My sad home gym consists of an exercise bench and a single adjustable-weight dumbbell. I've been using this random Athlean-X video as a template, but three of the suggested eight exercises use two dumbbells, not one. Specifically:

  • Dumbbell Curl and Press
  • Thrusters
  • Farmers Carries (this seems patently unworkable with a single DB, so I'm skipping it entirely)

Is it dangerous/inadvisable/ineffective to split double dumbbell exercises into separate single dumbbell exercises for each hand? If yes, can you suggest replacements for the above, or an alternative full-body single-dumbbell exercise routine?

  • 6
    Single arm farmers walk is called a suitcase carry, and it's an awesome training exercise.
    – Dark Hippo
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 7:11
  • This might seem obvious, but be sure to lower -- if not more than halve -- the max. weight when first trying to incorporate unilateral versions of bilateral exercises. Even if your muscles are strong enough, your joints and tendons might not yet be.
    – ComFreek
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 18:06
  • @DarkHippo If you handle a single dumbbell with 2 hands in front of you, might it be a goblet carry?
    – Mast
    Commented Aug 6, 2020 at 7:34
  • @Mast I guess? There are several kettlebell based carries done with a single kettlebell, but they're mainly unilateral ones. You've also got Dan John's heartbeat warmup exercise. If you can do it with a heavy enough dumbbell, I can see goblet carries being an awesome exercise :)
    – Dark Hippo
    Commented Aug 6, 2020 at 7:43

1 Answer 1


No, it is neither dangerous, nor inadvisable, nor ineffective to separate those exercises into unilateral (single-hand) versions. The only disadvantage to doing so is the extra time that you will require to complete your bouts of training.

These variations will, however, demand significantly greater muscle recruitment—most notably to control/limit lateral flexion of the lumbar spine. All of the trunk muscles are involved, but those most active will be the internal obliques, quadratus lumborum, erector spinae, and psoas major.

And since we commonly possess imbalances in muscular size, strength and control, it is advisable to begin with your weaker side first, then match the performance of the weaker side with the stronger. This avoids your further developing any muscular biases you may have. (If you do not do this, the sides will tend to balance over time anyway, owing to the law of diminishing returns on your training, but it is generally preferable to keep yourself as balanced as possible.)

I hope that helps.

  • 1
    Thanks. Does this apply even to the Farmer's Carry? I would have thought lugging a heavy weight around with one hand only would wreck your neck and shoulders. Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 6:16
  • 2
    Yes, it surely does, and no, it should not present any issues or risks. You do have to consider, however, that if the load is great enough, as it may be with the Farmers' Carry, your lumbar flexors may be the weakest link in the chain, and hence the limiting factor in the load that you can carry. There is nothing wrong with this, per se, but there can be a considerable distinction between the loads if you are unaccustomed to lifting heavy loads on only one side.
    – POD
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 6:59
  • 2
    Actually doing farmers carry with single dumbbell will engage your core more than doing them with double dumbbells. This will translate to any unilateral exercise. Just be creative, stay consistent and you will reap the benefits
    – zulu_papa
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 15:38

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