Here's Why Training One Limb at a Time Builds More Muscle

Single limb, or unilateral training, is an often overlooked part of resistance training but there are a few really good reasons why you should start adding them to your lifting regimen. 

Brock Armstrong
3-minute read

Clearly, a better understanding of the mechanisms behind the Contralateral Effect are needed if we are going to explain it to our gym-going friends but suffice to say that it "sounds like magic but it works."

What Unilateral Exercises Can You Do?

Here are some unilateral exercises that you may already do and a few that you can try out. 

  • Chest: single arm dumbbell chest press, single arm cable fly, single arm cable crossover.
  • Back: single arm dumbbell row, single arm seated cable row, single arm pulldown.
  • Shoulders: single arm dumbbell press, single arm dumbbell or cable lateral lift, single arm dumbbell upright row.
  • Arms: single arm dumbbell curl, single arm preacher curl, single arm cable curl, single arm lying or seated extensions, single arm pushdowns.
  • Legs: single leg squats, single legged leg press, single leg extensions, step-ups, single leg lying, seated or standing leg curls, single leg seated raise, single leg standing raise, single leg calf press.

This is not an extensive list by any means and I am sure you can come up with more single limb moves on your own.

Where to Start with Unilateral Exercises?

Try adding one unilateral lift for each body part for 6-8 weeks and see if you notice a difference. If you are happy with the results, you can add a second one. I wouldn't suggest switching your entire resistance training regimen to unilateral lifts because that might be a little too fatiguing.

A word of caution, unilateral lifts can be tricky at first (especially exercises like single leg squats) so start with lighter than usual weights (or none at all) until you are feeling steady and certain of what you can handle. Also, until you have mastered the form, you may not see the full benefits in terms of muscle gain but hang in there and I am sure you will be pleased. 

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About the Author

Brock Armstrong

Brock Armstrong is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. Do you have a fitness question? Leave a message on the Get-Fit Guy listener line. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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