6 Unilateral Exercises

Embrace unilateral training for full-body benefits.

Copenhagen side plank

Weight machines, tread­mills, ellipticals, and other health-club equipment can deliver a well-balanced workout. In daily life and sports, though, our weight is often off center — we twist, we reach, we swing, often favoring one side or the other.

Unilateral movements are where our workouts meet our everyday lives. By challenging one side of the body at a time, these moves decrease imbalances and ensure no muscle is left behind. Each side of the body is forced to work hard without the benefit of the other side helping out.

“Unilateral training helps address muscle imbalances that might go unnoticed during daily activities or workouts,” explains personal trainer and strength coach Meghan Callaway, ACE.

Try taking an arm or leg away from bilateral movements and you’ll feel how much harder your body has to work. Because of their unstable nature, unilateral exercises demand that your core muscles do double duty to ensure you accomplish movements safely and with great form.

Unilateral-training studies show that the approach builds strength on both sides — working and “nonworking.”

It’s easy to transform almost any movement from bilateral to unilateral. Perform deadlifts on a single leg, with a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand, for example. Do overhead presses with one arm at a time, forcing muscles on the opposite side of the body to serve as stabilizers. Use side planks and Palloff presses to engage the core in an imbalanced state to create more balanced strength. You get the idea.

Callaway designed this workout to make you more stable all around — no matter what instability the world or a workout throws your way.

RKC-II, is a Twin Cities–based fitness writer and Life Time personal trainer.

Photography by: Kelly Loverud; Styling: Pam Brand; Fitness Model: Robert Clark

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