When training for size, most casual and experienced lifters know that there’s an optimal rep range (approx. 6-12) that elicits a hypertrophic (muscle growth) response. Further, specific movements are often used to get just the right angle on the tricep, delt, or serratus…picture folks who camp out at the cable columns, here.
In my experience, some of the most underutilized movements that help you make size gains are unilateral lower body exercises. This is partially due to the fact that back squat, front squat, deadlift, and leg press have well-document effects on hypertrophy. This could also be true because split squats, lunges, and other single-sided exercises can be humbling, especially if you don’t do them often. Here are some tips for what will help you get the most out of them:
Move in Different Planes
Most bilateral exercises occur in the sagittal plane, or within the vertical plane that bisects your body into left and right halves. Unliteral exercises, like lateral or rotational lunges, allow you the freedom to move in the frontal and transverse planes. This allows for more selective muscle activation, just like the cable column allows you to pronate just the right way to isolate the lateral head of the tricep. This stimulus can help elicit a better hypertrophic response in muscles like your vastus medialis and adductor longus than with bilateral exercises alone.
1 Leg 1 Dumbbell
Another way to maximize your time when doing unilateral movements is to try loading on only one side of the body – holding one dumbbell, using asymmetrical loads on a trap bar, etc. In many lunge or unilateral RDL patterns, holding the load ipsilateral (on the same side) as the working leg requires intense contraction to counter rotational forces and other compensations in order to maintain proper form.
If you’re looking for that next step in gains and haven’t given unilateral work its proper dues, I encourage you to give it a try. Be patient, be okay with being humbled for a few weeks, and prepare to be sore in places that you may not have been before. Happy lunging!