Most of us commonly exercise our muscles two at a time. Think about bicep curls, shoulder presses, lateral raises, chest presses and squats. More often than not, you work both of your arms or legs at the same time. But if you are looking for an added challenge or a change to your current routine, you may want to try performing these exercises one side at a time.
What is the benefit of lifting this way? For starters, everyone has a more dominant side so when you are doing an exercise, the weaker side often gets a little help from the stronger side. Unfortunately, that weaker side never gets as strong since it is always being helped. But when you take out the help and have no choice but to work that weaker side on its own, it will get the full benefit of the exercise you are doing and get stronger in the process.
Another great thing about lifting weights this way is that there is some balance work involved since one side will have more weight and be heavier than the other. So not only are you working a specified muscle, but your core is working as well in order to keep your body centered, aligned and steady.
Finally, as heavy as you might lift when using both arms or legs at the same time, you may be surprised to find out that when you work one side on its own, your usual weights may be too heavy and you will need to go lighter. Again, you are stressing the muscle completely on one side so there is little rest and more work being done during this type training. And you cannot rely on the stronger side to pick up the slack as your muscles tire.
Here is a quick list of exercises that are great for this type of training:
1. Squats: Sure you can do a squat, but can you do a one-legged squat—also known as pistol squats? Start out by doing them while holding onto something sturdy. Stand on one leg and either cross the other over it or just lift it up off of the floor. Hold on and squat down as low as you can, keeping the weight in your heel, abs tight and back flat. Do all of your reps on one leg and then go to the other leg. As you get comfortable with these, see if you can do them without holding on to anything.
2. Lateral Raises: Hold a weight in your right hand and place your left hand on your hip. Slowly raise the weight to shoulder level with a slight bend in your elbow and then lower it back down. When you are done with all of your reps, repeat this on your left side. For a challenge, perform this exercise while seated.
3. Chest Presses: Lie down on a flat bench and hold a weight in one hand with your arm at a ninety-degree angle. Press the weight up and over your chest in a controlled manner and then lower it back down. Complete all of your reps on one side before working the other side. Make sure your torso is not rotating as you perform this exercise.
4. Bicep Concentration Curls: Sit on a bench and place a weight in your right hand. Lean your right elbow against the inside of your right leg and perform a bicep curl. Try to go up for four-counts and down for two counts. Keep your elbow against your leg through the entire set. Switch arms when you complete all of your reps. You can also do a one-arm bicep curl while placing your upper arm against the top of an incline bench as you lift and lower.
5. Shoulder Presses: Here is where momentum often comes into play, but you are going to have to lose it a bit here. Hold a weight in one hand with your arm bent at ninety degrees so your elbow is even with your shoulder and the weight is even with your ear. With control, press the weight all the way up and then lower it back down to your starting position. Make sure you are not using your back or your body to lift the weight. If you are, then it is too heavy and you may want to go lighter. Another option is to do them seated on a bench with a back support. Switch arms when all of your reps are completed.
If you are already doing this type of lifting, you have probably noticed that it is more challenging than when you work both sides at once. But if you are looking to shake things up with your fitness routine, give this training method a try and feel the difference.