– By Coach Ray
The human body is not symmetrical, our muscles, respiratory, and circulatory systems are not the same from side to side. It’s still reasonably well balanced though, for example our torsos are balanced with the liver on the right, and the heart on the left. What does that have to do with Unilateral training? We start out with some natural asymmetry in our body, which over the course of our lives becomes even more apparent. We have dominant sides, and many one sided dominant movements that we perform day to day. As I write this, I’m using only my right hand to use the mouse and this morning I drove with only my right foot.
What about you? Do you clean the windows using both hands? Or does one side feel more natural?
Does your job require you to perform the same task day after day on one side of your body?
Do you play a sport which requires you to work one side or one part of your body more than the other? Cricket? Golf? Tennis? Bowling? You name it!
There are very few activities in life which require truly symmetrical movement patterns. Over time these seemingly simple day-to-day tasks create strength imbalances from side to side, or in some cases tight and shortened muscles. Now you’ve developed these imbalances over time and you want to jump into CrossFit. That’s great! Nothing bad about that at all, but these things can be compounded if overlooked.
So you come to the gym, all out of whack and do a strength component with some heavy deadlifts and then some conditioning like ‘Fran’. That’s great. We did some work, everyone is fitter and happier. This was the trend for many years, and in many different gyms and we only really moved in one plane of movement, and just went through flexion and extension. Not really a bad thing, but you have to remember I’m Mr. Imbalanced. So my already imbalanced body relies on the strength I do have rather than the strength I need to build, further increasing the imbalances in my body and potentially causing structural damage. Not really what we want, right? We train to become fitter and healthier, and to eliminate/decrease our risk of injury in order to live more functional lives.
To help counteract these imbalances, it’s important we train a variety of single side movements with a variety of tools and equipment. Performing the same exercise or workouts with Kettlebells or Dumbbells is going to help make that barbell feel way lighter and a hell of a lot more stable next time you go to use it. The weaker area of your body can no longer rely on the stronger side of your body to do the work for you.
Prior to the 2017 competitive season in CrossFit there wasn’t a huge amount of unilateral movement seen in affiliate or competition programming and there was certainly not enough ‘odd object’ training. Somewhere along the way we all became super obsessed with a barbell. On January 9th, 2016 CrossFit HQ put out a YouTube video of Coach Greg Glassman talking about dumbbells, the video was titled “More Dumbbells” (CrossFit HQ like to drop hints, so always pay attention to that stuff if you are a competitive athlete) Then the 2017 open hit, and we had dumbbells! Athletes, and gyms everywhere went on the scramble, everyone and their grandmother was using dumbbells again. Then regionals comes around and we didn’t even see a barbell over 6 events. What did we see though? A lot of unilateral movement! In the video Glassman talks about how you can take a parallel bar specialist in gymnastics and put him on the rings and he’s going to be unstable. You then take a rings specialist, put him on the parallel bars and he’s solid like a rock. His theory behind this is brain activity, because it’s something P-Bar specialists don’t do, so they never see that brain activity. So here I am using barbells all the time, I don’t get any of that neurological adaptation, but if you put heavy dumbbells in my hand and then put me back on a barbell, it’s going to feel much easier like my example of heavy kettlebell thrusters in the last paragraph.
I like to pay attention to trends, and CrossFit seems to be on a 3 year trend cycle. 2011, 2012 and 2013 were heavy years at regionals. Then 2014, 2015 and 2016 had high skill gymnastics introduced. If my trend calculator is right, then 2017, 2018 and 2019 are going to trend towards odd objects and unilateral movement in different planes.