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Whether you’re looking to bust through an exercise plateau, make yourself virtually injury- proof or just tap into your body’s full potential when it comes to strength, coordination and power, nothing works to elevate your performance - and appearance - like unilateral training. Now it’s your turn to use the technique that today’s elite athletes rely on to stay on top of their game so that you can stay on top of your fitness goals this winter.



Unilateral training - which is basically working one side of your body at a time - may add a few minutes to your usual exercise routine, but what that extra time yields your muscles in return is worth the wait. You see, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When it comes to your own strength, your body is only as strong as its weakest muscles - or whichever side of your body is weaker.



“Unilateral training works each side of your body independently to improve overall strength and eliminate body imbalances.”

Whenever you perform any exercise that allows either both arms or both legs to work together to lift a weight (such as a barbell bench press, squat or deadlift), it’s the stronger side of your body that does more of the workload, preventing your weaker side from improving. When you can’t lift another rep, it’s usually the result of your weaker side reaching exhaustion (instead of your entire body). Training one limb at a time lets both sides of your body train independently, so each side develops evenly without affecting each other’s performance - this can help eliminate any imbalances in your physique to help you achieve perfect muscular symmetry.  Another plus: as your weaker side becomes stronger, you’ll notice a drastic improvement with your overall strength when doing bilateral exercises (moves where you use both sides of your body to raise a weight). The more weight you can move - thanks to that extra strength - the more overall muscle you can build at a record pace. Best of all, because muscular imbalances are usually the culprit behind many muscle strains, pulls and tears when you exercise, being in balance will make you less likely to be sidelined from an injury, so you’ll train longer with fewer roadblocks impeding your progress. Finally, unilateral training can allow you to quickly forge a stronger mind-muscle connection. Because working one side at a time requires far more coordination, you train not only the muscles you’re looking to build but also all of your smaller stabilising muscles at the same time. It’s this perk that can bless your body with better overall balance, giving you a performance edge that others wish they had when playing sports or pulling off  more advanced exercises in the gym that require a certain amount of stability to master.


THE WORKOUT: This six-move, full-body routine uses a series of unilateral, multi-joint exercises that hit every major muscle group.


You can either use this plan in place of your usual full-body workout or take any of the exercises and add them to whatever muscle- specific routines you already follow to challenge your muscles to adapt and improve.  Do this workout twice a week, resting for at least two days between sessions. Do three sets of each exercise with 60 seconds of rest. As you get comfortable with the routine, try doing the workout three times a week, resting one day in between each workout. Stick with the program for at least four weeks to see the best results.



Each exercise will ask you to start with your left arm or leg first. There’s a reason for that order: you always want to train your weaker side first. And, because many people tend to be right-handed, they also tend to be right-side dominant when it comes to their muscular strength and coordination. However, if you find that you’re left-side dominant for any of the exercises, feel free to start with your right arm or leg instead. The trick is to always train your weaker side first, when your energy levels are fresh.





Sets: 3

Reps: 10-12 per leg

Rest: 60-90 seconds  


TARGETS: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves


SET-UP: Stand about 50-100cm in front of a flat weight bench, with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Extend your left leg behind you and place your left foot on top of the middle of the bench so that the top of your foot rests on it.


ACTION: Keeping your head and back straight, bend your right knee and slowly lower your body until your right knee is bent at a 90-degree angle (your left knee should lower toward the floor). Push back up into a standing position, repeat for the required number of repetitions and repeat the exercise (this time, with your right foot resting on the bench while you squat down with your left leg).


TIP: If this exercise is too difficult, try performing it without weights and place your hands on your hips.



Sets: 3

Reps: 10-12 per arm

Rest: 60-90seconds 


TARGETS: Chest, shoulders and triceps


SET-UP: Lie face-up on a flat weight bench with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Grab a dumbbell in your left hand and position it along the left side of your chest, palm facing in. (Your elbow should point down toward the floor.) Extend your right arm out to your side - this will help you maintain balance as you perform the exercise.


ACTION: Keeping your head and torso on the bench, press the weight up until your arm is extended straight above your chest, elbow unlocked. Don’t rotate the weight - it should remain facing inward as you go. Lower the weight back down to the side of your chest and repeat for the required number of repetitions. Afterward, switch sides to work your right side.


TIP: Try to minimise how much your upper body rolls to the side as you press. This can bring your back muscles and momentum into the lift, cheating your chest of results.



Sets: 3

Reps: 8-10 per leg

Rest: 60-90 seconds 


TARGETS: Hamstrings and glutes


SET-UP: Stand with your knees slightly bent, arms down at your sides. Lift your left foot behind you so that it’s a few centimetres off the floor - you should be balancing on your right foot.


ACTION: Maintaining this position, slowly push your butt backward and lower your torso toward the floor as close to parallel as you can. (Your arms should hang straight down below you as you go.) Keep your lower back straight - don’t round it as you bend forward. Hold for one or two seconds and reverse the exercise by pushing your hips forward until you’re back into the starting position (still balancing on your right foot). Repeat for the required number of repetitions and change positions to work the opposite leg. 


TIP: Once this exercise becomes easier, up the intensity by holding a light dumbbell in each hand.



Sets: 3

Reps: 6-8 per arm

Rest: 60-90 seconds 


TARGETS: Back and biceps


SET-UP: Grab the pull-up bar with an overhand grip, hands spaced slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Hang from the bar so that your arms are straight, elbows unlocked.


ACTION: Leaving both hands gripping the bar, pull yourself up using your left arm only - your right arm will still bend but shouldn’t do any of the work. Lower back down and repeat the exercise, this time by pulling yourself up using your right arm only. Continue to switch between using your left arm and right arm for the remainder of the exercise.


TIP: If this exercise is too difficult to do, bend your legs and have a training partner offer a little assistance by pressing up on your knees.



Sets: 3

Reps: 6-8 per arm

Rest: 45-60 seconds 


TARGETS: Shoulders and triceps


SET-UP: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and a heavy dumbbell in your left hand. Raise the dumbbell up in front of your left shoulder, with your palm facing in toward your body. Let your right arm hang straight down at your side and place your left palm along the side of your left leg.


ACTION: Keeping your body as straight as possible, slowly press the dumbbell over your head, rotating your palm outward as you go so that it ends up facing forward at the top. Your body may naturally lean to the right - just let your right hand slide down your thigh if it does. Lower the weight back down to your shoulder, rotating your palm inward so that it faces your shoulder at the bottom. Repeat for the required number of repetitions, then switch positions to work your right shoulder.


TIP: For even more of a challenge, try holding a dumbbell in each hand and raise one dumbbell as you lower the other dumbbell.


SIDE REACH                         

Sets: 3

Reps: 6-8 per arm

Rest: 45-60 seconds




SET-UP: Lie on your right side and rest on your right forearm - your upper arm should be perpendicular to the floor so that your elbow is directly below your right shoulder, fist pointing forward. Extend your arm straight up toward the ceiling. Slowly push your hips up until your body forms a straight line.

Notice the contraction on the left side, which shows that the pull-up is primarily happening from the left arm. Use your right arm only as a stabiliser.


ACTION: Maintaining this position, bring the weight down in front of you and thread it underneath your body - twisting as you go - for as far as you can reach. Reverse the motion to return to the starting position and repeat. Afterwards, switch positions - lying on your left side - and repeat.


TIP: Don’t perform this exercise too quickly - going nice and slow will help you target all of your core muscles more thoroughly.

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