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Unilateral training is something we should all be doing, but most of us fail to do so. Whether you are an athlete, bodybuilder, crossfitter or even a desk jockey who is new to exercising there are benefits to be had from unilateral training that should not be ignored.
What is Unilateral Training?
Unilateral training is simply training one arm or leg at a time. Most people get their weightlifting done with the barbell or two dumbbells working both arms or both legs at the same time, which is great, but if you aren’t also doing unilateral exercises you are shortchanging yourself and could get burned in the long run.
Benefits of Unilateral Training
There are several benefits of using unilateral training.
Improves muscular imbalances – Just living life and favoring one side of your body over another can lead to muscular imbalances, this can be made worse when lifting weights having one side overcompensate for the other. Unilateral training eliminates this by working each limb on its own so there is no overcompensation.
Improved Core Strength – This is especially true on upper body unilateral exercises. Single limb exercises force you to use your core for stabilization and balance. Try doing a dumbbell bench press with only one arm and you will see. You will be using your abs to keep your balance while lifting almost as much as you use your chest to press the weight up.
The 10 Best Unilateral Exercises
So now that you know what the advantages are, here are the 10 best unilateral exercises to choose from. Be sure and work at least some of these in to your routine.
10 Single Arm Bench Press
This is one that most people have never done. It is a major core and chest workout. Check your ego though because you won’t be able to use near the same weight you use with two hands.
9 Single Leg Deadlift
The single leg deadlift is a bit more challenging than you would think. It really targets the hamstrings and butt as well as the lower back but is easier on the spine than a traditional deadlift.
Lunges are one of the best butt exercises on the planet. They are also great for the quads and hamstrings. Carry a dumbbell at your side in each hand to increase difficulty.
7 Barbell Landmine Press
Landmine presses are a great alternative to traditional shoulder presses. This movement allows a neutral grip which can be very beneficial to people with shoulder problems or elbow tendinitis (lifters elbow). These can be done kneeling or standing up, mostly it is just a matter of preference.
6 Dumbell Row
This is the most common lift on the list and a real no-brainer. This one hits the back, shoulders and biceps mainly. Be sure not to use torso rotation as your power source, it is important to be slow and controlled on this bad boy.
5 Single Arm Dumbbell Snatch
The one arm dumbbell snatch is a great whole body exercise that blasts the shoulders, and obliques. You also get explosive hip extension and this exercise can be used for cardiovascular endurance as well. These can be done with a kettlebell but it requires a bit more technique than the dumbbell version so you don’t slam your wrist with the kettlebell on each rep.
4 Turkish Get-Ups
Love it or hate it the Turkish get-up is an awesome exercise. This one hammers the abs and obliques and also torches the shoulders. This is one you need to use good form on and take it slow, if not that weight might come crashing down on your head and that would not be a good feeling. Here is a good video of a proper Turkish get-up so you can be sure to do it right and save your dome.
3 Single Leg Hip Thrust
If you want a great booty then this is the one for you. Doing this exercise with the feet abs and shoulders elevated will increase the range of motion. Make sure to pause and squeeze at the top. Also be sure to keep a neutral spine on this exercise.
2 Single Arm Farmers Carry
Loaded carries are another badass and underrated exercise. They help improve endurance, grip strength, core strength, and build muscle. Doing the farmers walk with the weight on one side will improve muscular imbalances, symmetry and work the hell out of your core.
1 Bulgarian Split Squat
If you have back issues that keep you from doing the traditional back squat then this might be a great, back friendly alternative for you that increases single-leg stability and flexibility. As with regular squats make sure not to wimp out on going to a proper depth, you are only cheating yourself with those silly half reps.
That’s it. The top nine unilateral exercises. Be sure to use some of these in your training to help fight against muscular imbalances and training monotony while improving stability, core strength and motor recruitment.