Do you feel like one side of your body is weaker than the other? Wouldn’t it be great as well if you could address those weaker body parts while also burning a few extra calories?
When it comes to building strength in your lagging body parts while also challenging your energy systems in new and profound ways, the only way to accomplish these goals is by doing more unilateral exercises.
Unilateral exercises burn a ton of calories while balancing strength on your dominant and nondominant sides. More importantly, they help you achieve the real goal of the gym. Which, as much as we want to believe the ultimate goal is to look better naked, lifting weights (and fitness in general) is about increasing your overall quality of life.
Things you do every day like walking, pushing a door shut, pulling a door open, walking upstairs, or bending down to tie your shoe are unilateral movements. So why do you exclusively train bilaterally?
Unilateral exercises are the key to increasing stability in your knees and hips, as well as improving core strength while correcting strength imbalances that can stave off your chance of getting injured.
The NFL Lineman Row
The first unilateral exercise everyone who ever steps foot in a gym does is the one arm dumbbell row. But the single arm dumbbell row is one of the most butchered exercises I see people performing in the gym.
A better and more effective row variation that fixes the common one arm dumbbell row mistakes — rounded shoulders, non-neutral spine, and pulling the dumbbell beyond the body — that every day in the gym is the 3-Point Dumbbell Row.
Why is it so freaking kick ass?
The 3-point Dumbbell Row forces your core to resist rotation in your torso as you row the weight into your body, meaning you get more activation out of your obliques. But that doesn’t mean you should be pulling heavy weight from day one. In fact, to get the most out of the 3-Point Dumbbell Row pick a weight that allows you to pause with at the top of the movement — where your elbow is touching your hip — so that you don’t swing the weight or use momentum to get the dumbbell up. This will allow you to create more tension in your muscles and thus elicit more growth.
I Am Groot
Single arm rows don’t require a massive amount of mechanical know-how in order to perform them. Unilateral exercises with your legs is a completely different story. When you venture into unilateral leg training, you’re about to enter the Thunderdome of technical demands. But once you mastered and increased your mechanical abilities to perform these exercises, they have more direct carry over to your daily activities like walking up stairs, running, getting up off the floor, etc.
Unilateral exercises ultimately accomplish one goal: improving your quality of life. And who doesn’t want to walk more efficiently, climb stairs like a graceful gazelle, or have better coordination and balance?
Single leg training will do all of that while making you scream to the heavens above how much you hate life. But hey, it also demands more energy out of your body. And since calories are the energy source for the body, that means you’ll burn more calories. So, yea. Stop being a wuss and grow some Groot-sized thighs with these single leg exercises.
Bulgarian Split Squat
Fun fact: if you want to make an exercise sound more badass, just give it the name of an Eastern European country and you immediately increase the badassery of the exercise 100 fold.
Okay, you don’t. But when it comes to building sublime thighs and glutes that salute, there’s no exercise more dope than the Bulgarian Split Squat.
Standing in front of a bench, with dumbbells in your hands — or using your bodyweight — extend your leg back, placing the top of your foot on a bench. This is your starting position.
Begin the movement by squatting towards the floor, flexing your forward knee to ninety degrees; attempting to bring the knee of your rear leg in contact with the floor.
Return to the starting position by extending your hip and knee of the forward leg. Complete one set then switch to the opposite leg. Perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps per side.
The set-up for the BSS can be a pain in the ass. Sure, it sounds easy to stand on one foot while placing the other foot on a bench or raised platform, but then your balance kicks in and laughs at you and you’re left flapping your dumbbell-filled arms around like a wounded bird.
So take a peek at the video below to see the best way to set up for the BSS.
Booty Booty Booty Rockin’ E’rywhere
The magic of the BSS is that with a wee tweak, you can target your quads if you keep your torso upright, or you can set your glutes on fire by hinging ever so slightly into the movement. And as great as a pair of strong and sexy legs are, nothing—and I mean nothing—will make you look sexier than ever and perform better in your life than a strong, rock hard ass.
When it comes to building glutes that salute, mastering movements that focus on hinging your hips are how it’s done. Deadlifts, cable pull-throughs, and hip thrusts are my go-to ways to build bigger and better glutes for my online coaching clients.
Fact: Single leg deadlifts and single leg hip thrusts will take your ass from voluptuous to scrumdiddlyumptious.
The single leg deadlift can be a difficult and very technical exercise to perform with a kettlebell or dumbbell and even your bodyweight. But for some reason, and I’m sure there’s a fancy smancy science reason why but I don’t know it, the landmine single leg deadlift works much better and can allow you to load the exercise from day one.
Single Hip Thrust
A couple of tips on the single leg hip thrust.
- Keep your chin tucked into your chest
- Squeeze your glutes at the top; you should feel this there and not in your low back
- Play with the position of your foot to hit different parts of your glutes
- Take this movement slow and don’t hump the air like you’re a drunk frat boy banging away as fast as he can for 30 seconds.
There is one more exercise that I use with my clients to help them build bigger and better glutes. And like the hip thrust, it’s a bodyweight exercise that looks simple but will leave your booty screaming.
The Step Down
Deck Out Yo’ Pecs
Have you ever felt like one side of your chest is weaker than the other? The bench press is one of those movements where imbalances become clear pretty quickly. And if your goal is to lift more weight off your chest with the bench press, you’re not gonna go as far as you could if you one pec is weaker than the other.
One-arm dumbbell bench presses bring up your weak points in your pecs, triceps, and shoulders by allowing you to train one side at a time. Oh, and bro, the best part about single arm bench presses is that by pressing with one arm, your abs are forced to stabilize your body so you don’t roll off the bench like some knucklehead. Chest plus abs, now that’s a formula for sexiness if I’ve ever seen one.
My personal favorite that hits your pecs and crushes your triceps harder than baseball bat smacking its target, is the landmine floor press. Floor presses are the best exercise for guys who suffer from shoulder issues. By reducing the range of motion, floor presses take pressure off your shoulder and can help you re-discover how to connect your mind to what your pecs are doing. And because the range of motion is decreased, it also hits your triceps hard.
Unilateral Exercises for a Better Life
If there’s one overall reason why unilateral is bees knees, it’s that it increases your proprioceptive awareness of your body, taps into more of your motor units which in turn cranks up your muscle activation, while also fixing total body balance and stabilization.
Athletes use unilateral exercises to skyrocket their strength levels while developing mind-shattering power and finesse that can often be the determining factor between winning or losing. For everyone else who isn’t an NFL running back or professional basketball player, unilateral exercises will help prepare you to live a more kick-ass life.
Make your 30s BETTER than your 20s
Leave your email below and I'll show you the steps you can take to lose body fat, increase strength, reignite your vitality and make your 30s the best decade of your life.