It’s become a habit at this point: Stroll to the dumbbell rack and grab a set of weights. They’re the preferred tool for bilateral training—working both sides of the body equally throughout the movement. And yes, that is a great way to exercise efficiently and build strength. The downside is bilateral training can mask muscle imbalances, the dominant side overcompensating for its weaker counterpart. Splitting movements into two—right side, then left—doubles your gym time. But it also helps unearth and correct issues and any weightlifting mistake that may be hampering you in ways you’re not aware of.
“If you favor one side, you’re only going to be strong on that one,” says Lawrence Herrera, owner of the Performance Ranch gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Over time, this will make you stiffer, or even invite injury; at some point, you’ll ask your weaker side to do something it can’t handle. So break everything in half with this six-move circuit Herrera organized. If making gains at the gym is your goal, you’ll appreciate how this workout reveals areas where strength is lagging. But if, instead, working out propels you in your favorite activities (climbing, kayaking, swimming, biking, etc.), unilateral training will help you go faster and further. Think about it: If you’re clipped into a road bike, swimming laps, or pulling at a rowing machine, you may not realize that one side is doing the bulk of the work. These moves will unmask any weakness.
Do your preferred lifting warmup—body weight squats and lunges, bridges, and shoulder pass-throughs. Then do 2 to 4 sets of the exercises, 8 to 12 reps per set (except for single-leg reaches). Start with lighter weights the first time you run through the routine, and keep the weight consistent on both sides.