Unilateral Exercises for Better Balance and Core Strength
If you're a regular in my classes, you've heard me say that my right hip is weaker than my left. We all have a dominant side of our bodies, often the result of an injury, surgery, or just plain overuse. A simple example is handedness - if you're right-handed, you write with your right hand, but you also use that hand for weeding in the garden, holding the dog's leash, chopping vegetables, swinging a racquet, or wielding a sewing needle or crochet hook. Naturally, your right arm becomes more muscularly developed than the left.
In the case of my right hip, I hurt it in a fall many years ago. I didn't think too much of it for years, but over time I started to notice that I wasn't engaging my right lower limb. If I was brushing my teeth or chopping vegetables, I would notice that I was bearing all my weight on my left leg. I could literally lift my right foot off the floor and waggle it around and my stance wouldn't change. As time wore on, I started to get pain in both hips. My right hip was weak, resulting in the recruitment of my low back muscles to accomplish tasks, muscles that really weren't meant to be firing at those moments. Meanwhile, my left hip was strained as a result of overworking. It was time to address the problem, but how?
Unilateral, or one-sided, exercises can begin to correct these muscular imbalances. The idea is not only to train the weaker side so it becomes stronger, but to train our brains to lead with that side. In my case, I had become habituated to leading with my left leg. This is why in my classes, I have clients come to a high kneeling position on the mat, and then I say, "bring any foot forward". Every single one of us will lead with our dominant leg, without thinking about it. In my case, I know I need to train my brain to fire both glutes, so I encourage people to join me in switching to their weaker foot before standing up.
Unilateral exercises have other benefits as well. When you use a limb on one side of your body, the brain also fires the other limb. As one side moves, the other stabilizes. Your core is working like crazy during these movements, helping you keep your balance. Over time you'll develop a more symmetrical body, leading to reduced pain and better injury prevention. More importantly, you'll move with ease and confidence throughout your whole day.
Ready to get started? Here are five of my favorite unilateral Pilates exercises.
Want to learn more about why you should incorporate unilateral exercises in your fitness routine? Check out these resources: