Unilateral Training Can Help Take Your Strength To The Next Level

Strength is certainly a pretty cool thing to have, isn’t it? “From strength comes all things” and all that. There are certainly many advantages to having the ability to pick up really heavy stuff in a conventional way.

But if you really want to develop earth-rending muscular power, you are going to have to use some unconventional lifts as well. And the king of unconventional training is exactly what the title is implying: unilateral training!


Unilateral training is exactly what it sounds like—training that is done with either one arm or leg, or further removing fingers from the equation. Traditionally, srongmen have advocated unilateral training just as much as, if not more so, than traditional training with two arms and/or legs. After all, if you can do with one hand what others need two hands to do, just think of what you can do when you actually are using both arms.

Or would you argue with someone like Bert Assirati, seen here doing one-handed handstand pushups at 250+ pounds?

How To Do It?

Of course, if you diligently read and practice the information in my articles, you already know how to do one-handed pushups and one-leg squats. Thus, the simplest way to put unilateral weight training into your routine is just to do these calisthenics with added weight: just hold a dumbbell during these exercises and the difficulty will exponentially increase.

You can also “up the difficulty” on things such as splitting apples and other forms of grip training that I have also discussed—once you can split an apple with two hands, you can try crushing an apple with one hand, as yours truly demonstrates here.

But these will only take you so far—I have always advocated both bodyweight and weighted exercises. But is it possible to do actual lifts unilaterally?


Some traditional lifts can, in fact, be done unilaterally, and can in some cases be trained to be much stronger than a normal man’s two handed lift. The two that I have learned, and will be teaching today, will be the one-handed overhead press—in its basic form, perhaps another article will discuss variants of it such as the bent press that graces the featured image and is complicated enough to require its own separate article—and the one-handed deadlift.

To do the one-handed overhead press, grab the weight and lift it to the hand’s corresponding shoulder. Just like a two-handed overhead press, push with the legs and lift it above your head. Bear in mind that the torso should slightly lean in the opposite direction of the arm (i.e., if you use the right hand, you will lean slightly to the left). The body will naturally do this, as doing so enables the oblique muscles to support the weight rather than just having the shoulder girdle do so. However, do not bend too far, or twist the torso at all, as doing so can injure the back.

If you find that you are twisting the torso, that means the support muscles of the torso—such as the aforementioned obliques, and the muscles of the lower back—are not strong enough to support the weight, and thus you should lift a lighter weight. I cannot reiterate enough, it is better to do a light weight with proper form then a heavy weight with sloppy form.

The one-handed deadlift, is a bit tricky, but I find that it has helped my deadlifting tremendously as a supplementary exercise.

To do this, load the barbell on the floor. You can either stand in front of it as in the traditional deadlift, or perpendicularly to it—the “suitcase” position. I prefer the former.

Then, using proper deadlift form (hollowing the back, keeping the head aligned, etc.) grasp the middle of the bar—and now you know why there’s that “grip spot” in the middle of the bar!

Then push through the floor with your legs and lift the bar. Make sure to keep your body as straight as possible. Then switch hands after you do the lift.

I’m only doing 135 here, and that’s far below half of my regular deadlift.

In addition to training all of the typical muscles trained by the deadlift, this will hit the obliques and muscles of the lower back as they struggle to stabilize the weight—you will likely not even be able to do half of your normal deadlift weight the first time. The unaccustomed lifter, in doing the one-handed deadlift, will probably lose control of the weight his first time. If that is the case, then there is no shame in lowering the weight —and besides, the sheer uniqueness of this lift will seem impressive in your gym.


There’s no reason to not unilaterally train in addition to the regular exercises you do—they’re supplements, they’re not replacing the typical training methods. A few extra reps of these will give you big strength gains.

Read More: Two Do-It-Yourself Methods For Training Your Forearms

29 thoughts on “Unilateral Training Can Help Take Your Strength To The Next Level”

    1. Shovelling dead jews and the ashes of homosexuals into a mass grave will build great lower back strength.

  1. I wonder what the outcome is for people having joint damage or muscle injuries from the very asymmetric loading during the exercises and ranges of motion the joints are forced through.
    Look, I am NOT a physical trainer, let me say that up front.
    But the common sense person in me and the number of strains and sprains I have gotten in my lifetime from very odd asymmetric loads put on my knees and spine during my military career tells me this is foolish (also being that most joint injuries can be healed somewhat and repaired sometimes, but once they are experienced the JOINT IS ALWAYS SUSCEPTABLE to re-injury later, never mind scar tissue issues later).
    So, why do this if Mother Nature makes us with TWO arms and TWO legs (symmetrically best for daily living) and artificially injure them by accident but on purpose? Why if we are symmetrical creatures would we risk getting injured doing thing deliberately NONsymmetrically when we perform at an optimum utilizing our bodies IN THEIR NATURAL MANNER?
    I’m mean, do what you want to do, train as you wish, no matter to me in any case, but get yourself a back injury doing this crap, and suddenly my words will have new meaning for you. Once you mess up your back, it will ALWAYS be messed up. It makes no sense to create and induce unnecessary pain to oneself….for what ever reasons. Its just not worth it.

    1. Neal, I can tell you this. One thing that is often not discussed is preparation or preparedness for an excercise. I think this is the reason why a lot of people are annoyed by CrossFit. People come with a body that is unprepared for the exercise and will be more vulnerable to an injury or overtraining. The trainer is in shape, the trainer is ready, the trainer is thinking “shit, this is easy I’ve been doing this my whole life, these people are just lazy.” Solution: movement prep. It doesn’t have to take long, you just need to activate the muscles that will stabilize the joints. This can take hours or maybe a few days. (Trying to keep this short, it’s hard lol) Example; start with a static pose sorta like yoga, activate the muscles first. To overcome the obstacle you described will be extremely tedious, it will practically consume your life but it can be done. I like these types of exercises. I go to the gym, I grab a cable, I stand in a sprinters stance and hold the weight. Activate the muscles. Activation support.

    2. To be fair, the term “physical trainer” is a designation often used in people who have no qualifications necessary whatsoever. It seems like nowadays everyone and their dog is an expert on lifting.

      1. I worked at three different gyms. Each required certification to work there. But this was over ten years ago. Maybe things have changed. Yes, people can be quite annoying with so called “expert” advice, believe me, I’ve worked along side some know-it-alls. However there is a lot of great info out there. Over the years I have developed a habit of listening to people no matter how obnoxious their bullshit is and no matter how obnoxious their personality is. I would only be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t extract the best information possible in any given situation, even if the source of info is my worst enemy, I don’t care. Having this attitude has worked quite well for me.

    3. You are exactly right, dude. Like you, I’m pretty beat up from years in the military, sports, and physical blue collar jobs. I still do some lifting, but there are some exercises I can’t do, and the others I have to be aware of my limitations.
      We aren’t all 20 or 30 years old, with non-physical jobs, and can go nuts and take risks with the workouts.

        1. Weren’t you just telling that cat lady troll that you’re “in the 80th to 90th percentile of physical fitness for men [your] age”?

      1. The you blue eyes!! This plank shit, lateral side plank, yoga one arm stuff is out of the question for me with my battered rotator cuffs. I’m happy to do regular stretches and walking at a brisk pace.

    4. My back sometimes goes out when I turn, with no weights involved. I think unilateral training is just the ticket to help with this, build up the oblique muscles.
      Like anything, start slow and be cautious. If someone just runs out and picks up their usual weights one-handed, that’s asking for trouble.

  2. Transition for jacking off dominant hand to other hand. You will experience greater jack off sensation and increase forearm strength. No longer one huge forearm like Qusimodo. I cannot guarantee huge loads unless you takr kramtom

    1. Forgot to add that when I’m jacking off, I look at bodybuilding magazines and other man porn. Works for me, but YMMV.

      1. So, are you named after the dildo in a William Burrough’s novel?: “Mary is strapping on a rubber penis. ‘Steely Dan III from Yokohama,’ she says, caressing the shaft.”
        How appropriate.

  3. I will side with Deplorable on this. Unless you are a professional strong man or somehow need the asymmetric strength, I would stick to symmetrical exercises. In my view and experience you can get a great physic with four exercise total. No BS, no games, no gimmicks. Exercises are: squat, dead lift, wide grip pull up, and dips. Caveat here is that all of the exercises have to be done at full ROM and with proper technique.

  4. Is it just me or did the manage subscriptions button go away? I am not getting notification emails anymore.

    1. i asked the question because now some of my posts have noticeably deleted, actually manynother regulars posts have been deleted..Really? im too controversial but the the obvious trollings are allowed to stay posted….smh

  5. I lift… a …. coors light.., can… duh… to my … mouth…. duh……
    (Someone had to say it)

    1. Start easy, with the half cans like they serve on airlines. Then move up to full size cans, then the elongates ones. Eventually you can push it to the liters of malt liquor such as Colt 45. It works EVERY time.

  6. I would rank unilateral training as intermediate to beginning advanced. Once a lifter has acclimated to proper form in all their lifts can they consider utilizing auxiliary training methods to boost their gains. For ex: Bench off the blocks, adding chains to squats, unilateral training, etc.

  7. I always think that guys working those long weighted ropes at the gym look like assholes. I don’t know what it is, just flailing around a couple of ropes like you’re wrestling with Hydra looks very midlife crisis-ey.

    1. Haha, you’re right. They do look kinda dumb. That’s the funny thing about the gym. You can look pretty stupid, doing stupid things. I’m guilty of it as well. Still looks dumb though. I still think the dumbest gym exercise is when someone hangs onto the treadmill and puts it on an incline. It’s just so stupid to me. Makes no sense. Might as well just put it at zero degrees and let go. I wonder if those people actually think they’re walking uphill, their body is still perpendicular to the track. Stupid.

    2. It’s a good core exercise, though. I don’t do it often, but I can only last 30 seconds (talking about the ropes, not in the sack).

  8. Unilateral exercises are good but I would not mess with one armed deadlifts or anything that end up your torso and back twisting to one side and a one armed barbell deadlift is an exercise in balance; a lot of the effort goes into keeping a neutral position and one of the basic rules of work place safety is not twisting your torso in any while lifting. If you must do one armed deadlifts for some strange reason, then use a dumbbell. If you want safe oblique training, do side planks with some small weights and adjust over time.
    Almost ten years ago I tried the one armed deadlift with small weights in my local gym and on my way back from the gym my back cramped up really back…long story short, I spent a week in the hospital and had an X-ray taken of my back. So I’m saying this out of personal as well as theoretical basis and trust me; I did a lot of stupid odd movement BS in my 20’s but none of it fucked with me like the one armed deadlift initially did. I remember the bar tilting to one side and that probably caused my back to contract in a really violent manner and I’m glad I recovered from that episode and surely everyone who repeats that exercise many times will have the same happen to them; the bar leaning to one side and possibly even crashing (not necessarily the injury).
    You’ve been warned.

  9. Bert Assirati is not doing one armed handstand pushups in the photo. He is doing a one-armed handstand.
    The one armed handstand pushup, like “‘Coach’ Paul Wade”, was invented by DragonDoor to sell books. The people behind it were the Kavadlo brothers and probably Pavel, since they are the only people who have “met” him. Even if it were not invented, likely nobody would be able to do them freestanding.
    Weird mishmash of pictures here. Logan Christopher might not be happy with his photos being posted all over a misogyny news website without him being notified. You do this regularly.
    It’s funny since on the “gymnastic skills” articles, it’s obvious that Logan Christopher is faking the front lever past the beginning tuck and just had his cameraman snap a picture at the very instant he could do most of a front lever hold, and now you, also a fake, quote another fake out of ignorance.
    Furthermore, why would you mention unilateral training without posting anything by Dan John?

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