Go One-Sided

Try unilateral training to target muscles and improve symmetry.


Per Bernal

Your mom might be nagging you to pair up for good, but sometimes it’s best to stay single. So it is in the gym, where it can be highly effective to place all your focus on one side and none on the other. In fact, it’s such a positive that you should include at least one unilateral exercise for each body part in every workout, and, as we’ll demonstrate, there are enough options to do all your exercises single-sided.


The one-arm dumbbell bench press can be performed by either alternating sides or holding one dumbbell up while you pump out all the reps for the opposite side. Either way forces you to focus more on stabilizing the weight. If you do machine yes or pec deck yes with a single side at a time, you can bring your hand past your sternum to better target your inner pecs. 


This is an easy body part to work unilaterally because there are so many excellent rowing exercises. Here are three: one-arm dumbbell row, one-arm low-cable row, and, especially with a unilateral machine, one-arm machine row. You can also do one- arm pulldowns, with either a unilateral machine or with a D-handle at an overhead cable station.


Deads probably don’t spring to mind when you ponder one-sided exercises. However, you can do a one-arm dumbbell deadlift by centering the weight between your legs and pulling it slightly to the working side. An alternative, unlimited by the size of your gym’s dumbbells, is the suitcase deadlift. Position a barbell on the floor at your side and grab it in the middle. Then stand as if lifting a suitcase. Because you must balance the bar, this is a uniquely challenging core stressor. 


Most deltoid exercises can easily be done single-sided by holding a dumbbell or cable. Here’s a whole workout’s worth: one-arm shoulder press, one-arm lateral, one-arm front raise, and one-arm rear raise.


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