It’s interesting how different training philosophies can be equally effective despite considerable differences in exercise selection, periodization, etc. For example, some college coaches are heavily influenced by Olympic lifting and thus include a great deal of clean, snatch and jerk variations. Other coaches are more influenced by powerlifting and therefore place greater emphasis on the big three (i.e., squat, bench press and deadlift) with their athletes. In the last 5 years alone, college football teams using Olympic lift based training, HIT training and/or a hybrid approach of various training methodologies have all one a national championship. This suggests that all can be effective at enhancing athletic performance.
Of great debate in recent years is the controversy over unilateral versus bilateral strength training. The unilateral training crowd believe that this type of training is more specific to sport movements (i.e., running, change of direction, etc.) and therefore training should exclusively involve unilateral work. Other arguments from this crown include the idea that unilateral work is safer due to less resistance used during single-leg training than traditionally used in bilateral movements. Finally, the argument regarding the bilateral deficit essentially states that more strength can be expressed unilaterally compared to bilaterally when the weight used in unilateral movements is summed.
A recent study published ahead of print in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the effects of exclusive unilateral versus exclusive bilateral training in 18 college-aged male rugby players. Before and after a 5 week training study, speed (40/10 m dash), agility (5-10-5) and 3 rep-max rear-foot elevated split squat (RFESS) and 3 rep-max back squat were assessed. The athletes were randomly split into two even groups and trained twice per week for 5 weeks following a progressive strength training program. The results showed that both the bilateral group and unilateral group significantly improved all performance and strength tests with no significant differences between groups.
The results of this study suggest that in college-aged athletes with 1 year of resistance training experience, performance and strength markers can be enhanced equally using bilateral or unilateral training. This supports the concept that multiple training philosophies can be effective. Ultimately coaches will benefit from drawing from a variety of philosophies and training methods. No one particular method is right or wrong.
Speirs et al. (2015) Unilateral vs Bilateral Squat training for Strength, Sprints and Agility in Academy Rugby Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Ahead of print.