When it comes to building strength and power, reaching for a barbell is an obvious choice as it allows you to load up classic moves like the deadlift, squat and bench press. While there’s nothing wrong with barbell training, it’s a good idea to shake things up and use other training tools. Opting for single arm or leg (aka unilateral) exercise variations with a kettlebell or dumbbell challenges your body with an uneven burden, forces you to dial in your form and introduces a new element of stabilization that you don’t get with an equally loaded bar. Going one sided for a while (and then switching to the other side) can also help identify and correct asymmetries that can lead to injury and overuse issues. Here are a few to add into your gym routine:
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
The deadlift is rightly a staple of many lifters’ programs, as it’s a compound exercise that recruits most of the major muscle groups and offers quick strength gains. While you obviously won’t be able to move as much weight with the single leg, single arm version, it’s great for making sure you’ve got the hip hinge down and if not, to correct it before you move back to the barbell deadlift. To do this exercise:
—Place a kettlebell or dumbbell on the floor in front of your left foot
—Stand with your feet neutral and shoulder width apart
—Screw your feet into the ground to stabilize your hips
—Hinge at the hip to pick up the KB or DB with your left hand, then stand up straight
—Hinge at the hip again, lowering the weight with a straight arm until your torso is almost parallel to the floor
—Squeeze your butt and straighten back up
—Repeat for 5 to 10 reps (more weight = less reps) and then switch sides
Apologies, this was filmed with a potato, but here’s the technique on video.
Single Arm Shoulder Press
—With your feet shoulder width apart and neutral, pick up a kettlebell or dumbbell in your left hand
—Screw your feet into the ground and brace your abs
—With your left palm facing forward, press the KB or DB overhead, imagining it moving in a straight line from your shoulder to just behind your ear
—It can be helpful to push into the ground more on your right foot to stabilize. Also make sure your wrist doesn’t bend forward or backward as you lift the load.
—Do 5 to 10 reps then switch hands
Single Arm Box/Bench Step-Up
—With the same foot placement as the previous two exercises, stand in front of a plyo box or bench that’s wide enough for your whole foot to fit on it
—Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in your left hand
—Keeping your torso upright and abs tight, step up onto the box with your right foot
—Step slowly back down to the ground using your left foot
—Repeat 5 to 10 times then switch sides. Make sure your feet stay straight on every step.
Again, poor quality video, but solid technique, here.