One Handed Lifts Will Help to Make You Stronger

Get the most out of your workouts and train with one hand tied behind your back.   It’s incredibly simple and incredibly effective.  Intrigued?  You should be.  This isn’t a circus trick, but just another great fitness tip courtesy of me!

You may be thinking that I’ve really lost my mind.  Lifting weights with one hand tied behind your back? Seriously, one-handed training is a phenomenal way to develop strength, balance, stability, and coordination…and it can be done without the aid of any special equipment.  This is one of those fitness tips that some would market as being a “secret,” but there shouldn’t be any secrets when it comes to getting into great shape. And you don’t really have to tie one hand behind your back.

One-handed training is simply using one hand, either with a dumbbell or a barbell, to perform any lift.  Name the lift and you can do it with one hand.  Military press?  If you were to suggest using dumbbells, you wouldn’t be wrong.  But to really kick things up a notch, and really challenge yourself, do a one-handed military press using a barbell.  Let your imagination run wild.  High pulls, hang cleans, split jerks, dead lifts, and the bench press can all be done one-handed with a barbell.


When you are lifting with one-hand, let the proper form used with the traditional technique be your guide.  Let’s start with the military press as an example of a basic, one-handed movement that is easily modified by one-handed training.  Everyone knows how to perform a military press using one dumbbell at a time.  However, how many of you have ever seen or tried a one-handed barbell military press? The one-handed barbell military is one of the most challenging and effective basic exercises that there is, as every muscle in the body works to produce movement.  The fingers to the toes, and all points in between, must work together in order to perform this exercise properly.  The demands placed on the body by the 7-foot barbell press make things particularly tough for your deltoids and triceps – of course – and your forearms, lats and lower back as well.

Here’s a quick review.  Stand a barbell on its end and grab it smack dab in the middle with the right hand.   Squat down and rest the bar against the right shoulder about 6 inches above your hand and stand up while stabilizing the bar with the off-hand.  Rotate the bar so that it sits along your shoulders behind your head, similar to where the bar would be when squatting.  At this point, the right hand should be a thumb length away from the shoulder, the elbow should be pointing straight down, flare the lat and hold your abs tight to help stabilize the bar.  Stand straight and hold the left arm out to help keep balance. This is the start and finish position for each rep.

From this start position, slowly press the barbell overhead, maintain an upright posture and work NOT to lean to the left.  Make sure to completely lockout the arm overhead and keep the bar from rotating throughout the range of movement before lowering the bar to the finish position.  The press and return should be slow and controlled, especially for beginners. One last tip; don’t think because you can dumbbell press a 45-pound dumbbell that you will be able to press the 45-pound bar.  The overall demands of this lift will have you struggling to get one good rep with the 7-foot bar and have you scrambling for the 25-pound, 5-foot bar.  Stick with it and stay strict with the form, and you will reap the benefits. 

Remember this isn’t bodybuilding; it’s a fitness tip. Now let’s use the high pull as an example of an advanced move that can be made even more difficult by working with one hand.  The required elements of the traditional high pull are the same as when performing the one-handed version.  From the initiation of the movement through the completion of the pull, the one-handed dumbbell version of the high pull is virtually identical to the two-handed barbell version. The only technique variation when using a dumbbell is the position of your pulling arm at the start of the movement, and the path that the arm takes as the pull is performed.  

With a barbell, your hands are fixed in a position – about the width of your hips – throughout the entire movement.  When performing the one-handed high pull, start with the hand holding the dumbbell at the front of the thigh.  Since the hand isn’t fixed on a bar as it is with a two-handed pull, it will move in a non-linear manner.  So when bending at the waist to initiate the pull, the hand will move to a position slightly inside of the knee, rather than outside of the knee. With the pull, the dumbbell is brought up and slightly across the body until the dumbbell reaches shoulder level. 


The most important technique point is that the explosive element of this lift remains the same, and the hips must fully extend as the pull occurs.  Once the one-handed dumbbell high pull is mastered, a barbell can be used to add an even higher degree of difficulty. For the daring types out there who want to try other one-handed variations drop me a line and I’ll help you out with these techniques…or don’t, and I’ll just keep writing about them.

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