WHAT IS IT?
Alternating Reps are a way of performing segmented bouts of unilateral work, shifting from one side to the other within the same set.
HOW TO TRACK PROGRESSION?
Progression with Alternating Reps can be tracked in the same way straight, overloading sets are: by measuring load used and total reps achieved.
WHO SHOULD USE IT?
Trainees from all levels of advancement can see benefits from using Alternating Reps as it's not an inherently skill or intensity-based technique. Different variations will require different prerequisites which may exclude certain trainees from using Alternating Reps on more complex movements.
WHO SHOULD NOT USE IT?
Anyone who is looking to maximize absolute load used (either through bilateral or pure unilateral work) should err with over-utilization of Alternating Reps. Additionally, trainees who have severe bilateral deficits (i.e. one arm/leg is substantially stronger than the other) should stick with unilateral training until the gap has closed to a more manageable level, less the stronger limb be chronically under-stimulated and vice versa.
WHEN TO USE IT?
This is a technique that can be used at any point in a microcycle or mesocycle due to the "straight set-like properties".
WHEN NOT TO USE IT?
In training phases designed to increase coordination and technical skill with compound movements, Alternating Reps would have very little benefit—An example of this would be an athlete attempting to refine their full-body integration with the squat, bench press, and deadlift when in a maintenance phase.
Along the same lines, Strength or High Intensity blocks would be maximized with strict bilateral (or the occasional, specific unilateral) movements.
HOW TO USE IT?
This is not as straightforward as it may seem. Although Alternating Reps can be used in the familiar 1:1 paradigm (i.e. switching sides after each rep), this is not the only possible scheme. And even the "rest" position of the non-working limb is not defined by a rigid standard. There is variability to how this technique can be applied and most, if not all, comes down to the trainee's goals.
1) Standing Alternating DB Curls- Switch sides after each rep and start from the stretch/bottom (1:1 paradigm with the non-working side resting)
2) Alternating Incline DB Press- Switch sides after each rep but start from the top/lockout (1:1 paradigm with the non-working side maintaining a stable contraction but not against significant tension)
3) Seated Alternating DB Laterals- Switch sides after every 5th rep and start from the top/lockout (5:5 paradigm with the non-working side maintaining a static contraction against significant tension)
HOW NOT TO USE IT?
Using Alternating Reps with an exercise that requires a uniformly-moving modality will not work effectively due to the instability and inconsistency of reps. In this sense, barbells, single cable pulley systems, and non-isolateral machines are generally contraindicated (there are exceptions to this rule with certain machines and specific goals).
It is also not recommended to use with loads exceeding ~90% of 1RM OR less than ~50% of 1RM even with appropriate exercise selection and execution. Loads too heavy will compromise stability and thus compromise volume/reps achieved. Loads too light will increase the set time too much (holding the non-working side in contraction can alleviate this issue though).
1) Alternating Neutral Pulldowns- When working with a single cable/attachment, it's unfeasible to switch back and forth during the set.
2) Alternating Leg Press- Similar to the pulldowns, trying to alternate here would mean having to realign foot placement every rep and would require too much excess movement to be logistical.
3) Alternating Barbell Bench Press- There is no logical way to perform upper body barbell exercises alternating due to the prohibitive imbalances that would occur.
BENEFITS OF THE TECHNIQUE:
- Experience some of the benefits of unilateral training (more direct intent, increased mobility component, less compensatory activation, etc) without some of the associated drawbacks (longer time to perform equivalent volume, instability with uneven loading, etc)
- Experience some of the benefits of bilateral training (higher absolute loads, ease of progression, increased systemic integration, etc) without some of the associated drawbacks (developed compensations, bilateral strength and coordination deficits, mobility restrictions, etc)
- Greater ability to work around injuries/restrictions while keeping relative intensity high
- Can create a ton of time-under-tension depending on the start position
- Variability with biasing different aspects of the ROM (i.e. the start position could be in the stretch or even mid-point)
DRAWBACKS OF THE TECHNIQUE:
- Narrow range of modalities, exercises and schemes that prove effective
- Less absolute load is able to be used comparatively
- Coordination can become a limiting factor for some trainees
- If one arm or leg is significantly stronger than its counterpart, the intensity of the set will be out of desired range for each limb