Why You Aren't Able to Lift As Much on Your Left Side (and How to Fix It)

Wondering why you're not able to lift as much with your left hand (or maybe your right)? With the correct workouts, you can finally conquer those muscle imbalances.

woman doing biceps curls with dumbbells in a gym
Photo: skynesher/Getty

Grab a pair of dumbbells and churn out some biceps curls. Chances are, you'll find yourself wondering, "Why am I not able to lift with my left hand?" (Or, if you're a lefty, your right.) Ugh. You'll probably notice your dominant side is weaker while balancing in warrior III in yoga, too. Double ugh.

Hopefully, you've noticed that you're not the only one with a tendency to fall out of those side balances in your yoga class — pretty much everyone has one stronger side. "It's extremely common for people to have strength differences between their sides — in fact, it is more uncommon for our bodies to be perfectly symmetrical in size and strength than it is for them to be different," says Chris Powell, C.S.C.S., a NASM-certified celebrity trainer and CEO of the TransformHQ app.

The reason you're not able to lift as much with the left (or right) side of your body actually has nothing to do with your exercise routine, but rather, it's the result of unconscious daily movements. "While your gym workouts tend to hit both sides pretty evenly when you go about your daily routines, you unconsciously use your dominant side far more than your weak side. This can be pushing or pulling doors open, rolling over to push yourself out of bed, or the side you always chose to take the first step onto the stairs," explains Powell.

Even though these everyday habits don't require as much strength as, say, your bench presses, the repetition of those movements adds up. "While you wouldn't necessarily consider this every activity 'exercise,' the more you repeatedly use one side, the more efficiently your brain learns to fire to those particular muscles. This results in stronger muscles on that side, and quite often larger muscles as well," says Powell. Also, if you've ever injured an arm or leg and had to baby it for a while, that might have something to do with any imbalances between your left and right side.

So rest assured that this is totally normal, and you're only noticing it because you're more ~in tune~ with your body than most. "Most people go through life with these strength differences without even knowing or feeling a difference. Usually, it's the exercise-centric folks — like you and me — that figure it out pretty fast," says Powell.

To shore up any weaknesses on one side or the other, try opting for exercises that load each side of your body separately, such as dumbbell exercises: shoulder presses, chest presses, lunges, dumbbell rows, biceps curls, dumbbell squats, triceps extensions, and the like, suggests Powell. Unlike exercise machines and barbells, dumbbells don't let your stronger arm or leg pick up the slack from your weaker one, he explains. You can also try unilateral training and exercises, like single-leg lunges, single-leg squats, single-arm shoulder presses, single-arm chest presses, and single-arm rows. (Also a good idea if your non-dominant side is weaker? Adding these bodyweight leg exercises to your routine.)

There's no need to "even things out" by doing more reps on your weaker side, says Powell. Your weaker side will catch up naturally since it will be forced to work harder. (Up Next: How Weak Ankles and Ankle Mobility Affect the Rest of Your Body)

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