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Asymmetrical Training: Definition and Benefits for Athletes

What is Asymmetrical Training?

Asymmetrical training is a specialized workout approach in which the goal is to load one side of the body more than the other, such as with unilateral bodyweight or loaded exercises. Doing so improves balance, coordination, and core strength. It helps athletes produce force in various planes, leading to more effective deceleration, change of direction, and handling of contact forces (such as in sports like football).

What Benefits Does Asymmetrical Training Provide?

Sports are dynamic and unpredictable, often throwing athletes into new situations they’ve never encountered before. 

Because of that, controlled core activities like the barbell back squat, deadlift, and bench press may not be enough to prepare athletes to perform as well as possible and stay safe.

The basic idea behind asymmetrical training is to prepare athletes to handle various situations well, stay safe, and do better than competitors. This often means loading one side of the body more and placing athletes in uncomfortable positions.

When used correctly, asymmetrical training teaches athletes to run on curved lines, change direction swiftly, transfer their weight to either leg when needed, and handle external contact. 

While bilateral exercises (think heavy deadlifts) offer athletic benefits, asymmetrical training helps athletes produce force in many other situations where sheer leg, glute, or back strength may not be enough. 

Think of it like this:

A simple plyometric activity like the box jump can help improve a basketball player’s vertical leap off both feet. This can be highly beneficial in a more controlled setting, such as when jumping to grab a rebound after a missed free throw.

But what if that same basketball player attacks the basket and must turn around, jump off one foot, and lay the ball in while defended by two opposing players and being forced off balance?

This is where asymmetrical training pays dividends, as it allows the player to stay balanced and produce force quickly through both legs and arms, depending on the demands of the specific situation.

How And When To Use Asymmetrical Training With Athletes

1. Start With An Assessment

Before prescribing asymmetric training, evaluate your athletes’ strength, balance, coordination, and sport-specific needs. 

For example:

  • Balance – a single-leg standing test is a good way to determine balance. Have your athletes stand on one leg with their eyes open and then closed. Monitor how long it takes them to lose balance and be forced to put their other foot on the ground.
  • Dynamic balance – have your athlete balance on one foot while reaching as far as possible with the other foot in three directions: forward, to the side, and back.
  • Hand-eye coordination – have an athlete stand in front of a wall with a tennis ball in one hand. The objective is to throw the ball against the wall and grab it, alternating between the left and right hand. Gradually increase the speed with which they throw the ball to increase the difficulty and assess their performance.
  • Ladder drill – use agility ladder drills to see how quickly and accurately athletes can move their feet through the pattern.
  • Side-to-side strength – use unilateral movements to assess your athletes’ strength and ability to maintain balance while working the right and left sides of the body.

In addition to these tests, observe your athletes during practice and competition, look for difficulties and inefficiencies during movements, and compare performance metrics (e.g., sprinting times and jumping height).

2. Progress Gradually

As with any training, the best approach is to start with a small dose and gradually increase the intensity and volume while monitoring your athletes.

Regardless of what movements and drills you prescribe, start with the least amount of external resistance (or none at all) and focus on the activities, helping athletes move more proficiently and build sport-specific skills.

Light resistance bands, ankle weights, light dumbbells, and small weight plates are useful tools.

3. Integrate it Into Their Primary Training

Asymmetrical training should supplement the athlete’s primary workout plan, not replace it. If it does replace elements of the primary plan, the goal should be to provide a net positive effect. 

For instance, if an athlete does bilateral squats twice weekly, one of the sessions could instead feature unilateral or unevenly loaded squats. Alternatively, an asymmetrical activity can follow bilateral squats—–for example, a unilateral Romanian deadlift.

Endurance-based asymmetrical work could partially replace the athlete’s cardiovascular training.

Additionally, drills and dedicated balance or coordination work can be programmed into shorter, less fatiguing sessions that don’t interfere with the athlete’s primary training.

4. Emphasize Core Stability and Balance

Uneven loading brings instability, forcing the core musculature to engage far more to keep athletes in balance. But, while asymmetrical training itself develops core strength, including some core activities can help even more.

There are several ways to emphasize core stability and balance. One option is to cue athletes to engage their midsection during various activities. Over time, midsection tightness becomes second nature.

Another option is to program movements that load the body asymmetrically and challenge the midsection. Examples include:

  • One-arm farmer’s walk
  • Single-arm presses, rows, and extensions
  • Cable woodchop (explosive concentric, controlled eccentric)
  • Loaded Russian twists
  • Uneven push-ups
  • Offset squats (kettlebell or dumbbell)


1. Can asymmetrical training replace unilateral training?

Asymmetrical training shouldn’t completely replace unilateral exercises. When programmed correctly, unilateral movements can be part of an asymmetrical training plan (depending on an athlete’s needs). 

2. How is asymmetrical training different from unilateral exercises?

Asymmetrical training means unevenly loading the body and improving athletes’ balance and force output in various sports situations. In contrast, unilateral exercises are those where athletes train one side at a time.

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