Taking Sides: The OneSided Strength Workout

By Nicole Radziszewski |

You’re a champ at balancing your workouts. You practice yoga on Mondays, lift weights Wednesdays and Fridays, and ride your bike to work — a solid combo of strength, cardio and flexibility training. But do you ever think about balance from one side of your body to the other?

Over time, it’s easy to develop right-left asymmetries, whether because of past injuries or simply because you have a naturally dominant side. Often when you perform a bilateral movement, your stronger side compensates by taking on more of the load than your weaker side, says Jordan Metzl, MD, a sports medicine physician in New York, N.Y., and co-author of The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies (Rodale Books, 2012).

By practicing exercises that challenge one side of your body at a time (known as unilateral and offset exercises) you prevent muscle imbalances from developing because each side is forced to bear the load independently. You will also accrue a slew of other benefits, including these:

  1. Injury prevention. Studies show that knee pain and lower-body overuse injuries highly correlate with weakness elsewhere. When you run, your hips and glutes work to stabilize your pelvis and prevent your knees from rotating inward. But if your glutes are not strong enough, you may compensate by overusing other muscles such as your hamstrings, says Metzl.

Single-legged exercises help prevent injuries by strengthening your hips, particularly your gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.

Most likely, you already have some experience with unilateral and offset training. A unilateral exercise, such as a lunge or a single-arm overhead press, involves loading one side of the body at a time. An offset exercise, such as a front squat with a dumbbell in one hand or a pushup with one hand elevated, involves loading more weight on one side of the body. The two can also be combined, such as a lunge with a dumbbell in one hand.

These types of exercises “are absolutely appropriate for beginners,” says Hashey.  “Every time you take a step, climb stairs or reach into your trunk to pull something out, you’re using one side more than the other.”

Both Bruno and Hashey are single-side advocates, but they agree that you shouldn’t scrap your traditional bilateral moves.

Our experts recommend that you strive for a balance of bilateral, unilateral and offset exercises in your workouts. Watch the One-Sided Strength Workout video to get started, and perform the workout twice a week for four to six weeks; then incorporate the moves into your regular strength-training regimens as often as you like.

One Side Fits All

Perform three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise on each side, unless otherwise specified. After you’ve completed both sides, rest for 45 to 60 seconds between sets.

Single-Leg Hop


  1. Land with your knee soft, first on the ball of your foot and then letting the rest of your foot come to the ground.

Tip:  Find a low object over which to hop, such as a resistance band. Practice hopping in different directions, from side to side and front to back.

Crooked Row


  1. Slowly lower yourself to the starting position.

Tip:  If you do not have access to a suspension trainer, you can also perform this exercise using the bar from a Smith machine and two towels of unequal length. Loop the towels around the bar about shoulder-width apart. The lower you set the bar, the more challenging the exercise becomes.

Bulgarian Split Squats


  1. Drive through your left midfoot to rise to the starting position.

Tip:  To make it easier: Try keeping your back foot on the ground, and reduce or eliminate dumbbell weight. To make it harder: Increase dumbbell weight.

Stork Deadlift 


  1. Drive your weight through your right midfoot and slowly bring your left leg forward to return to an upright stance.

Tip:  If you find it difficult to balance, try this exercise without the dumbbell. To get the benefits of contralateral loading (adding resistance to the arm opposite the working leg), extend your left arm out to the side (without holding a weight) while standing on your right foot.

Single-Leg Glute Bridges  


  1. Slowly lower your hips so that they are just above the ground. Engage your right glutes to lift your hips. Continue lifting and lowering to complete all reps before switching sides.

Tip:  If you start to feel this exercise in the front of your thighs, you might be compensating for weak glutes. For a beginner-friendly version, try Marching Bridges: Start with both feet on the ground, lift your hips, and slowly alternate lifting your right and left leg. With each repetition, focus on engaging your glutes as you press your heel into the ground.

Single-Arm Overhead Press (Progress to Walking)


  1. Slowly lower the dumbbell to the starting position.

Tip:  Progress the exercise by walking as you perform the overhead press. Walk 20 to 30 yards before switching sides.

Lateral Bear Crawl


  1. Reverse the movement to your right to return to your starting position.

Tip:  You can also crawl forward or backward. Make sure to move your opposite arm and leg together and keep only two points of contact with the ground.

What Is Yoga For?

COMING CLEAN: Running Buddy