Back Exercises

Go Unilateral for a Balanced Back

Attack your back and traps using these unilateral moves.


dumbbell row

You probably never gave it much thought, but how you train back is unlike the way you train other muscle groups in your body. Why? Most notably, almost all the exercises you do for your back are done bilaterally, meaning you work the right and left sides of your back at the same time. In fact, it's probably rare for you to include dumbbells and one-handed cable moves in your back training, with one-arm dumbbell rows being the likely exception.

Isolating each side of the back by doing unilateral movements affords a number of benefits, namely allowing greater isolation of a particular area and ensuring balanced development because one side can't compensate for the other during a move. In addition, unilateral movements allow you to produce more force on each side of the body and work through a longer range of motion than is the case with bilateral movements—both great ways to shock the muscles into growth.

How to Do It

To start, use about half the weight you normally do on bilateral exercises, adjusting as necessary. You'll also want to watch your rest periods, cutting them by about 30 seconds. Since one side is already resting while the other is working, a full-length between-sets rest period is probably too much. Keep your body stable with a solid foot position and use your free hand for balance and support.

For traps, a great unilateral exercise is the one-arm Smith machine shrug, standing sideways to the bar. Finish with some one-arm, small-angle training on the incline bench, going from a steeply inclined bench to a lower incline. Shrug your shoulders directly up against the force of gravity, not simply toward your ears (as you'd do with the standing version). These small-angle adjustments will mean big changes in your traps.