Shock Your Muscles With Unilateral Training

Crush your muscle and strength growth plateaus with this alternative lifting technique.

Are your workouts getting stale? Are you having trouble getting pumped? Have your strength gains stalled out? While there are many reasons why you may find yourself in this situation, much of the time it’s the result of the ineffectiveness of your current training program. At one time you may have thrived on exactly what you are doing now, but you may have reached a point where a change is necessary in order to continue progressing.


The body is an adaptive machine and if you continually provide the same types of stimulation, your body will quickly adapt and fail to respond to your workouts. You must keep finding ways to provide a novel “stress” to your body and muscles in order to force “overcompensation” in the form of increased strength and hypertrophy.

There are many ways to go about revamping and revitalizing your workout routine, but one of the best ways I’ve found to wake up muscles that are napping on the job is by taking things one at a time. Unilateral training, or training one limb/side of the body at a time, is one of the most effective methods available for stepping up the intensity of your workouts and helping to push past plateaus in both size and strength.


(1) You will be able to concentrate and focus more intensely on the target muscle, which in and of itself can lead to better gains.
(2) You will recruit more muscle fibers and fatigue more motor unit pools with each rep than with standard two-armed training.
(3) You will take steps toward overcoming strength imbalances between your right and left sides. For example, if your right biceps is stronger than your left, whenever you do a standard barbell, cable or preacher curl, your right arm will dominate the movement, especially as you fatigue, effectively reducing the stimulation that the left biceps receives. This only serves to enhance your strength imbalance as well as cheat your left arm out of growth.

However, by utilizing unilateral exercises, you will be forcing the weaker side to do all of the work on its own, rather than constantly relying on the dominant side to assist in lifting and lowering the weight. Additionally, when you begin to even out the level of strength between corresponding muscles on both sides of your body you will become stronger in all of the standard two-arm/leg exercises.

I’m not saying that you should abandon standard training for a completely unilateral approach; however, I do believe that everyone should incorporate at least one single-limb exercise at each bodypart workout. I generally recommend that you perform unilateral exercises toward the end of your routine for a particular body part. I am sure that most of you are familiar with such unilateral exercises as concentration curls, one-arm rows and kickbacks, but you are truly missing out if you have not tried such muscle-mashers as single-legged leg presses or squats, single arm dumbbell shoulder presses, single arm crossovers, single arm lat pulldowns, single arm dumbbell upright rows, etc.

These exercises will stress your muscles in a new and different way, forcing your body to “overcompensate” and grow larger and stronger. Additionally, you will effectively engage many of the stabilizing/balancing muscles by training one side at a time which will only serve to provide you with a more “complete” looking physique as well more total body strength and coordination.

Unilateral training

Here is a list of unilateral exercises to incorporate into your workouts:

  • Chest: single arm machine chest press, single arm cable flye, single arm cable crossover, single arm pec deck flye
  • Lats: single arm dumbbell row, single arm seated cable row, single arm pulldown
  • Delts: single arm dumbbell press, single arm machine press, single arm dumbbell/cable lateral, single arm dumbbell upright row
  • Biceps: single arm cable curl, single arm preacher curl, single arm dumbbell curl
  • Triceps: kickbacks, single arm lying/seated extensions, single arm pushdowns
  • Legs: single leg squats, single legged leg press, single leg extensions, step-ups, single leg lying/seated/standing leg curls, single leg stiff deadlifts
  • Calves: single leg seated raise, single leg standing raise, single leg calf press
  • Traps: single arm dumbbell/machine shrugs, dumbbell cleans
  • Lower back: dumbbell deadlifts
  • Forearms: single arm dumbbell wrist and reverse wrist curl

I’m sure if you think about it you can come up with dozens more unique unilateral exercises of your own. Start by adding one unilateral exercise to each bodypart workout and if you are finding that you are getting excellent results, perhaps add a second one. Actually, I have had some of my very best and most intense workouts by training exclusively unilaterally. Just remember that some unilateral exercises can be difficult to perform at first and until you have it mastered, you might not get the full benefit from it.

It certainly takes a few workouts to get used to single leg squats and deadlifts, but once you do, you can rest assured that you will see new gains in muscle and strength rather rapidly. Stick to each new unilateral exercise for about 6-8 weeks before you switch to another, but don’t be afraid to “play with” and tweak your form a bit each workout until you find what feels best to you.


Posted on March 10, 2015, in Body Building, Men's Health and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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