Challenging Unilateral Training Workout

Monday, February 17 2020

Simplify your class design and cut the workout in two halves with unilateral training.  AEA Aquatic Training Specialist, Jackie LeBeau shares a class template that includes creative and challenging exercise options based on right/left limb opposition training techniques.  With or without equipment, deep or shallow, this workout template is designed to train the brain, core and more.   

Jackie’s one-sided inspiration came about after getting frustrated with equipment shortages.  “After setting out all of the hand bells, I’d have more participants show up than I had equipment,” says Jackie.  When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!  Jackie started teaching her classes with only one hand bell per participant. “A happy side-effect is that by working unilaterally, the choreography feels brand new and the physical outcome is different as well,” adds Jackie.

5 Benefits of Unilateral Training
1. As mentioned above, using one piece of equipment instead of a pair means that you need less to accommodate a large class.
2. Being forced to use one piece of equipment will help unleash your creativity at creating a new approach to traditional exercises.   The outcome is that you end up with lots of fresh and innovative exercises to add to your movement library. 
3. Training unilaterally helps to balance muscle and joint actions.  Most people have a dominant side and training bilateral will often reinforce your dominant side to take over.  Performing exercises unilaterally forces the weaker side to work equally hard.
4. Training unilaterally creates asymmetrical challenges that force more stability and engagement of the core muscles, especially in deep-water.
5.Coordinating asymmetrical exercises and opposition of limbs provides additional neuro-motor training that keeps the brain involved.  A focused brain allows for less opportunities for idle chatter.  
Watch Jackie explain some of the benefits and considerations of One-Sided Deep.

Unilateral Considerations – Deep Water
Performing unilateral exercises in deep-water is more challenging than shallow water.  Below are some considerations.

  • Performing asymmetrical exercises and maintaining neutral body alignment in zero gravity is really, really hard.  As the student in this video, I can attest to the challenge and anyone watching the video will see the effort in my facial expressions. 
  • Body awareness and proprioception are challenged in deep water with any kind of training.  However, kinesthetic awareness and proper alignment becomes much more of an issue with unilateral training.   Participants who lack core strength will struggle with this routine. 
  • The cadence and music bpm for unilateral training will need to be slower to allow for full range of motion and good form.   Jackie used an extra slow cadence at 110bpm.
  • Familiarity with equipment is important.  In the One-sided Deep video, I was using a hand bell and an ankle blade.   Jackie suggests using only upper or only lower when starting out.  Extra time will be needed to change equipment, particularly if ankle attachments are used on ankles, or webbed gloves are used on hands. 

Class Template
The structure Jackie uses is very simple for instructors to recreate using exercises of their own.   For example, if you want to do a one-sided routine, select 20 exercises with the buoy in one hand.  In the video, Jackie demonstrated each of the 20 exercises for 30 seconds (64 music counts).  She then performed all 20 exercises for 15 seconds each (32 counts of music). Jackie then switched the equipment to the other hand and repeated all 20 exercises – first for 30 seconds and then for 15 seconds each. 

Joint Balance
Instructors should look beyond the exercises themselves and study the effort Jackie made at including all joint actions of the shoulder, elbow, hip and knee.  Quiz yourself.  See if you can identify the following joint actions and the joint involved?
Flexion & extension
Abduction & adduction
Transverse abduction & adduction
Internal & external rotation
Dorsi flexion & plantar flexion
Pronation and supination

In the video, Jackie uses the Aqualogix drag equipment, both uppers and lowers.  All exercises can be performed with NO equipment or with webbed gloves.  Buoyant equipment (foam dumbbells) is NEVER an equivalent substitute for drag equipment.  Some of the exercises in this video can certainly be used with foam dumbbells, but not all. 

Shallow Water
Can One-Sided be taught in shallow water?  Sure!  But not THIS routine. Jackie actually gave me the choice of choosing One-Sided Deep or One-Sided Shallow for filming.  I chose deep because it is hard to get enough deep-water videos on Fitmotivation.  Some of the exercises in this video can be used in shallow water, but many are deep specific.  Performing unilateral training in shallow water would also serve as effective balance training as many of the exercises would be taught on one supporting leg. 

Fitmotivation extends a big thank-you to Jackie for once again coming to Florida and sharing her talent and passion with video viewers.   Check out Jackie’s other Fitmotivation videos.  If you are interested in hosting Jackie’s workshops at your facility, contact her through her website -  JLA Fitness.

Author: Mark Grevelding is the founder of Fitmotivation. He is also a training specialist and consultant with the Aquatic Exercise Association’s (AEA). Mark has been active in the fitness industry for 22 years as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, international presenter and a continuing education provider for AEA, AFAA & ACE.