Get stronger (without lifting heavier)

Here’s one of my favorite (and simple!) tricks that can help you:

  • Boost your strength
  • Work your core
  • Improve your balance
  • Build athleticism
  • Rev up the fun factor in your workouts

It’s called unilateral training… which is a fancy term for using just one arm or one leg!

Here’s why it’s worth trying:

👉 It can make you stronger. Most of us have a dominant (stronger!) side that tends to take over when we lift something.

But when you lift with one side at a time, your strong side can’t compensate, which forces your weaker side to get stronger.

👉 It’s good for your core. When you work one side of your body, your core muscles have to engage to keep you balanced and protect your spine. This is great for building a strong and stable midsection.

👉 It can make you more athletic. Because it can improve your coordination, balance, and proprioception (your awareness of your body’s movements through space), it can help your athletic performance.

👉 It may help cut your risk of injury. Because they boost balance, strength, and coordination, one-sided exercises may help you move better, and ward off your risk of getting injured.

👉 The exercises can be a fun way to mix things up. Adding 1-2 unilateral exercises to your workout can add variety and help you stay fresh.

Simple Unilateral Exercises to Try:

Kickstand RDL 

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand by your sides. Then, place nearly all of your weight onto your left foot, with your right foot slightly behind you, resting on your toes, like a “kickstand.” 
  • Keeping your back straight and long, push your hips back like you’re trying to close a car door with your butt.
  • Lower the weight to knee height as you feel a stretch in your hamstring and glutes, and then come back up to standing.

Single-Leg Glute Bridge

  • Lay on your back with one foot on the floor, and the other extended toward the ceiling.
  • Lift your hips off the ground, squeezing your glutes at the top, then lower back down.

Single-Arm Shoulder Press:

  • Seated or standing, hold a dumbbell in one hand at shoulder height.
  • Press the weight up until your arm is fully extended, then lower it back down.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows: 

  • Lean over a bench with one hand and one knee on top. Keep your back flat and core braced.
  • With a dumbbell in the free hand, row the weight towards your hip, keeping your elbow close to your body.
  • Lower the weight slowly back to the starting position.

TIP: when you’re doing these one-sided lifts, it’s not about seeing how MUCH you can lift, but building a mind-muscle connection that allows you to fully engage the muscles you’re using!

Rob Quimby, CPT

Owner, Fitness Lifestyle LLC



Rob is the owner and founder of Fitness Lifestyle Personal Training. He has been training for over thirty-three years; seventeen of those years as a personal trainer helping others reach their goals.