Change Up Your Strength Training with Unilateral Exercises
Human beings are often resistant to change, and sometimes that means we get stuck in our routines. While routine can be an important part of a fulfilling life, it’s also important to change things up from time to time—this keeps us alert, engaged and open to whatever comes our way.
The same is true for fitness!
One of my favourite ways of changing up my routine enough that it confuses my muscles, but still enables me to do my favourite moves, is to switch to unilateral movements, which are movements that use a single arm or single leg. Even though you’ll have to decrease the amount of weight you’re lifting, unilateral movements have added benefits, like engaging your core, helping you improve balance, and increasing the intensity of the workout.
Here are some unilateral variations of my favourite exercises. While most unilateral exercises engage all or most of the body, I’ve separated them into upper and lower body specific.
UPPER BODY UNILATERAL EXERCISES
- One-arm dumbbell bench press: The same as a regular dumbbell press, but with weight in one hand only. Extend your other arm to help you keep your balance and squeeze that core tight.
- Spiderman push-ups: Feel like a superhero with these one-foot-on-the-ground push-ups. Or for the more advanced, try grasshopper push-ups.
- Bosu ball push-ups: You’re still using both arms, but when you destabilize one arm, it has the same effect of a unilateral movement. You can also destabilize your push-up using a Swiss ball with your hands on the floor, your hands on the ball, or alternating.
- Single-arm lat pulldown: These can be performed with either an overhand or underhand grip, and you can do them standing (hardest), kneeling (easier), or sitting (easiest).
- Single-arm cable row: There are lots of variations with this exercise: check out this video.
- Single-arm row with landmine: Using a landmine for single-arm rows is a good option as I find you can add a bit more weight. You can perform it with the landmine between your legs (easiest), standing beside it (easier), and in front of it (hardest).
- Single-arm shoulder press with landmine: Similar to the previous exercise, but targeting the shoulder instead.
LOWER BODY UNILATERAL EXERCISES
- Single leg squat: How’s your balance? Try the single leg squat and find out! And if you’re feeling super confident and flexible, you could even try the pistol squat (carefully, of course!).
- Single leg deadlift: A great full-body exercise that targets the glutes especially and really helps with balance. Make it even harder with weight in one hand only.
- Walking lunge with one-arm overhead kettlebell: Test your balance, engage your core, tone your legs, and hit your shoulders in one go with this advanced move. I’d recommend using light weight.
- Single-arm, single-leg plank: A fantastic plank variation that helps with balance and targets the hamstrings, glutes, core, back and delt muscles. Wanna make it harder? Try it on one foot, or on a Bosu ball.
- Plank with weight transfer: Do you like planks? You might not after you try this move. It’s that hard (but also that effective)!
- Turkish get up: Another great full body exercise with a lot of moving parts. Practice this one with body weight only until you get the swing of it.
- Suitcase carry: What might look like a simple exercise is in fact very effective for the whole body. You could use this as a finishing exercise for your workout, or instead of resting between sets do a suitcase carry!
So when you’re caught in a rut and want to change things up, confuse the hell out of your muscles with some unilateral moves. You may want to bring an extra towel because—trust me—you’re going to sweat!