December 13, 2023 3 min read 1 Comment

By Shane Robert

The importance of unilateral vs. bilateral training has been debated until the cows come home, get slaughtered, ground and cooked into delicious hamburgers. I’m not going to attempt to argue one way or the other. If you want to put bone crushing weight on your back and squat until you have hemorrhoids the size of the Hindenburg - you should. It’s your life; live it however you like.

This is simply my anecdotal observation: the older you are, let’s say AARP subscribers and up, the more important it is that you spend a good portion of your training time doing single leg work.  

For many of my older clients, even those with relatively strong squats and/or deadlifts, unloaded bodyweight training in the form of foot-elevated split squats and lunge variations can be quite challenging. Not because of the load, but because of weakness of the small stabilizer muscles, or what most people call “balance.”

Muscled adult woman exercising in the street stock photo Body Building, Kettlebell, Building Exterior, Muscle, Gym  Young muscular woman doing lunges.

Don’t mistake this to mean you should drop bilateral. Far from it. Rather, I view the benefits of unilateral training for those trees with a few rings on them to be best used for hypertrophy and “functional” training (in the truest sense of the word). As people age, especially men, their balance gets markedly worse, and their ability to balance on one leg virtually disappears. To illustrate this, look at the table below that shows normative values for a single leg standing test, i.e. a test where someone stands with their hands on their hips and lifts one foot off of the ground for as long as they can. 

AGE (Years)             

TIME                  (Eyes Open)

TIME                      (Eyes Closed)


43 seconds

9 seconds


40 seconds

7 seconds


37 seconds

4.8 seconds


26.9 seconds

2.8 seconds


18.3 seconds

2 seconds


5.6 seconds

1 second

Springer, B. A., Marin, R. H., Cyhan, T., Roberts, H., & Gill, N. W. (2007). Normative Values for the Unipedal Stance Test with Eyes Open and Closed. Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy, 30(1), 8–15. https://doi.org/10.1519/00139143-200704000-00003

We get about 20 years of consistent balancing ability before we start to see a, roughly, 7% decrease each decade between 40 and 60, at which point we drop 27% from the previous decade, which is 37% off of our starting time!

Remember, these are normative values. In other words, this is a population-wide average and does not illustrate what is necessarily ideal. Instead, it is a good indicator that, if you are falling short of these marks, you need to get stronger and spend more time doing single leg work. I should also point out that it can also be an early sign of neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and, of course, fall risk. With the exception of fall risk, no amount of single leg training will improve these conditions, so see a medical professional if your balance keeps getting worse despite efforts to improve it. This loss of balance can be combated by being stronger. By training these muscles they will get stronger. Here are some of my favorite single leg variations, in order of easiest to hardest:

  1. Touchdown Squats (Video example)
  2. Split Squat holding something with both hands (such as a bar in a rack)
  3. Split Squat holding with one hand
  4. Split Squat with no hands
  5. Reverse Lunges w/a stick on the working side
  6. Reverse Lunges with no stick
  7. Reverse Lunges off a block
  8. Walking Lunges
  9. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat w/a stick
  10. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat w/no stick
  11. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat with Front Foot Elevated
  12. Suspension Trainer Single Leg Squat
  13. Pistol Squat off a box
  14. Full Pistol Squat, aka full single leg squat (Video example)

Of course, you can add weight to all of these variations to increase the challenge to the muscles before progressing to the harder balance requirement.

Greater balance and single leg strength means a lower likelihood of falls, easier time getting up from a fallen position, less injuries like groin strains, and, if none of that matters to you, you will almost certainly feel stronger and more stable in your bilateral movements.

1 Response


December 18, 2023

Most things in life are unilateral. Unilateral training is a must

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