WOW: Unilateral Engagement

Complete 5 cycles:

20 Walking Weighted Lunges
14 Single Arm Overhead Press (7 each arm)
10 Single Leg Deadlift (5 each leg)
16 Single Arm Bent Over Row (8 each arm)


Warmup: 30 second Grok Squat, lateral, forward, and backward leg swings (10 each leg).

I emphasize compound, full body movements, because they mimic the way we use our bodies in a natural setting and they give us the most bang for the buck by employing multiple muscles at once. Squats beat leg extensions, pullups beat bicep curls, and overhead presses beat lateral shoulder raises. But what about unilateral movements? Instead of using both limbs to move a weight, you’re using a single limb to move it. It’s still a compound movement that uses a full range of motion and lots of muscles – it just sticks to one side of the body.

These are valuable additions to any routine, because many of our actions are unilateral and real life doesn’t always afford us the opportunity to square up and get everything involved. Sprinting is a unilateral movement, for example. Unilateral movements also allow us to increase the load without actually adding weight. A lunge is tougher than a squat with the same weight, because one leg is de-emphasized. And because you’re dealing with less total weight, everything is a bit safer. Folks with bad backs that can’t handle a full weighted squat, for example, might find weighted lunges offer plenty of stimulus.

You’ll need a weight that can be held with one hand, of course. A dumbbell, kettlebell, or even a sandbag will work great here.

A few things to remember:

  • Keep a tight core. Since the weight will be on one side of your body, you’ll have to maintain balance while performing the lift.
  • For help with the single leg deadlifts, check out this past WOW for a good description.
  • When lunging, push through your heels and don’t let your knee go past your toes on the lead leg.


No variations this time.

What Are WOWs?

  • Workouts of the Week (WOWs) are an optional component of Primal Blueprint Fitness that add a fractal and often fun and playful quality to the basic PBF protocol.
  • In most cases WOWs should only be completed by those that have mastered Level 4 of each Lift Heavy Things Essential Movement. Also, it’s recommended that WOWs replace one or both Lift Heavy Things workouts or the Sprint workout (depending on the WOW) each week instead of being done in addition to the Lift Heavy Things and Sprint workouts.
  • Learn more about WOWs and Primal Blueprint Fitness by getting the free eBook. And access all Workouts of the Week in the WOW Archive.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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19 thoughts on “WOW: Unilateral Engagement”

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    1. All the time, and by the giggles he loves it. Although I think he is growing faster than my muscles, he is now 45lbs at four years old. Wouldn’t lifting the toddlers up like that work on their core strength? 😉

    2. All the time (but she’s 4 now!) I throw her up in the air, starting in the squat position. I also have her stand on my foot, holding my hands and kick/swing her in the air and she does a flip in mid air. I also do pushups with her on my back, and climb playground equipment with her in ways that the equipment wasn’t designed for. We also spring (barefoot) up and down the street together. We’re both working out, just by playing!

    3. AWESOME!!! What a great way to bond and play with our kids!! They learn to have fun with us and that playing is AWESOME! They also get to see how you treat exercise in your life! Too cool!

    4. Heh all the time! My three year old just loves being used in a work out; the giggles and laughter I hear from him makes it a fun work out too!

    5. I don’t have a toddler- and I can only imagine how awkward it could be borrowing one from a stranger… hehe.

  1. I bet this would send a burn through the legs. Sounds like an excellent workout.
    Another good unilateral exercise is a one-legged bodyweight squat. There’s different ways to do them: leg out in front, leg out behind, one foot resting on something or crouching/bending forward on the way down and standing up straight on the way up (makes them a little easier), arms and hands straight out to the sides (makes it harder, putting an emphasis on balance and core stabilization). You can experiment to find more ways or tweak your method on new reps.
    My favourite way is to alternate between one-legged and two-legged bodyweight squats, where I’ll start on one foot, then do one on both feet, then the other foot, then the same thing back the other way, and repeat.

    1. Yeah, 5 cycles of that seems pretty tough to do. 300 reps! I plan to use light weights (or maybe skip weights altogether for the lunges) and see how it goes and probably use this as a conditioning routine.

  2. I am gonna give this one a try later in the week. Hopefully I can complete all 5 cycles, but I’m not quite sure if I can!

  3. Awesome workout,
    As a martial artist I can totally identify with the need to work the body as nature intended. Compound exercise are KING – the body was designed to work as a unit, not as individual muscle groups!

    I’ll give this a try tomorrow morning – looks like it’s going to be killer


  4. Great workout!

    5 rounds untimed
    Used 2 35lb dumbells for walking lunges and SLDL. Single 35lb for press and row.

  5. This is similar to my kettlebell routine.

    5 ladders of clean and presses no more than 5 rungs each ladder

    3 ladders of pistol squats four rungs each ladder

    5-10 minutes of single arm swings switching hands b/n sets

    Training one side of the body at a time provides an amazing core workout and helps to balance out strength. Great workout!

  6. Did this workout today. I’ve been running a lot to get my PRT time down (I’m in the Navy), and after today’s run, my legs were bushed, so I did the lunges with just my bodyweight but going up and down a hill in my back yard. That and the single-leg deadlifts really challenged my balance (the grassy terrain added a fun challenge), which surprised me considering my regular yoga practice. After that workout, I feel great! Can’t wait for the next one!