Exercises You Should Be Doing: 1-Arm Dumbbell Press.

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More appropriately this post should be titled:  Exercises You Should Be Doing:  1-Arm ANYTHING.

It’s a bit of a conundrum if you ask me, but why is it whenever you come across articles that discuss unilateral (one-limbed) training, more often than not it ONLY discusses the lower body?

I’ve been a culprit of it in the past:

Perfecting the 1-Legged RDL

DB Reverse Lunge to 1-Legged RDL

Don’t get me wrong, I think 1-legged training is crucial, otherwise why would I go out of my way to write about it all the time?  It’s an important component of any well-rounded strength training program, and something that, thankfully, in no small part to the likes of coaches like Mike Boyle, Ben Bruno, and Mike Robertson, a lot more trainees are starting to implement into their weekly repertoire.

Rarer, however, is the person who includes unilateral upper body training into the mix. At least that’s been my experience.

Using a completely unrelated analogy:  It’s kinda like Ben Affleck vs. Matt Damon.

Ben, while respected in the movie industry and a lot of people know who he is, has always lived in the shadow of his best friend, Matt, who, as we all know is freakin Jason Bourne.

In much the same way, unilateral upper body training has always taken a back seat while the lower body has taken all the admiration and accolades.

Well, no longer my friend.

1-Arm Flat DB Bench Press

What Does It Do: This is just one example, of course; there are a million and one variations to choose from – 1-arm push presses, 1-arm DB rows, etc. But while it’s stating the obvious, the 1-arm DB bench press is an awesome way to train overall upper body strength, whether you’re looking to build steel plated pecs or triceps the size of Kansas.

In addition, utilizing more unilateral upper body exercises such as this is a great way to weed out any imbalances that may exist between the right or left side.

A little less ubiquitous is the notion that 1-armed (offset) exercises are a fantastic way to hammer the core as well, as you really have to fire the contralateral side so as not to fall off the bench.

Key Coaching Cues: Well for starters, I’m going to call myself out and say that I really wussed out on the weight selection in that demonstration.  Really Tony? 40 lbs?

That notwithstanding, I like to coach a slight arch in the lower back and to use more of a semi-pronated/neutral grip whenever someone performs supine pressing exercises as it’s a little more shoulder friendly to do so.

Moreover, one of the key things to be aware of here is to try your best to keep the butt/pelvis flat on the bench the entire time.  As I alluded to above, as you lower and press the weight on one side the offset loading is really going challenge your “core” to fire and to keep the body steady on the bench throughout the duration of the set.

Foot positioning is based off of personal preference.  I like to tell people to dig their toes – or heels, whatever is more comfortable – into the floor and to make sure they’re placed more underneath the body rather than splayed out.

I’d say anywhere from 2-4 sets for 6-8 repetitions is par for the course.

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Comments for This Entry

  • Jacob Winqvist

    The 1-arm db bench press is something I've been experimenting with myself lately. I've found that by moving slightly towards the pressing arm on the bench (with only half of your body on the bench), leaving the pressing shoulder girdle free from contact makes it even more challenging for the core. Plus it gives me a wicked glute-contraction.  I've tried it as a primer for the regular bench as well as an assistance exercise. I like it both. Oh, and since I'm also weaker on my right side (for numerous reasons) I always start there. Anyways, I think it's a really useful exercise, not only for strength and weeding out asymmetries, but also for learning legdrive and transfer through the core. (If this makes any sense).

    August 2, 2012 at 9:47 am | Reply to this comment

  • Barath

    I started doing these when I did "Show and Go" - I really love 1-arm DB presses. A nice intermediate step between two arm and one arm presses is to hoist both the DBs up, and just press one. Then one can move to 1-arm press with just one DB where, as Jacob pointed out above, there is more work for the core to do.

    August 2, 2012 at 10:01 am | Reply to this comment

  • Eric Bach

    I love unilateral work, but my favorite is the 1 arm overhead dummbell press. In addition to the shoulder workout it gives the lateral stability requirement especially as you get to heavier weight makes it a phenomenal today body lift. Great series Tony! 

    August 2, 2012 at 11:00 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jay

    Tony, how would you rank alternating 1 arm DB bench where you bench with 2 DBs, but leave one locked out overhead while pressing the other, and alternate left/right with each press?

    August 3, 2012 at 9:08 am | Reply to this comment

  • Article of the Day (10/31/12) « Health Heralds

    [...] on Hyperlordosis and Anterior Pelvic Tilt, today’s featured article is going to be one of Tony Gentilcore’s pieces, this one on the importance of unilateral–and specifically single-arm–exercises in any [...]

    October 31, 2012 at 9:28 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jay Mendoza

    Hey Tony, I recently started adding this to my program and I love em. However I do them slightly different. I perform them with my free arm extended upwards, clenched fist. I feel like this helps my keep upper back tight. Do you feel this defeats the purpose of a unilateral exercise since it allows me to be more stable (but w/ more weight!!)?

    October 28, 2013 at 7:24 am | Reply to this comment

  • Shashi Suryawanshi

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    December 7, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Reply to this comment

  • wowfood

    I just want to say thank you for writing this. I've gotten very tired of the number of articles I've read which set out to do nothing more than badmouth unilateral exercises, normally with very poorly evidenced arguements and bro-science. It almost feels like the entire weight lifting world has been brainwashed into thinking SS is the only way and everything else is useless. Not badmouthing SS mind you, it has it's place and is a good program, just bad mouthing the cult like following it seems to have.

    October 22, 2015 at 8:29 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      I love unilateral movements. There's a time and place for everything and upper body single-arm work is drastically underutilized if you ask me. SS is great and sets a great foundation for strength work. But yeah, the knock against it (and its rabid fans) are that it's a bit close minded with everything else that's out there. Still a great resource, though. I just don't fall into the camp that feels it's the ONLY fit for everyone.

      October 22, 2015 at 6:04 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Anti-Rotation Training At It's Best: Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

    […] “A little less ubiquitous is the notion that 1-armed (offset) exercises are a fantastic way to hammer the core as well, as you really have to fire the contralateral side so as not to fall off the bench.” – Tony Gentilcore […]

    June 21, 2018 at 9:27 am | Reply to this comment

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