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Using Bilateral Equipment Unilaterally?


Hello, I am wondering what you think of using the basic universal gym equipment for seated rows, chest presses, chest flys and hamstring curls unilaterally (with only one arm or leg)?

I ask because my strength is not the same on both sides. So, with the seated row for example, I am not necessarily pulling with the same force with both arms if I use the machine bilaterally. (Barbells are not the answer for me- long story but my gym is not really set up for women on barbells.)

I was also thinking that using these machines unilaterally might be a great way to work my anti-rotation muscles. I prefer these machines over bent-over dumbell rows, palof presses and kettleball stuff because my back (or chest) is fixed against the bench, providing me with feedback to make sure I don't rotate at all. Once I get strong on these machines, then eventually I would do free standing exercises.

Also, I am not talking a lot of weight. Say, if I can row 100 pounds with 2 arms bilaterally, I wouldn't row more than say 25 pounds with one arm- like, I would keep it small to make sure I don't rotate.

Has anyone ever heard of doing this? I tried it at the gym today and it felt good but I don't see anything written about it so I am not sure if it is a safe thing to do? I saw a couple of guys at the gym doing it (how I got the idea) but that doesn't mean it's ok.

Thanks in advance. I hope you say YES, it is great, everyone does it!! Because it did feel good but I just want to make sure.

I'll post a couple of pictures of the equipment in the next post just to make it clear.


chest press machine


chest fly machine


hamstring curl machine
(I just read an article saying to raise the load bilaterally then lower eccentrically unilaterally)


Dumdbells and Bodyweight exercises work so much better than machines for fixing imbalances.

Nerve damage causing this distress?


What does this mean?

I have a lot of structural imbalance but largely am using DBs to address it.


I don't know anyone who is perfectly symmetrical in their strength. Just how bad is it?

I think there's something more to this story that we need to know. You seem really worried about body english in your lifts (you mention rows in particular) and I'm wondering why that is. You should be able to control your body enough so that you don't have a lot of movement. But you want to use machines to ensure that you don't move at all.

My first impression is that you're too worried about it but you might have a situation that is making you that way which I don't know about. I do think that women are much better about using perfect form than men are so that might also be a factor. I tend to be a bit less worried about perfect form (but I certainly don't want dangerously poor form either) as long as I'm not getting hurt and I'm moving the weight.

I don't have a lot of machine experience (or gym experience) so I'm not going to offer advice about whether or not machines will help you with what you're looking for. I would think that bb (or Pendlay style) rows starting with the empty bar and slowly working up would help your overall strength including your core. If you build up slowly then too much body english or rotation won't be an issue for you. If you're doing db rows correctly then you really should feel the stretch and you should be able to control your body.

Interesting question.



Thanx for replying! I didn't think anyone replied because I didn't get an email.... so I am very garteful people replied.

Well, I have been tested twice (emg studies) and the muscle:nerve and nerve:muscle connections are all perfect.

I was tested once (emg) just at the outlet from the spine at L4 nd L2. L4 came back denervated and L2 came back irritated. The neuroligist didn't test the spine the second time so I don't know if L4 is any better.

Some of that left L4 denervation may just be age. I don't know. I am very confused on the subject. The neurologist thinks my problems are myofascial. What I think is that L4 nerves were mildly hurt awhile back, causing initial compensations which then in turn caused myofascial problems caused by the muscle imbalances that resulted.

ok, so I don't understand this. See, if one leg is weaker, I would think that most likely the pelvis & torso will also be unbalanced- I mean, everything will be unbalanced not just the limbs, right?. So even on one leg the person has to make a real effort to keep their hips and shoulders square. Also, if there is any preferential rotation in the spine (and there is in many many people), the person has to be super aware of this.

Ditto for arms- there is subtle torso twisting I would think and it is very difficult to make sure this is the same on both sides. It is also very hard to make sure the trajectory of the weight is the same on both sides- at least for me- because my left shoulder wants to rotate internally and my left shoulder wants to rotate externally etc- I watched myself do the YTWL mobilizations in the mirror and I was horrified to see how different the trajectories were. If I was do that unilatertally, I think I would just keep etching in the mistakes....the machines will at least guide my hands in identical trajectories..

what do I not understand? I know I am usually mistaken- seriously, so I must really be missing something.

I wish I could read something on the subject. I know I was doing a lot of ballet which is at least 50% one-legged work (your version of squats, jumps and straight leg deadlifts) and that is partially what got me into this mess. I am actually MUCH happier on one leg.

I would appreciate any references on unilateral work for correcting muscle imbalances. thanx:)


Thanxfor replying. What that means is my gym has a ladies area, a co-ed area , and a more serious co-ed area. The barbells are located in the more serious co-ed area. The weights that attached to the barbells are too heavy. They also have some really nice equiptment in that area- universal equipment where you manually attach the same round barbell weights to machines- again, these weights are too large. Also I feel silly and out of place in that area- it if filled with very muscular masculine men. Occasionally there is a woman in their but she is either extremely hardcore looking or she is accomapained by a PT. In any event, the barbell weights are too heavy- that is the main reason.

Re using dumbells for structural imbalances, please see my previous post. How do you know you aren't compenstaing for the imbalances by using your torso?

thanx :slight_smile:


Thanx for responing James- I have run out of time here, I will answer your post later, thanx :slight_smile:



Read the article, you are exactly opposite with your thoughts.

I train people with imbalances( myself as well) and most of my work with them is done uni-lateral they improve greatly.

Not all barbells are fixed weights.

Have you tried using a Physcial Therapist or a good trainer yet?

Any compensation by torso involvement is stability work and will be present during either side working. Now if you are leaning/compensating too much lighten the weight and start over.


The gym where I deadlift has a women's-only area and a more serious lifting area. I've never been in the women's area. I don't understand why you would feel silly and out-of-place in the co-ed area. Especially if that's where the equipment that you need is located. Certainly there are empty bars you can use there. And I can't imagine that you would be treated with anything less than respect. BTW, men are designed to be muscular and masculine.

I do think that perhaps you're overanalyzing your body a bit. We're all structurally imbalanced to some degree.


Let's take a vote. How many women really, really don't like being surrounded by muscular masculine men?


I love it, but Yo Daddy gets jealous when I can't wipe the smile off my face.

In any case, I do understand Reconstruction's reluctance to go into the "hardcore" gym section. I've been laughed at, pointed at, and made fun of, usually by teenagers or young men standing around or curling in the squat rack. While I do enjoy showing these idiots what a squat rack is really for, and I'm used to being laughed at when I play my bass on stage, it can be discouraging to a self-conscious person working out alone.


Thanx James for replying! I like the term "body English" btw, I had never heard that before.

Well I guess what is up with me is that I have come out of a very painful year and so I am hyper cautious. It began with over-pronation on one foot only, then what was most likely illiotibeal band friction syndrome on that same leg, and now my back just does not feel right. I have been to many physios and they all seem to sell something different. Also, depending on the physio and the day, my right abductors are weakeer or my left abductors are weaker.

Anyway, when chronic injuries like that happen unilaterally it means that there is a bilateral imbalance and it is serious enough to cause more pronation on one foot that the other etc. Also, I have been told that my pelvis is rotated but I have also been told that stuff like pelvis rotation is a load of baloney- all just different expert opinions.

Anyway, I do know that being right handed makes me tend to do things one way- rotate my spine one way. For example, piviting to the right, I use mostly my spine, pivoting to the left I use mostly my pelvis. So picture just doing a dumbell curl- if I use my torso at all, I think I will be using it differently depending on the arm I am working- it is subtle but I really think there is a difference-

So normally,, yes, I'd say I am WAY overanalyzing it, but I think this is a natural reaction to having become injured.

Anyway, I had a Personal Trainer session yesterday- so the person is very young and sweet female not very experienced but I did ask her about using the machines unilaterally and she said "yes, ofcourse you can".


Thank you for posting that- I read the article, thank you. Also thanx for the new term: Bilateral deficit.

I am in ****TOTAL**** agreement with working unilaterally Btw.

My issue is having the unilateral exercises be as close as possible to mirror actions, which I think is encouraged by having either back or chest support as a guide. I mean, after what I have been through, I can so easily imagine how doing a pistol squat or a one legged RDL on the right and left leg will NOT be mirrored actions. I know that in my heart. Even with low loads.

Thank you for explaining how the unsupported exercises are also core stability work. I had a personal training session with someone yesterday and she said the same thing, so thanx for that, I never really thought about it that way. My loads are low.

I guess I am just being really cautious. I know that my core is most likeley imbalanced bilaterally as well- why wouldn't it be- one side of my core is making up for the fact that one leg is weaker etc. So, to me, it just makes more sense to separate it all out and do the core work alone, at least for now. Maybe if I was to do normal unilateral work it would all come out even in the end. Or not.

Anyway I asked the PT yesterday and she said using the machines unilaterally is totally ok.
ps- I have been to a number of phsyiotherapists- and they all seem to take different approaches. The one I was going to this summer was obsessed with having me do bilateral parallel plies (or what you would call squats but without the lower back arched). The one previous to that was having me do bridges.

So now, I am going to stop going to physios and try some personal training instead.

thanx you very much for your help Fischer, I really appreciate it.


Thanx :slight_smile: LOL @ how men are desiggned btw. It's ahrd to explain the feel in that area- like shmoozing with a pile truck drivers, hahah. Ofcourse I know they are all very nice men, but as a group - I mean it is like going into a football players' locker room....

anyway, I am happy, my PT said I can do the machines unilaterally so I have no need to go in there for at least a few more months!


haha cute! seriously, it depends on the surroundings. On a dance floor or in a bar- sure.


hey Yo mamma- thanx :slight_smile: I was looking for your training log but couldn't find it. Do you have one\? I would like to go look at it...

& yes, I should add, so I went in there (the the co-ed area) yesterday with my young female pT and even SHE didn't want to go very deep into the room!!!


well I just discovered the bilateral hammer strength leg press machine in the hardcore "co-ed" area. Nothing is keeping me out of there now- that machine is amazing!- plus, later at night there are fewer people in there and I didn't feel very odd at all :slight_smile: