Unilateral Training For Strength

Unilateral (one limb at a time) training has come and go in phases throughout the years and it appears to be making a comeback. This type of training can provide some awesome perks:

Perks of Unilateral Training
Improve athletic performance

Prevent injuries

Strengthen the core muscles

Increase strength

Improving Athletic Performance

AthleteWhile the average person may not realize it, most athletic movements are single limb dominant. Ex: pushing off one foot into a sprint or a jump, swinging a racket or a baseball bat etc.

Since the priority of training for athletics is to train as similar to sport as possible, it only makes sense that unilateral training should be used. Improving the ability to generate force through one limb at a time will increase sport specific performance.


Injury Prevention

stabilityWe all want to be strong, mobile and keep the ability to do the activities we love. Training unilaterally helps this.

By targeting each limb individually, it forces stabilizing muscles to work overtime. Thus, your tiny helper muscles- that everyone hates to spend time working- are challenged and improved. The stronger these stabilizers are, the less chance of injury there is.

The other side of the injury coin comes from muscular balance. Due to the nature of our lives, everyone has some type of imbalance. Side to side, limb to limb, back to front etc. Part of a rounded training program should be to correct those imbalances, unilateral training helps that immensely. Because you are training one limb at a time, you are building up muscle in one specific area, meaning, another muscle cannot take over as easily.

The more balanced your body is, the less chance you have of becoming injured due to overcompensation.

Strengthening the Core Muscles

coreEveryone wants a nice set of abs right? So those who don’t know better delve into crunches, sit ups and possibly a plank. But what is the famous “core” actually responsible for? The answer: protecting the back by resisting movement. Meaning: anti-extension, anti-flexion and anti-rotation.

Unilateral training stimulates the core muscles more than other exercises. When doing one sided movements, your body has to work twice as hard to resist falling over. You end up generating more tension in your core while training other body parts as those muscles have to keep your body stable and balanced.

Adding weight to these exercises requires even more from your midsection as the core muscles must counter balance the weight to keep you in proper position.

Increasing Strength Gains

strengthYou’ve all heard of the “mind-muscle” connection and its importance in strength training. Being able to recruit necessary muscles when pushing maximal loads is essential.

Unilateral training helps improve this connection through the amount of focus needed in order to execute the moves. You have to really feel the connection you’re after. Since it is easier to put all your attention on just one side of your body, your mind-muscle connection grows and develops.

On top of that connection is the development of basic strength. By improving strength on each individual limb, those limbs together can generate more force, thus, improving your strength gains. Since your muscles will be better balanced, one side won’t have to “take over” for another and your big lifts will see a jump in weight.

So How Do You Go About Training Unilaterally?

Now, let me clarify. Training for stability and balance does not mean standing on a bosu ball attempting to rub your tummy and pat your head. Training unilaterally for maximum results means actually moving.

Here are a list of my top ten favorite unilateral exercises.


  1. Single Leg Squat
  2. Single Arm Shoulder Press
  3. Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
  4. Single Arm Bench Press
  5. Single Arm TRX Row
  6. Single leg hip thrust
  7. Single side suitcase deadlift
  8. Single Arm DB Row
  9. Single Arm lying tricep extensions
  10. Single arm KB clean & press


Though there are plenty more, I find those ten to be a good start.

Want to up your game? Take a step back from heavy lifting and spend 6 weeks improving your unilateral strength. Then, head back into your lifts like a boss.