Unilateral Training: Which Side First?

When you perform unilateral (one side at a time) training, the conventional thinking is that you should start with the weaker side while you’re fresh and then do the stronger side afterward. Many times that strategy works well, but there’s another camp that believes it’s best to start with your stronger side to potentiate the nervous system, allowing you to get more out of your weaker side. That can work, too!

Like anything in the strength game, you need to try both approaches to see which one works best for you. You’ll know very quickly if starting with the stronger side first works or not. For instance, if you get 12 reps on the stronger side and then can only muster 8 reps on the weaker side, it may not be the best approach, at least for that particular exercise.

If you feel that both sides are relatively even in strength, you can alternate starting sides each set. However, if there’s a significant difference between both sides (that is, more than 10% in strength or 3 cm in circumference), then not only should you start with the weaker side, but it would be wise to assign more work to the weaker side as well (Zatsiorsky, 1995).

The 10-Second Rule

Make sure to rest 10 seconds when going from one side to the next. That short amount of rest can make a big difference in performance! Research indicates that 10-second recoveries are sufficient to accomplish ATP resynthesis in bilateral training (Pampus et al., 1989), and from experience I have found it to be beneficial in unilateral training as well.

Bottom Line: Through trial and error you’ll be able to determine which side to start with on various unilateral exercises.

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