This Month's Focus: Unilateral Work

This Month's Focus: Unilateral Work

This Month's Focus: Unilateral Work

This month we are exploring movements that are one-sided, or exercises in which limbs move independently of one another. Think single arm presses, split squats, turkish get ups, waiter's walks, pistols, lunges, single leg jumps, etc. There are several reasons to include unilateral work in your training; here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Improve stability, balance, and coordination. It takes a lot more effort to stabilize your body when both sides are not doing the exact same thing at the exact same time. You may find you need to use lighter weights, a lower box, etc., but you'll benefit by learning to hold your midline tight, and to use your breathing and your eyes more effectively.


  • Discover and correct imbalances. You probably find that one arm is stronger than the other, or one knee tends to start buckling in first when your squats get heavy. Maybe you can do a pistol on one leg but not the other. Barbells are great training tools for moving heavy loads, but often times your stronger side can get away with doing more work and compensating for your weaker side. Incorporating more single sided kettlebell and dumbbell training into your strength work will force you to do the same load on both sides. Your bilateral movements will thank you later.


  • Strengthen your joints and core.

    The instability of having dumbbells and not barbells asks for a lot more effort from your joint capsules (i.e. shoulders, elbows, wrists) to steady the load. This capacity simply cannot be exploited to the same degree through typical barbell training. The connective tissue of each joint will be trained to get stronger also, contributing to its overall health. - See more at:

    The instability of having dumbbells and not barbells asks for a lot more effort from your joint capsules (i.e. shoulders, elbows, wrists) to steady the load. This capacity simply cannot be exploited to the same degree through typical barbell training. The connective tissue of each joint will be trained to get stronger also, contributing to its overall health. - See more at:

     As described by Lee Boyce of, "The instability of having dumbbells and not barbells asks for a lot more effort from your joint capsules (i.e. shoulders, elbows, wrists) to steady the load. This capacity simply cannot be exploited to the same degree through typical barbell training. The connective tissue of each joint will be trained to get stronger also, contributing to its overall health...Joint stability aside, unilateral training will also help core strength. In any typical single arm or single leg movement, the body will have the propensity to ‘lean’ or twist in order to accommodate for the load being lifted on only one side. Keeping a straight body (or, making it look as though there’s an even load on each side) means twice as much work for the abdominals." (See more at:


  • Improve athletic performance and everyday functional movement. Think about various sports and activities you do and you quickly realize that most of them involve unilateral movements. Throwing a football, kicking, punching, bowling, swinging a tennis racket (golf club, baseball bat, etc.), catching a baseball, swimming freestyle or side stroke, and even running are all done with one arm or leg at a time. Consider everyday tasks like carrying a grocery bag or a heavy suitcase in one hand. In the real world, we often find ourselves moving our arms or legs independently of each other, so it only makes sense to train our bodies to safely perform one-sided movements. 


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