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Unilateral Training for Preventing Back Pain

The Basis of Unilateral Training 

Exercise is one of the most beneficial forms of therapy. When you are in pain, it is very important to do the right exercises for you and your symptoms. One type of exercise that deserves more attention is Unilateral Training. This form of training is performing an exercise on one side only, or by loading only one side. 

Unilateral Training’s main focus is for stability. This is because when you work one side, you can access more the small stabilizing muscles in your back and achieve more muscle engagement than training both sides together. For example, if you are bench pressing a barbell, your left and right side rely on each other. The fixed bar doesn’t offer any instability for your shoulders to work with. If you do a single arm press, each side must work harder for stability because its performing on its own. 

Relationship to Injuries

The benefit is mainly for injury rehabilitation and prevention because one side needs more work than the other. Think about this: a power-lifter and an Average Joe are moving furniture together. Who is more likely lifting more weight and doing more work even though they are lifting the same couch? The power-lifter! Who is going to FEEL like they’ve done more work? The Average Joe! If you apply this to bilateral training, the stronger side is doing more work but the weaker side is doing more than it can handle. Consequently, this can often lead to overuse injuries causing pain and excessive muscle tension. 

Unilateral Training to Prevent Back Pain

The spine has musculature surrounding it in quadrants, left, right, front, and back. These paired muscles provide stability to the spine. If there are imbalances in the work of these muscles, it can lead to the same results as the above example. If one muscle is weak or coordinating incorrectly, the opposing muscles will over work and may be sore or inflamed. In turn, the weak one may develop stiffness and tension to make up for a lack of stability.


To paint a better picture in your mind, Dr. Stewart McGill has a great analogy. Imagine the spine is a communication tower and the muscles surrounding the spine are guy wires that keep the pole upright. To isolate the guy wire muscles, we have to load the spine unilaterally while performing bilateral movements.Low-Back-Muscles-Grand-Junction

You may be thinking, “I only have one spine. How can I train my back like this?” The bench press idea is an easy example because you have two arms to perform movements separately on each side. However, with the back, we can’t really perform separate movements on each side so what we do is LOAD only one side of the body.

A few examples of these movements are:

  • Farmer’s Carries – These are great especially for beginners because they are easy to execute but are challenging enough to get desirable results. 

  • Suitcase Deadlifts – The deadlift is always great for challenging the spine, the suitcase deadlift adds a little more of a challenge for stability. 

  • Single Arm Kettlebell Squats – These are great for low back pain patients exiting care and preventing future episodes because they challenge the spine, hips, and knees in a movement we do daily – the squat

Implementing Unilateral Training for Back Pain

Whether you are an athlete or a stay-at-home mom, you can do these exercises! If you want more guidance or are experiencing a lot of pain, get in touch with a Strength Coach, Personal Trainer, Chiropractor, or Physical Therapist. If you want extra help or if you are in a lot of pain, we suggest scheduling a thorough examination to get to the bottom of your back pain and recommending the right exercises for you HERE.



About COOR Wellness

COOR Wellness is located in beautiful Grand Junction Colorado. They are Western Colorado’s premier wellness center, helping people feel and move better.

If you’re interested in scheduling please call 970-712-6059 or book an appointment online

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