Single Limb Circuits

Working in a commercial gym setting, I see a lot of less-than-optimal training.  This morning alone, I saw a lady curling tiny dumbbells while using an elliptical, and a larger-than-average man curling larger dumbbells while balancing on the BOSU ball.  And people wonder why I hate curls.

The biggest mistake that people tend to make in the gym is exercise selection, focusing on inefficient exercises they learned from the body-building boom in the last 25 years.  Most people engage in body-part splits that focus on isolating specific muscles, which are great in some cases, but less-than-idea in most.  Unfortunately, this is where it seems most people develop the “This doesn’t work for me” attitude, and fall off the wagon.  To help get you in the movement-centric mindset, let me reiterate a simple recommendation for exercise grouping:

Push something, pull something, use your legs.

It sounds simple, and it is, but few people do it.  Flowing through a grouping of several exercises allows you to work more and rest less, which should lead to a more effective and efficient workout.  Today, let me recommend using single limb exercises in a grouped fashion, akin to a circuit, to minimize your rest time, and provide the best that strength training and aerobic training have to offer.

Single limb training, which emphasizes one side of the body on any given repetition, allows you to include additional ‘core’ work that you wouldn’t otherwise develop in bilateral exercises.  There is a need for both in a program, Yes, but I like to consider it ‘extra’ benefits that come from the unilateral work.  Utilizing single limb exercises in a circuit form allows you to spend as much time as possible in the training session doing work, instead of resting between sets.  This makes them a great idea for those with limited time to spend at the gym, those looking for a bigger metabolic impact, and those who want to minimize strength imbalances between each side of the body.  Basically, do them.

Now, there are definitely rules when it comes to grouping exercises, and it is as much an art as it is a science.  For example, I might not be as quick to combine a rowing exercise with a goblet squat variation, as the upper back would be taxed in both exercises.  I wouldn’t necessarily combine a deadlift variation with a bent over row variation.  That being said, these may work for you, and it would be advantageous to determine what you personally feel comfortable challenging yourself with.

To provide you with an idea of a single limb grouping that I might recommend based on it’s appropriateness for someone, I’ll include one that I ‘tested’ out several days ago. It included a high box step-up, a split stance low-cable row, and a tall-kneeling Landmine press.  If you account for a ‘set’ with each limb, that’s 6 sets to make up one round.  For any of these exercise, you can perform between 6-12 reps, and estimate that one ’round’ takes between 4-6 minutes to complete.  Provide for your overall training volume and intensity, and you can have yourself a nice butt-kickin’ workout!




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