Getting strong is pretty simple: move big weight in the classic compound lifts—the deadlift, back squat, bench press, and overhead military press. If you can put up big numbers in those lifts, congratulations, you’re strong.
But that’s not where the story ends. The story really begins with the supplemental work that will hopefully allow you to continue to push big weight in a healthy and sustainable way over the long term. After all, its hard to get strong when you’re constantly dealing with injury after injury. We believe that unilateral (single arm, single leg, etc.) training has a hugely beneficial impact on joint health, stability, coordination, and balance.
There should be periods of time in a cyclical, periodized, and progressive year of programming where the focus is definitely on the classic compound lifts where these unilateral movements will be purely supplemental, and periods of time during the year when they can step up into the spotlight a little bit more.
For example, if you’re a powerlifter (or train like a powerlifter) at times during the year, it can be very valuable to move away from the classic barbell lifts and introduce dumbbell or kettlebell variations to address weaknesses and simultaneously allow for some recovery from heavy compound lifting.
Below are some examples of single arm, single leg, and dumbbell exercise variations to promote injury-free hard training. Let the rep range dictate the load.
The Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
Perform 3 sets of 10-20 each arm with 60 seconds of rest.
The Single Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Perform 3 sets of 15-20 each arm with 60 seconds of rest.
Single Arm Renegade Rows
Perform 3 sets of 10-15 each arm with 30-60 seconds of rest.
Single Arm Dumbbell Row
Perform 3 sets of 10-20 each arm with 30-60 seconds of rest.
Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Perform 3 sets of 10-20 with 30-60 seconds of rest.
Single Arm Kettlebell Clean And Press
Perform 3 sets of 10-15 each arm with 30 seconds of rest.
Single Arm Overhead Walking Lunge
Perform 3 sets of 15m with a kettlebell or a dumbbell (each arm) 30-60 seconds rest.
Single Leg Step Ups
Perform 3 sets of 15-20.
Double Front Rack Step Ups
Perform 3 sets of 10-15 with two light kettlebells.
Single Leg RDLs
Perform 3 sets of 10-15 with a light/moderate kettlebell.
Keep It Simple
Keep things simple. The last couple reps should be hard and you should leave 2-3 in the tank. You can make these supplementals progressive by increasing the load (weight), volume (number of sets), rest (decrease rest week to week), or by altering all three variables.
Think about incorporating new exercise variations every 4-12 weeks or whenever you feel as though progress has stalled—meaning that you can’t add more weight without compromising technique.