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Asymetrical And Unilateral Exercises

Avatar for Hadyn Luke Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 25th of February 2014 Hadyn Luke 25/02/2014


Our blog today is about asymmetrical and unilateral exercises and how a personal trainer or other fitness professional might use them within a gym environment.

Traditionally when personal trainers are working with clients they will set them balanced exercises, where the client is symmetrical. An example might be lifting a barbell with an equal amount of weight on either end, or using a dumbbell of equal weight in each hand.


Asymmetrical loading is a method of training where the fitness instructor asks a client to lift a force that is unequal, for example lifting a dumbbell or kettle bell on one side only.

The idea is that the client will have to use their core strength and muscles to keep their unevenly loaded body stable, while at the same time carrying out the exercise.

Predominantly it will challenge the trunk musculature as it will either cause rotation or lateral flexion – when you lean to one side or the other.


If a personal trainer sets an exercise where the client is only working one part of their body, for example, working one leg at a time, this is known as a unilateral exercise.

A squat or a deadlift would usually be carried out as a bilateral exercise, where the client has both feet on the floor and is transferring weight through both legs. A unilateral exercise would be a single leg squat.


To challenge a client further, a personal trainer might set exercises that involve both asymmetrical and unilateral features. For example, the client might carry out a unilateral squat while lifting a dumbbell on one side only.

The aim of these exercises is to challenge a client’s balance and proprioception and therefore their core musculature, while at the same time working their prime movers, such as the quads or the pecs.


One benefit of this kind of exercise is injury prevention, however it also helps teach a client good body awareness at the early stages of their programme. This means that as the personal trainer progresses them on to heavier weights or more complex exercises, the endurance work they do will be underpinned by this training in balance and proprioception around their major muscles and joints.


Because of the nature of these exercises, a client will not be able to lift as much weight as they would following more traditional bilateral or symmetrical training. For this reason, a personal trainer will use these exercises as a way to train endurance, rather than strength or hypertrophy.


One way to circumvent this is for the fitness professional to introduce tempo training.

If a client is carrying out an asymmetrical dumbbell bench press (see video), they will risk rotating their body if they use too heavy a weight. By using a lighter weight but introducing tempo training – where the exercise is slowed down and the dumbbell is held in position – the personal trainer will be putting the client’s pecs under stress for longer, fatiguing them and ensuring that the muscles aren’t undertrained.

Related articles: Functional Training- a new tool for personal trainers and Neuromotor exercise training

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