T Nation

One Sided Exercises...No Good?

I originally posted this on the “Lair of the Ice Dog” board, but did not get much of a response so I’ll try on this board.
I would like your thoughts on the following: I have studied Vince Gironda’s methods for years and have been personally trained by one of Vinces trainers. One of his thoughts is that “one sided exercises” are worthless. The following is an excerpt from one of Vince’s training manuals. Anybody care to share their thoughts on this? “Everyone’s body has two (2) different sides. If you are right handed, your right shoulder is wider and lower than the left. The left arm and leg are not only smaller, but are developed differently. When students in my gym discover this, they immediately want to do one armed exercises. Both arms, legs, lats or pecs must be worked together because of a mysterious nerve force or charge which emanates from the spine and travels around the body. I have personally experimented with one arm exercises. For example, I worked my strength up progressively in the one arm dumbell rowing motion until I could perform 20 reps with a 175 lb. dumbell. However, I could not develop the left lat to match the right, although I did bring the lat up by using both hands at the same time and concentrating on the left lat.” Thoughts please. Thanks, TenMan

Interesting idea. However, I think that unilateral exercises have merit. Exercises such as one legged squats, one arm presses etc really address imbalances.

He is correct that both sides of the body will not be identical. I think that for someone building his body, it’s important to take this into consideration and use unilateral exercises to help combat any gross imbalances. I have several imbalances, and using only bilateral movements will not correct the problem. If that were true, I probably wouldn’t have the imbalances now.

I would question this “mysterious nerve force”… what the hell is that? Saying that unilateral exercises are worthless is a pretty bold and unfounded statement. I think more of an argument could be made to defend the exact opposite, that if you had to choose only one, unilateral would be more beneficial than bilateral. Is he suggesting the body is created to only use both limbs independantly in the real world? What happens when you walk? The gait is comprised of mostly unilateral movement. What about when you pick up your gym bag? Should you start using two hands now to avoid this “mysterious nerve force” from becoming agitated and shooting misdirected electricity out your eyeballs? I would love to hear Ian King respond to this, too bad he doesn’t post here.

That sounds like an “old school” comment to me. There is no doubt that unilateral movements have their place in todays lifting world. Imbalances in muscle/strength can be overcome with this type of training.
“Mysterious nerve force or charge which emanates from the spine and travels around the body”??? That’s a new one to me. How does that statement play into the equation?
Bilateral and unilateral movements can both be implemented into a routine. Should there really be such a “one or the other black/white” in this case?

I have been doing unilateral dumbbell presses to good advantage as part of my core and abdominal program, they aren’t bad for the delts either.

Got the idea from an endurance demonstration during last year’s Aloha Muscle show. Sorry I don’t remember guy’s name but he beat all challenges for repetitions. He had a great torso, and claimed to never performing situps or crunches.

I agree w/ all of the above postings. But, whats up w/ this “mysterious nerve force” don’t understand that at all.

Gironda had some great ideas, was ahead of his time but was an ego manaiac, though not to the same degree as weider.

Anyway one legged squats with a dumbell are no joke, and one armed dumbell bench presses have helped me bring the strength on my left side up dramatically to match my right side.

Please elaborate on dumbell presses for the abs.

Just to give Vince his due, yes, he was very emphatic about unilateral exercises being worthless, and yes, he HAD experimented with them (in other words, he gave them what he considered a fair shot) and found them wanting.

Having (a) used extra work on my left arm to bring it up to my right and (b) having known Vince for a while and being in awe of what he could do with people’s bodies, I think that maybe the answer lies in what, exactly, he was talking about when he said “one-armed” (he never actually used the word “unilateral” to my knowledge).

I’m speculating here, but maybe he meant that he would only work that arm during a session. In other words, he was talking about taking one dumbell and performing left-arm curls (or whatever) with it, then terminating the set and not working the right arm at all during that session.

This makes more sense to me than claiming that he simply dismissed all one-arm exercises out of hand, and it also explains why there are lots of pictures of him doing stuff like alternating DB curls (moving only one arm at a time, but having a DB, and thus some type of stress, in both hands at all times during the set).

As for the mysterious nerve force, Vince had a lot of terms that he more or less made up because he observed stuff that there was no terminology for at the time. (He called overtraining “overtonus”, for instance.) I wouldn’t say that this has any particular significance one way or the other. Staley, in his EDT book, talks about cryotherapy and makes the statement that ice is miraculous for recovery and probably “acts on pathways that we have yet to discover”. In ten years someone might very well say “Hey, what are these mysterious ‘pathways’?!?” Same thing, if you see what I’m saying.

There is a degree of subconscious limitation with certain unilateral exercises. Try pressing a single 60 lb dumbell with one hand, you’ll see what I’m talking about. The self-preservation instinct is difficut to overcome.

That isn't so say such movements have no place. Any context without signficant balance requirements benefits greatly from them.


Brilliant response! I too have seen pictures of Vince doing altermnate dumbell curls which confused me. I asked Vince’s trainer about this and he explained that if they were done properly, they are a good exercise. Properly meant the opposite arm would start to curl when the other arm (the forearm) was at the horizontal position. The thought here is that both arms are working simultaneously, even though they are in different positions at any point in time. I still see this fella from time-to-time and I will ask him to elaborate more on “unilateral” movements. Yes, some of Vince’s terminology seems weird or old school today, but we must remember that the foundation of BB’ing was developed by him (and old timers like him) and the knowledge we have today did not exist then. In fact, I would have to say that if most people today knew how certain exercises were developed (back in the old days) and how it was determined where a particular exercise hit a muscle, they would get a real hoot out of it!

To clarify: <Properly meant the opposite arm would start to curl when the other arm (the forearm) was at the horizontal position>…as the arm was moving down.

I agree with BodyIQ on this one. Sounds like an old school idea surrounded by walking under a ladder on my way to breaking a mirror caused by a black cat running by me. Unilateral training increases motor unit activity individually which in turn will benefit a dual sided exercise. If you strengthen your weak link, the whole chain becomes stronger.