One further point worthy of discussion
to coaches is the identification of
the weakest link in the muscular
chain during bilateral leg training.
As less trunk strength is likely to be
required during unilateral leg training,
secondary to less external load involved
and possibly a reduced forward lean,
the trunk musculature is unlikely to be
a limiting factor. In this instance, single
leg training may potentially allow for
greater overload of the lower extremity,
as it is not limited by the strength of
the back extensors. One may, however,
argue that if the back extensors are
the weakest link when performing the
bilateral squat, the spinal structures
may therefore be vulnerable in more
specific athletic movements. In this
instance, selecting the conventional
squat to be performed in a controlled
environment may in itself be a form of
injury prevention, and therefore on this
basis warrants inclusion into a training
programme. Such a programme might
then be complemented by single leg
variations to offer further overload for
the lower body.
Asymmetry correction
One perhaps obvious advantage of
unilateral based strength training is
the correction of any asymmetries that
an athlete might possess. Bilateral
asymmetry of >15% has been shown to
increase the risk of injuries in athletic
populations,25 and reduce sports
performance.30 On this basis, it has
therefore been recommended that
unilateral strength exercises should be
incorporated in an attempt to reduce
such imbalance.10 However, little
research exists as to whether unilateral
strength training can in fact reduce
bilateral asymmetries, especially
when using multi-joint, free resistance
training.
One predicament that the strength
and conditioning coach must confront,
when working with an athlete
who displays noticeable bilateral
asymmetries, is the force profile they
generate during unilateral strength
exercises. Unfortunately, as Newton’s
second law of motion dictates, the
mass of the resistance used does not
necessarily dictate the force outputs
produced during an exercise, as
acceleration also needs to be taken
into account. Therefore, for bilateral
asymmetries to be corrected, the tempo
for both the eccentric and concentric
portion of the exercise must be
carefully controlled. Without specialist
equipment, it may prove impossible
for a coach to identify acceleration
discrepancies of 15% between two limbs
on every repetition of a given workout.
This also places obvious constraints
on the benefits of unilateral strength
training, as the advantages of increased
fast-twitch fibre recruitment via the
BLD may be negligible if the athlete
must move intentionally slowly.41 Fo r
bilateral asymmetries to be corrected
it may require practitioners – when
programming – to think outside
of their traditional philosophy. As
controlling lifting tempo might
prove impracticable, another option
is to manipulate other acute exercise
variables of a programme in order for
the weaker limb to be exposed to a
higher level of stress.
If an athlete were to display asymmetrical
force capabilities during unilateral leg
training, theoretically this may require
modified movement patterns in order
to displace the same load. Although
in some athletes such compensations
between limbs may appear visually
obvious, other athletes may use much
subtler differences when comparing left
to right. In such instances, synergistic
muscle recruitment strategies
may be asymmetrical between the
lower extremities, and therefore the
continuation of single leg training may
reinforce muscle imbalances around
the lower extremity even if overall force
production asymmetries are rectified.
If an athlete were rehabilitating from
an injury, the implicated limb may
benefit from a training programme
aimed at balancing limb strength in
order to recover qualities that may
have regressed. In cases of healthy
populations who do not present with
an obvious injury history causing
noticeable bilateral asymmetries, it
is advisable for coaches to prioritise
investigating the root cause of any
imbalance.
In many situations, it is possible that
bilateral asymmetries are driven by
mobility or stability issues surrounding
the weaker limb, reducing its capacity
to develop force. Mauntel et al31 and
Padua et al39 both demonstrated poor
movement strategies during squat
variations in subjects who lacked
ankle dorsiflexion. In both studies,
subjects used an increased medial knee
displacement in order to compensate
for ankle hypomobility, leading to
reduced gluteal EMG activity relative
to the hip adductors.31,39 However, if an
athlete has lack of ankle dorsiflexion
unilaterally, then aims at improving
force production by using a single leg
exercise in order to reduce muscular
imbalances without first applying an
intervention aimed at improving ankle
dorsiflexion, might achieve less than
desirable results.
Conclusion
The objective of this paper is to discuss
the current evidence surrounding the
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ISSUE 33 / JUNE 2014 STRENGTH TRAINING
comparisons of bilateral and unilateral
exercises, as well as to illustrate the
application of the research to the strength
and conditioning coaches’ practice.
Potentially, one of the most supported
arguments in favour of the inclusion of
unilateral strength training comes through
the well-established existence of the BLD
and its applied specificity to the sporting
arena. Increased activation of fast-twitch
muscle fibres during unilateral tasks
may appear appealing for coaches when
selecting exercises to strengthen the
lower extremity. However, whether this
occurs during free weight based resistance
exercises remains unclear, as reduced
balance may sacrifice any increases in
force development during many variations
of single leg training. In this instance,
coaches looking to take advantage of
the BLD and its peripheral effects may
be obliged to utilise single leg exercises
employing resistance machine equipment
to eliminate any balance component.
Although bilateral leg training has
repeatedly shown increases in various
measures of sports performance, research
does illustrate that unilateral leg training
may have the ability to produce similar
outcomes in untrained subjects, with
the possible added benefit of increased
co-contraction in local joint stabilisers.
However, there is little research to show
comparable results in more well-trained
athletes, and therefore this approach is
not recommended for all populations at
this point. Nevertheless, with increased co-
contraction in joint stabilisers, unilateral
leg training may provide a practitioner
with an additional option: possibly in the
form of a variety of accessory exercises that
complement bilateral strength training
in attempt to aid the steering of force
production.
On the basis of this discussion, single leg
training should not be seen as a mode
of exercise that necessarily resolves
either bilateral asymmetries or local
muscle imbalances, without a thorough
investigation of the underlying causes.
Until research supports either greater
performance gains, or that the high loads
used during bilateral leg training are more
harmful than their unilateral equivalents,
it would appear ill-advised to suggest that
unilateral leg training should be used at the
expense of the more traditional bilateral
exercises in the physical preparation of
athletes.
LOUIS HOWE, BSC, ASCC
Louis Howe is the strength and conditioning coach for
Royal Holloway College, University of London. This role
involves working with national to international level
athletes from a variety of sports. Louis also provides
strength and conditioning services to a group of triple
and long jump athletes who are targeting the 2014
Commonwealth Games. Academically, he is currently
completing an MSc in sports rehabilitation at St Mary’s
University College.
RICHARD BLAGROVE, BSc, MSc, PGCE, ASCC, CSCS
Richard is currently pro-gramme director for the BSc in
strength and conditioning science at St Mary’s University
College and a senior strength and conditioning coach with
The St Mary’s Clinic. He has over ten years experience of
providing S&C support for elite athletes across a wide
range of sports including several who competed at the
Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012
JON GOODWIN, MSC, FHEA, CSCS, ASCC
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horeisse ina, condacerum. Id publium hocciam anum
inarecturnum trem. C. Hemperit L. Lum, utem opubli,
nonsum utus cus tatellarece conlost.
AUTHOR’S BIO
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... Both the between-group and within-group findings of this systematic review and meta-analysis show that BLE and ULE are similarly effective in enhancing horizontally orientated movement performance such as sprinting. This is an important result for coaches as previous debate about the relative merits of each modality as a means of performance enhancement has driven disagreement between two distinct schools of thought [40,41]. The bilateral deficit is a phenomenon that occurs when the combined force exerted by two limbs, independently and unilaterally, exceeds that which can be generated by both limbs combined and bilaterally [10]. ...
... The bilateral deficit is a phenomenon that occurs when the combined force exerted by two limbs, independently and unilaterally, exceeds that which can be generated by both limbs combined and bilaterally [10]. This has been observed across a variety of movement patterns and populations [10] and the apparently greater specificity afforded by ULE seems to have encouraged some coaches to favour it over BLE [4,40,41]. Though this approach has ostensible advantages, it is neither supported by extant evidence [40], nor the findings of the current meta-analysis with bilateral facilitation a potential confounding factor [42]. ...
... Based on the above, the apparent ULE advantages of greater training specificity, trunk and stabiliser muscle activation and the exploitation of the bilateral deficit have contributed to ULE proponents' assertion that form of training is superior in enhancing sports-specific performance [4,40,41]. Furthermore, the unilateral nature of sprinting could be sensibly argued to be more suited to the biomechanical characteristics of ULE, with sprinting being ostensibly less similar to BLE, at least from a kinematic perspective [22]. Still more, because of the aforementioned lower loads used during ULE, particularly those exerted through the spine, they could be a preferable mode of exercise for athletes with back pain or those engaged in rehabilitation programmes [51], as lower loads are conducive to reduced shear and compressive forces on the spine [52]. ...
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Background: Both bilateral (BLE) and unilateral resistance exercise (ULE) methods can confer benefit to an athlete but it remains to be established which has a greater effect on movement speed. Objectives: To evaluate the effects of BLE and ULE on horizontal movement performance. Data sources: Google Scholar, CrossRef and PubMed. Study eligibility criteria: To qualify for inclusion in the meta-analysis, studies must have included a resistance training intervention that compared the effects of BLE and ULE on a measure of movement speed such as sprinting, in healthy study participants. Study appraisal and synthesis methods: We used the inverse-variance random effects model for meta-analyses. Effect sizes (standardised mean difference), calculated from measures of horizontally-orientated performance, were represented by the standardised mean difference and presented alongside 95% confidence intervals (CI). Results: Though both modalities were effective (BLE = 0.60 [95% CI: 0.34, 0.87], Z = 4.44 [p < 0.01]; ULE = 0.57 [95% CI: 0.24, 0.89], Z = 3.44 [p = 0.0006]), there was no difference between the effect of BLE and ULE on movement speed (0.17 [95% CI: -0.15, 0.50], Z = 1.03 [p = 0.30]). For BLE, combined strength and plyometric training had the largest effect size (0.88 [95% CI: 0.40, 1.36]]) followed by plyometric training (0.55 [95% CI: 0.09, 1.01]), with the lowest effect in strength training (0.42 [95% CI: -0.02, 0.86]). For ULE, the largest effect size for training type was in plyometric training (0.78 [95% CI: 0.33, 1.24]) closely followed by combined (0.63 [95% CI: 0.03, 1.24]) with strength (0.29 [95% CI: -0.42, 1.01]) having a substantially lower effect size. Conclusions: Both BLE and ULE are effective in enhancing horizontal movement performance. However, contrary to popular opinion, supported by the concept of training specificity, ULE was no more effective at achieving this than BLE.
... Recent research demonstrates that unilateral leg exercises can achieve comparable or better training effects than similar bilateral exercises (24,28,35,41). Apart from greater specificity and force carryover in the respective target sport form, four primary arguments for the use of unilateral exercises are given (8,14,16,29): (i) lower risk of injury to the torso due to reduced axial load on the spine in comparison to bilateral exercises; (ii) higher activation of joint-stabilizing musculature, which can contribute to increased loading in the three planes of movement and International Journal of Exercise Science http://www.intjexersci.com 188 help to control excessive evasive movements; (iii) correction of any asymmetries between limbs and the underlying muscular imbalances an athlete might possess, as it has been shown that bilateral asymmetries of >15% increase the risk of injuries (20) and reduce sports performance (25); (iv) higher potential force production per limb during unilateral training compared to similar bilateral exercises due to bilateral deficit (BLD). ...
... In this study, the presence of a BLD in the EMG during free resistance (16) lower limb exercises could be demonstrated with the example of the SLDL and DL using the same relative intensities (8RM). For SLDL, significantly higher concentric NEMG activity of the GMED and BF could be measured in contrast to the DL (18.3 % and 7.9 %). ...
... However, only Magnus and Farthing recorded the EMG activity and could not detect any BLD in the EMG (23). Considering these results, it is also worth mentioning that it had previously been doubted whether the mechanisms of the BLD could contribute to a higher training stimulus in free unilateral leg exercises than in bilateral leg exercises (16). Since unilateral exercises are generally more unstable than bilateral exercises, Howe et al. (16) speculated that the potential benefits associated with the BLD could be offset by the higher instability of free single-leg exercises. ...
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The purpose of the study was to compare the normalized-electromyographic (NEMG) activity of the gluteus maximus (GMAX), gluteus medius (GMED), biceps femoris (BF) and erector spinae (ES) muscles during the single-leg deadlift (SLDL) and the conventional-deadlift (DL). Additionally, a potential influence of body height on the NEMG activity was examined. Fifteen training-experienced male subjects completed the study. SLDL showed significantly higher average concentric NEMG values of the GMED (77.6% vs. 59.3% [p = 0.002, ES = 1.0]) and BF (82.1% vs. 74.2% [p = 0.041, ES = 0.6]). Significantly lower NEMG levels were found only in the left strand of the ES muscle (67.2% vs. 82.7% [p = 0.004, ES = 0.9]). A significant influence of body height on EMG activity was also observed for all muscles, with the exception of the GMED, during the SLDL. Body height correlated negatively with the concentric EMG activity of the ES (r =-0.54 to-0.58), the BF (r =-0.63) and the GMAX (r =-0.85). In the DL there was a negative correlation only in the BF (r =-0.59) and the GMAX (r =-0.7). This means that subjects with a lower body height showed a higher NEMG activity in corresponding muscles. The results of this study indicate that the SLDL is preferable to the DL in training the BF, and GMED. In addition, coaches should be aware that athletes body height can influence the extent to which the respective muscles are activated.
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Background: The notion that specific exercises reduce localized adipose tissue depots (i.e., targeted fat loss) and modify fat distribution is commonly termed spot reduction. According to this long-held popular belief, exercising a limb would lead to greater reduction in the adjacent adipose tissue in comparison to the contralateral limb. Aside from popular wisdom, scientific evidence from the 20th and 21th century seems to offer inconclusive results. Objective: To summarize the peer-reviewed literature assessing the effects of unilateral limb training, compared to the contralateral limb, on the localized adipose tissue depots on healthy participants, and to meta-analyse its results. Methods: We followed the guidelines of the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA). We searched PubMed, Web of Science, and SCOPUS electronic databases, using several relevant keywords combinations. Independent experts were contacted to help identify additional relevant articles. Following a PICOS approach, we included controlled studies that incorporated a localized exercise intervention (i.e., single-limb training) to cohorts of healthy participants (i.e., no restriction for fitness, age, or sex), compared to a control condition (i.e., contralateral limb), where the main outcome was the pre-to-post intervention change of localized fat. The methodological quality of the studies was assessed using the Physiotherapy Evidence Database scale. Pre- and post-intervention mean ± standard deviation for fat-related outcome from the trained and control groups (limbs) were converted to Hedges’ g effect size (ES; with 95% confidence intervals [CI]), using a random-effects model. The impact of heterogeneity was assessed using the I2 statistic. The risk of reporting bias was explored using the extended Egger’s test. The statistical significance threshold was set at p < 0.05. Results: From 1,833 search records initially identified, 13 were included in the meta-analysis, involving 1,158 male and female participants (age, 14-71 years). The 13 studies achieved a high methodological quality, and results with low heterogeneity (I2 = 24.3%) and no bias (Egger’s test p = 0.133). The meta-analysis involved 37 comparisons, with 17 of these favouring (i.e., greater reduction of localized fat) the trained limb, and 20 favouring the untrained limb, but the ES ranged between -1.21 to 1.07. The effects were consistent, with a pooled ES = -0.03, 95% CI -0.10 to 0.05, p = 0.508, meaning that spot reduction was not observed. Conclusion: Localized muscle training has no effect on localized adipose tissue depots, i.e., no spot reduction, regardless of the characteristics of the population and of the exercise program. The popular belief on spot reduction is probably derived from wishful thinking, and convenient marketing strategies, such as influencers seeking increased popularity and procedures’ sellers interested in increasing advertising.
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The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of 4-week contrast and maximal strength training programmes on punch force in 20-30 year male amateur boxers. Twenty amateur boxers (mean age 24.5 ± 3.5 yr.) took part in the study and were randomly allocated into two groups. A contrast training group (n = 10) performed three sets of back squats interspersed with jump-squats and bench presses rotated with bench press throws. Exercises were alternated on a set-by-set basis and completed for three sets of three repetitions, twice weekly for four-weeks in place of two regular training sessions. A maximal strength training group (n = 10) performed back squats and bench presses for six sets of three repetitions, twice per week during the same time period. Punch force measurements analysed jab and rear-hand cross punches, utilising a Herman Digital Trainer. Additionally, muscular strength was assessed using 1-repetition maximum on 2 resistance exercises (back squat and bench press). All subjects were tested pre- and post-intervention. Two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with repeated measures and Bonferroni-adjusted post-hoc statistical analyses were adopted. It was found that the group x trials interaction was significant (p< 0.0005) for each punch type, with mean force values in the contrast training group (jab: 17 g, rear-hand cross: 19.7 g) increasing greater than the maximal strength training group (jab: 15.5 g, rear-hand cross: 17 g) at the study’s conclusion. Similarly, significant improvements in muscular strength variables were observed in both groups for back squat (CT: 27.5%, MST: 18.8%) and bench press (CT: 26.9%, MST: 15.1%) exercises. It was concluded that contrast training is superior to maximal strength training at enhancing straight punching force and increasing muscular strength in male amateur boxers.
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Bilateral deficit (BLD) describes the phenomenon of a reduction in performance during synchronous bilateral (BL) movements when compared to the sum of identical unilateral (UL) movements. Despite a large body of research investigating BLD of maximal voluntary force (MVF) there exist a paucity of research examining the BLD for explosive strength. Therefore, this study investigated the BLD in voluntary and electrically-evoked explosive isometric contractions of the knee extensors and assessed agonist and antagonist neuromuscular activation and measurement artefacts as potential mechanisms. Thirteen healthy untrained males performed a series of maximum and explosive voluntary contractions bilaterally (BL) and unilaterally (UL). UL and BL evoked twitch and octet contractions were also elicited. Two separate load cells were used to measure MVF and explosive force at 50, 100 and 150 ms after force onset. Surface EMG amplitude was measured from three superficial agonists and an antagonist. Rate of force development (RFD) and EMG were reported over consecutive 50 ms periods (0-50, 50-100 and 100-150 ms). Performance during UL contractions was compared to combined BL performance to measure BLD. Single limb performance during the BL contractions was assessed and potential measurement artefacts, including synchronisation of force onset from the two limbs, controlled for. MVF showed no BLD (P = 0.551), but there was a BLD for explosive force at 100 ms (11.2%, P = 0.007). There was a BLD in RFD 50-100 ms (14.9%, P = 0.004), but not for the other periods. Interestingly, there was a BLD in evoked force measures (6.3-9.0%, P
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Frontal plane running mechanics may contribute to the etiology or exacerbation of common running related injuries. Hip strengthening alone may not change frontal plane hip and knee joint running mechanics. The purpose of the current study was to evaluate whether a training program including visual, verbal, and tactile feedback affects hip and knee joint frontal plane running mechanics among females with evidence of altered weight bearing kinematics. The knee frontal plane projection angle of 69 apparently healthy females was determined during a single leg squat. The twenty females from this larger sample who exhibited the most acute frontal plane projection angle (medial knee position) during this activity were chosen to participate in this study (age = 20 ± 1.6 years, height = 167.9 ± 6.0 cm, mass = 63.2 ± 8.3 kg, Tegner Activity Rating mode = 7.0). Participants engaged in a 4-week movement training program using guided practice during weight bearing exercises with visual, verbal, and tactile feedback regarding lower extremity alignment. Paired t-tests were used to compare frontal plane knee and hip joint angles and moments before and after the training program. After training, internal hip and knee abduction moments during running decreased by 23% (P=0.007) and 29% (P=0.033) respectively. Knee adduction and abduction excursion decreased by 2.1° (P = 0.050) and 2.7° (P=0.008) respectively, suggesting that less frontal plane movement of the knee occurred during running after training. Peak knee abduction angle decreased 1.8° after training (P=0.051) although this was not statistically significant. Contralateral peak pelvic drop, pelvic drop excursion, peak hip adduction angle, hip adduction excursion, and peak knee adduction angle were unchanged following training. A four week movement training program may reduce frontal plane hip and knee joint mechanics thought to contribute to the etiology and exacerbation of some running related injuries. Level 4.
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Knee valgus is a potential risk factor for lower extremity (LE) injuries. Clinical movement screenings and passive range of motion (PROM) measurements may help identify neuromuscular patterns, which contribute to knee valgus. The purpose of this study was to compare LE muscle activation and PROM between subjects who display visual medial knee displacement (MKD) during a single leg squat (SLS) and those who do not. We hypothesized that muscular activation and PROM would differ between the groups. Forty, physically active adults (20 control, 20 MKD) participated in this study. Subjects completed ten LE PROM assessments and performed five SLS trials while EMG data were collected from eight LE muscles. Three separate MANOVAs were utilized to identify group differences in EMG data, muscle co-activation, and PROM. Results, during the SLS, indicated hip co-activation ratios revealed smaller gluteus medius to hip adductor (GMed : Hip Add) (P = .028) and gluteus maximus to hip adductor (GMax : Hip Add) co-activation ratios (P = .007) compared to the control group. Also, the MKD group displayed significantly less passive ankle dorsiflexion with the knee extended (P = .047) and flexed (P = .034), and greater talar glide motion (P = .012). The findings of this study indicate that MKD during a SLS appears to be influenced by decreased co-activation of the gluteal to the hip adductor muscles and restricted dorsiflexion. Therefore, conditioning, rehabilitation, and injury prevention programs should focus on decreasing hip adductor activity, increasing hip abductor and external rotator activity, and increasing ankle dorsiflexion in hopes to decrease the incidence of these injuries.
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Knee-valgus motion is a potential risk factor for certain lower extremity injuries, including anterior cruciate ligament injury and patellofemoral pain. Identifying neuromuscular characteristics associated with knee-valgus motion, such as hip and lower leg muscle activation, may improve our ability to prevent lower extremity injuries. We hypothesized that hip and lower leg muscle-activation amplitude would differ among individuals displaying knee valgus (medial knee displacement) during a double-legged squat compared with those who did not display knee valgus. We further suggested that the use of a heel lift would alter lower leg muscle activation and frontal-plane knee motion in those demonstrating medial knee displacement. Descriptive laboratory study. Research laboratory. Patients or Other Participants: A total of 37 healthy participants were assigned to the control (n = 19) or medial-knee-displacement (n = 18) group based on their double-legged squat performance. Main Outcome Measure(s): Muscle-activation amplitude for the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, adductor magnus, medial and lateral gastrocnemius, and tibialis anterior was measured during 2 double-legged squat tasks. The first task consisted of performing a double-legged squat without a heel lift; the second consisted of performing a double-legged squat task with a 2-in (5.08-cm) lift under the heels. Muscle-activation amplitude for the hip adductor, gastrocnemius, and tibialis anterior was greater in those who displayed knee valgus than in those who did not (P < .05). Also, use of heel lifts resulted in decreased activation of the gluteus maximus, hip adductor, gastrocnemius, and tibialis anterior muscles (P < .05). Use of heel lifts also eliminated medially directed frontal-plane knee motion in those displaying medial knee displacement. Medial knee displacement during squatting tasks appears to be associated with increased hip-adductor activation and increased co-activation of the gastrocnemius and tibialis anterior muscles.
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Because previous research has shown a relationship between maximal squat strength and sprint performance, this study aimed to determine if changes in maximal squat strength were reflected in sprint performance. Nineteen professional rugby league players (height = 1.84 ± 0.06 m, body mass [BM] = 96.2 ± 11.11 kg, 1 repetition maximum [1RM] = 170.6 ± 21.4 kg, 1RM/BM = 1.78 ± 0.27) conducted 1RM squat and sprint tests (5, 10, and 20 m) before and immediately after 8 weeks of preseason strength (4-week Mesocycle) and power (4-week Mesocycle) training. Both absolute and relative squat strength values showed significant increases after the training period (pre: 170.6 ± 21.4 kg, post: 200.8 ± 19.0 kg, p < 0.001; 1RM/BM pre: 1.78 ± 0.27 kg·kg(-1), post: 2.05 ± 0.21 kg·kg(-1), p < 0.001; respectively), which was reflected in the significantly faster sprint performances over 5 m (pre: 1.05 ± 0.06 seconds, post: 0.97 ± 0.05 seconds, p < 0.001), 10 m (pre: 1.78 ± 0.07 seconds, post: 1.65 ± 0.08 seconds, p < 0.001), and 20 m (pre: 3.03 ± 0.09 seconds, post: 2.85 ± 0.11 seconds, p < 0.001) posttraining. Whether the improvements in sprint performance came as a direct consequence of increased strength or whether both are a function of the strength and power mesocycles incorporated into the players' preseason training is unclear. It is likely that the increased force production, noted via the increased squat performance, contributed to the improved sprint performances. To increase short sprint performance, athletes should, therefore, consider increasing maximal strength via the back squat.
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The purpose of this study was to investigate the influence of bi-lateral deficit on one- and two-legged maximal vertical jumps. Seven female subjects (height 1.68 ± 0.03 m, mass 64.39 ± 6.93 kg) performed maximum vertical jumps with no counter movement from their preferred jumping leg and from both legs. Force plate and video analysis were used to determine the kinematics and kinetics of the activity. The minimum and maximum ankle, knee and hip joint angles for the two jump conditions were not significantly different, indicating similar ranges of motion used in both types of jump. The height jumped from one leg was significantly different from being 50% of that jumped from two legs; the height jumped from one leg was 58.1% of that jumped from two. The general pattern of the angular velocities and resultant joint moments in these jumps indicated that the sequencing of joint extensions was similar regardless of jump condition. A simple model of jumping was presented. Simulations of one- and two-legged jumping, using the model, indicated that the bi-lateral deficit was predominantly responsible for the differences in jump heights observed experimentally.PsycINFO classification: 2330
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Unilateral and bilateral lower-body heavy resistance exercises (HREs) are used for strength training. Little research has examined whether muscle activation and testosterone (TES) responses differ between these exercises. Our purpose was to compare the effects of unilateral and bilateral lower-body HRE on muscle activity using surface electromyography (sEMG) and TES concentrations. Ten resistance-trained, college-aged male athletes (football, track and field) completed 5 testing sessions in which bilateral (back squat [BS]) and unilateral (pitcher squat [PS]) exercises were performed using a counterbalanced design. Sessions 1 and 2 determined estimated maximum strength (10 repetition maximum [10RM]) in the BS and PS. During testing session 3, muscle activation (sEMG) was measured in the right vastus lateralis, biceps femoris, gluteus maximus, and erector spinae (ES) during both BS and PS (stance leg) exercises. In sessions 4 and 5, total TES concentrations (nanomoles per liter) were measured via blood draws at baseline (preexercise), 0, 5, 10, 15, and 30 minutes postexercise after 4 sets of 10 repetitions at the 10RM. Separate repeated-measures analyses of variance examined differences in sEMG and TES between BS and PS (p < 0.05). The sEMG amplitudes were similar (p = 0.80) for BS (0.22 ± 0.06 mV) and PS (0.20 ± 0.07 mV). The TES responses were also similar (p = 0.15) between BS (21.8 ± 6.9 nmol·L(-1)) and PS (26.2 ± 10.1 nmol·L(-1)). The similar lower limb and back sEMG and TES responses may indicate that the neuromuscular and hormonal demands were comparable for both the BS and PS exercises despite the absolute work being less in the PS. The PS exercise may be an effective method for including unilateral exercise into lower-body resistance training when designing training programs for ground-based activities.