Utilizing One-Arm Barbell Lifts!

The benefits of these lifts are impossible to duplicate and can serve a wide variety of functions in training. Find out how 1-arm lifts can improve your strength, speed and size!

It can be hard to find a more classic strength-training picture than Arthur Saxon performing a bent press with 300-plus pounds on the bar, a feat that would be tough for most strongmen to duplicate even today.

Modern-day great strength coaches such as John Davies and Pavel Tsatsouline have brought back the 1-arm lifts. The benefits of these lifts are impossible to duplicate and can serve a wide variety of functions in training.

Benefits Of The One-Arm Lifts

Grip Training:
Many sports require the athlete to possess a strong grip. The strength of one's hands can be one of the biggest examples of "functional" strength. Sports such as American and Canadian football, gymnastics, wrestling, baseball, softball, and hockey have extremely high demand of grip strength.

Kettlebells definitely offer a unique variation in the coordination required in lifting. However, the leverage of 1-arm barbell lifts takes this difference to the next level. Each repetition must be performed with great precision; otherwise the bar will take the lifter for a ride.

Injury Prevention Training:
Injuring the rotator cuff is a too common occurance for many athletes. Simple and isolation exercises are usually prescribed for both treatment and prevention. Because of the great demands placed on this unstable joint, greater challenges need to be made to the shoulder joint to avoid such problems.

The leverage of these one-arm lifts acts as a stabilizer to shoulder muscles. Like many of the traditional kettlebell lifts, these exercises can also be performed with a barbell. Strengthening the shoulder in many ranges of motion are impossible to duplicate with machines or other common bodybuilding approaches.

Core Training:
Athletes will find some of the most effective ways of improving core strength is by implementing 1-arm lifts. By loading the body in a unilateral manner, the opposing trunk muscles must contract even greater to avoid excessive lean to one side. Many of our favorite 1-arm exercises involve overhead lifting, a great but highly underutilized way of increasing core strength.

How To Implement

The utilization of the 1-arm barbell lifts should be dictated by the goal of the program. At our facility, we often use these lifts after the more complex focus lift (i.e. snatch) to avoid a detrimental effect to the focus lift. However, these lifts are not placed at the end of the workout when fatigue may compromise proper technique.

Since the grip will typically be the first to fatigue, the repetitions should remain on the lower end, 3 to 5 reps. This will normally encourage a higher number of sets be implemented to compensate for the lower repetitions. Lifters will also find their performance will vary depending upon the size of the bar. Having been in many different gyms, I know that the grip size of bars will vary a lot, thicker bars will seem heavier, but may be more appropriate for those who are trying to challenge their grip.

The Exercises

The exercises depicted below are far from an exhausted list. These are some of the lifts we like to employ. You will notice many are hybrids because time is often a great concern for our athletes.

One-Arm Snatch + Overhead Squat/Lunge

  • Start from the hang position (slightly above the knees)
  • With an explosive pull with the hips, drive the weight overhead
  • Once the bar is stabilized overhead, with the lats perform either an overhead squat or lunge.
  • During the squat, the lifter may want to lean slightly away from the bar to help restricted flexibility.

One-Arm Curl + Press +

  • Actively squeeze the bar with your posture held tight (the bar will want to pull the shoulder forward).
  • Curl the weight to the shoulder and rotate the bar slowly.
  • Drive the bar above the head with the lats and trunk muscles.
  • Once the bar is stabilized overhead, turn the feet away from the bar at 45 degrees.
  • Drive the hips back towards the direction of the bar.
  • Bending at the hips, descend down by the outside foot.
  • Make sure to keep the lats and trunk tight during the entire movement.

One-Arm Floor Press

  • Lay lateral to a power rack or a slightly elevated platform.
  • Knees should be bent, a tight arch must be placed by the low back causing contracted lats, glutes and abs.
  • Grip the bar either with two hands or with the help of a partner out of the rack.
  • Slowly lower the bar so the elbow touches the floor, take a full pause without releasing tension.
  • Drive the bar up by pushing the body into the floor and flaring the lats.