When it comes to planning and implementing your weight training sessions how many of you make a conscious decision whether to opt for a machine, barbell or dumbbell? Do you know the fundamental differences each of these will bring to your session?

Although the above questions to some extent depend on the muscle groups you are exercising and equipment availability, the ability to alter your training emphasis in a moment and place varied demands on your musculoskeletal system depend greatly upon your choice of resistance. This article considers the benefits of unilateral training and given its nature, dumbbells are most frequently utilised during this method of training.

So what is unilateral training? Unilateral training involves the use of one limb at a time. For example, to target the Biceps region in this manner you would utilise a single dumbbell and complete a set on the left arm before switching over to the right arm. This technique can be applied to all target muscles and exercises.

Although unilateral training works the same given muscle groups throughout the same planes of movement, when comparing to both machine and barbell exercise equivalents you will experience some very fundamental differences. Primarily, unilateral training will reveal your strength imbalances and muscular weaknesses like never before.

Although this might initially knock confidence, it provides areas requiring improvement and you can alter your training needs accordingly to target this. For example, you might be able to curl a dumbbell 10 times with your left arm but only 6 with your right side. This would suggest a fundamental and significant muscle imbalance which you can target and train.

Unilateral training can also bring about neurological benefits. The reason for this is because it takes twice as long to complete individual Bicep curls with a dumbbell as it would to perform them together with a barbell. This will create a higher metabolic demand as well as recruiting further stabilising muscles compared to its barbell equivalent.

Further benefits to unilateral training
  • Improves bilateral strength in any given target muscle.
  • Enhances musculoskeletal balance, movement and coordination.
  • Brings about strength increments in the supporting postural muscles.
  • Development of contralateral strength gains.

Although throughout this article we’ve used a relatively simple and straight forward unilateral exercise of a dumbbell Biceps curl, you really can let your imagination go with this method. Almost any exercise you can think of can be performed unilaterally. Check out this video of a dumbbell shoulder press for further inspiration:

Single Arm Shoulder Dumbbell Press Example

Final Word

So there you have it, the benefits of unilateral training in a nutshell. Apart from revealing any muscular weaknesses and imbalances, unilateral training is a great way to bring about change to your gym routines and experience something different. Why not try it today and see how you get on. You’ll be surprised at the new demands created on your body.