11 Unilateral Training Exercises for Beginners

If you're already incorporating strength training into your exercise routine, you're on the right track to a strong, healthy physique. But if you haven't tried unilateral training, it might be time to mix up your routine. For maximum results, fitness experts agree that any resistance program should include a mix of bilateral (two-sided) and unilateral (one-sided) training. Check out our article on the benefits of unilateral training, then get started with these beginner exercises.

Single-Leg Squats with Chair

  • Stand behind chair; hold back of chair for balance. Lift right leg off ground, keeping left leg slightly bent. 
  • Bend left leg to squat. Don't let knee of squatting leg go past toes. Keep upper body straight and avoid leaning forward. Hold for 1-3 counts.
  • Straighten leg and return to start.
  • Complete 10-12 reps and then switch legs. 
 

One-Arm Dumbbell Rows

  • Grasp a dumbbell with palm facing in. Rest opposite elbow on opposite leg. Try to create a flat back. Keep upper body steady.
  • Pull the dumbbell up as high as possible, keeping your elbow back and ensuring that the upper arm travels away from your torso a little. 
  • Lower dumbbell back down until arm is straight but elbow does not lock, to complete one rep. 
  • Complete 10-12 reps, then switch arms.
 

Lying Single-Leg Raises

  • Lie on back with right leg straight and left leg bent so foot is flat on the ground.
  • Relax head and neck on mat or ground. Arms should be placed to your side. 
  • Lift right leg to the top of the left knee, keeping the right leg straight.
  • Hold for two seconds and return to starting position.
  • Complete 10-12 reps and then switch legs.
 

Single Arm Lateral Raises with Band

  • Hold the left handle of the band in your left hand. Place other side of resistance band on the floor and stand on it with feet hip-width apart.
  • Stand tall with back straight, abs engaged, left arm at your side, palm facing inward and right hand on your hip. 
  • Keeping left arm straight, slowly lift your arm up to shoulder height. 
  • Slowly return back down to the start position to complete one rep. 
  • Complete 10-12 reps and then switch sides. 
 

Single Leg Bridges

  • Lie on back, knees bent, feet flat, arms at sides.
  • Lift left leg off the ground, leg straight but knee soft. 
  • Squeeze glutes and lift hips, keeping them level. 
  • Slowly lower to starting position to complete one rep. 
  • Complete 10-12 reps and then switch sides.
 

One-Arm Side Pushups

  • Lie on right side with left palm flat on the floor in front of shoulder, elbow bent. Wrap right arm around rib cage and bend knees slightly. 
  • Using left arm, push your torso up until arm is straight. Keep hips and feet planted on floor and shoulders away from ears. 
  • Lower upper body until shoulder is about an inch from the floor. 
  • Complete 10-12 reps and then switch sides. 
 

Single Leg Hip Flexion with Band

  • Make a loop at one end of the band and place it around your left ankle. Hold the other handle in your right hand.
  • Stand with your right foot on the band with back straight, abs engaged and right, hands on hips and knees soft. Lift your left leg off the floor just slightly, foot flexed. 
  • Drive your left knee up, bringing thigh parallel to the floor. 
  • Slowly return to the starting position, continuing to balance on your right leg, to complete one rep.
  • Complete 10-12 reps on this leg and then switch sides. 
 

Single-Arm Dumbbell Biceps Curl

  • Stand with feet slightly apart, knees slightly bent, abs tight. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with an underhand grip. Lock elbows into the side of your torso and rest weights in your hand, on the front (or just outside) of the thighs. 
  • Curl one dumbbell to your shoulder. Keep elbows pressed into your sides for support and to isolate the biceps.
  • Lower dumbbell to starting position, then curl the dumbbell in your opposite hand. One curl on each side equals one rep. 
  • Complete 10-12 reps on each side.
 

Single Leg Hamstring Curls with Band

  • Make a loop at one end of the band and place it around your right ankle. Hold the other handle in your left hand.
  • Stand with your left foot on the band with back straight, abs engaged, hands on hips and legs together. 
  • Keeping thighs and knees squeezed together, bend the right knee to curl your heel toward your buttocks. 
  • Slowly return to the start position to complete one rep. 
  • Repeat for 10-12 reps, then switch sides.
 

Alternating Front Jabs

  • Stand tall with your back straight, abs engaged, shoulders relaxed, arms at your sides, elbows bent and feet hip-width apart OR staggered one in front of the other. Make fists with your hands and bring your hands up in front of your chin as if in "defense." 
  • Breathe deeply as you punch one arm straight out in front of your shoulder (without locking the elbow), then pull that arm back in to the starting position.
  • Repeat on same arm 10-12 times, then switch sides. 
 

Forward Lunges with Dumbbells

  • Stand with legs hip-distance apart, toes pointed forward, back straight and a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your sides. Take a big step forward, keeping upper body as straight as possible. 
  • Bend both knees, lowering your body and back knee toward the floor, taking care to keep back straight (without leaning) and front knee in line with the ankle. 
  • Straighten legs to starting position to complete one rep.
  • Complete 10-12 reps on one side and then switch to the other leg. 
Carlson says that people of all ages, abilities and fitness levels can benefit from unilateral training. "In more than 10 years of training, I’ve never seen anyone hurt themselves or any negative side effects from unilateral training," he says. "On the other hand, too much single leg training might give you muscles you never knew you had, improved strength and balance you never thought you’d see again, and a completely different, more positive outlook on life in general!" 
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Member Comments

Great! Thank you! Report
THANKS Report
Thank you. Report
Awesome! Report
PLCHAPPELL
Good set Report
A couple of these don't seem like beginner exercises like the single leg bridges and the side planks. I can't even do those and I've been strength training for 4 years now! Otherwise the rest are fine for beginners and seasoned alike. Many of these I still do. Report
Thanks Report
CECTARR
Thanks Report
Thank you Nicole! I love your vids! Report
Very useful, especially the pics. Thanks. Report
Great moves! Report
Thank you Report
The pictures really help- Report
Surprised that the side plank is a beginner exercise. Great mix though! Report


 

About The Author

Melissa Rudy
Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.