One-Arming It: Unilateral Strength Training for Muscle Building

*Contributed by New Yorker/Gym-goer Jeremy S., MizzFIT Guest Blogger*

A few years ago I had a dumbbell dilemma. I had the strength to lift heavy, but could not manage to get two dumbbells in the correct position without the aid of a partner. My solution: use both arms to position a single dumbbell and train unilaterally (aka working one side of the body at a time, aka one-arm presses). 

Since that day I have made one-arm presses a staple of my work out and it’s become pretty common for my fellow gym-goers to approach me and inquire what the benefit is to only using a single arm (performing a one-arm chest press with a 100lb dumbbell tends to attract attention). As you now know, I didn’t set out to become a proponent of one-arm presses, but have since learned (and more importantly experienced) the three key benefits associated with unilateral training: 

Core Strength: When you perform a one-arm press, your body is unstable. You have weight on one side and nothing on the other. In order to keep from toppling over, your abdominal muscles are recruited. This means you’re working your core and making strides on achieving that six-pack on every press. Years of unilateral training have given me tremendous core strength. It’s the reason why I can one-arm press more weight than a lot of bigger guys who can ultimately bench more than me. 

Get Stronger: If you can lift a single 50lb dumbbell once using one arm, logic would indicate that you should be able to lift two 50lbs dumbbells once using both arms, right? Wrong! You will actually be able to lift slightly less than double, or say two 40-45lb dumbbells. This is known as bilateral deficit: “when the total force exerted by two limbs is less than the sum of the forces produced by the left and right limbs acting alone.” Practically, this means when you perform a one-arm press that muscle is working harder and therefore getting stronger.

Burn Fat: When you train unilaterally, it allows one side of the body to rest while you’re working the other. Therefore, you don’t need to take lengthy breaks (or breaks at all) between sets and are able to spend more time exercising. The more time you spend exercising, the more energy you expend. The more energy you expend the more calories you burn. The more calories you burn the less fat you will have. 

So… if your fitness goals include getting a six-pack, becoming stronger, burning fat (or turning heads at the gym) unilateral training might be for you.



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