Question of the Week: Unilateral Training


The science behind fitness and health is wild, crazy and ever changing. One minute a study supports a particular claim, then next it’s the worst thing you could humanly do to or for yourself. Sometimes you’ll even find the same questions looming around the industry with mixed reviews, perspectives and findings. In efforts to calm the maddess, each week here at we’ll scour the Internet, tap into forums and ask our friends on Facebook and Twitter about what question in fitness we can get some firm answers to.

This week, we explain the benefits of unilateral training.

Q: How important is unilateral training?


A: Let’s face it—unilateral training is a style that’s not really “high demand” in the world of men’s training. Pumping out reps on a dumbbell press is much more humbling than doing its barbell equivalent. Normally they expose many weaknesses and imbalances that can affect a lifter’s performance. But isn’t that the point? As men who are looking not only to train for results but also for performance and health, we should take advantage of these methods that are available to us and grab dumbbells.  Here’s why:


Benefit 1: Joint Strengthening

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.

Benefit 2: Core Strengthening

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. The best part is that this is a much better function of the abdominals to train—namely, anti-rotation and dynamic stability of the abs and lower back. These are the ways in which the core is working for most of the day, and sharpening up this capacity will send leg raises and crunches to the crypt any day of the week.

Benefit 3: Caloric Burn

Simple, when you do exercises one limb after the other, the set usually takes twice as long. That means more time spent under tension with load, more calories burned, and an improved training effect. If you’re looking to lean out, a fair deal unilateral training should take their place in your program to complement foundational barbell and compound movements.

This is a list of some of the best unilateral movements:

Rear leg elevated split squat
1-arm DB row
Renegade row
Standing 1-arm press
1-arm DB snatch
DB Single Leg Deadlift

Use these in your program to blast your metabolism, and prepare to make solid gains, one limb at a time. 

About the Trainer: Lee Boyce

Lee Boyce, CPT is a strength coach based in Toronto, ON. A former Kinesiology Major, Lee competed as a sprinter and long jumper at the National level. His work has been featured in many major magazines including Men’s Health, Musclemag, TNATION, and also on national television. For more on Lee, check him out at, @coachleeboyce and Facebook.

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