Weekend Challenge: The Single-Arm Overhead Press - Save Our Bones

This weekend we’re going to look at a unique way of exercising for your bones. It’s called unilateral training, which means that it works one side of your body at a time. Ironically, it helps restore balance to both sides of your body.

You see, we’re all asymmetrical – one side of our body is stronger than the other. For lefties, that usually means the left side; it’s the opposite for righties. So exercises that work both sides of the body at the same time, allow for a little “cheating”. In other words, we all tend to compensate for our weak side by overusing the stronger side (I know I do!).

The Single-Arm Overhead Press is one example of upper body unilateral training. When you practice this exercise, you’re lifting less total weight than if you lifted two weights (or a larger weight with both arms), thus sparing your back and joints and reducing injury risk. But more importantly, this exercise builds the muscles and bones of your arms and your upper body. This is critical to prevent fractures in case you fall, especially wrist fractures. It also improves your posture by targeting your core and shoulder muscles.

Not to mention that it’s always more attractive to look symmetrical, especially since after you practice this exercise for a while, both of your shoulders will be level (we tend to position the stronger shoulder lower than the weaker side).

Why: Besides preventing the dreaded wrist and other upper body fractures, the Single-Arm Overhead Press has unique benefits mainly because it’s a unilateral exercise.

When you work one side of the body at a time, your core muscles naturally contract to hold you upright. This “awakens” those important behind-the-scenes muscles that hold you straight and help you stay balanced.

The Single-Arm Overhead Press, like other unilateral exercises, stimulates your brain and muscles to work together. That’s why unilateral exercises can feel challenging at the beginning – your nervous system has to adapt to the off-center movement. But as you continue the exercise, your brain and muscles will coordinate, and you will actually form new synapses in your brain. Then you benefit from more efficient motion. In a very real way, this exercise makes you smarter!

Unilateral exercise helps prevent injury as well, especially the type that occurs from muscular compensation. When a muscle or muscle group is weak, it can’t do its job of stabilizing the joints and bones. The resulting joint rotation is abnormal, and your body compensates with other muscles that are less suited to the job. This creates a site of weakness, where injury – including fractures – is more likely to occur.

When you practice the Single-Arm Overhead Press, you’ll build your bones by working both sides of your body separately. Your body becomes more balanced, less injury-prone, and better able to build bone density through exercise.

How: This is a standing exercise, so stand near a chair in case you need to grab it to steady yourself.
You’ll need a small dumbbell that’s a comfortable weight for you to lift with one arm, but still a bit challenging (2 to 5lbs is a good place to start). Or you can use a can of food.

We’ll start with the left hand.

  1. Take the dumbbell in your left hand.
  2. Bring your left hand up with the palm facing in.
  3. Your elbow should be bent and pointing straight down.
  4. Slowly raise the weight up over your head, straightening your arm.
  5. Bring your arm back down to its starting position.
  6. Repeat 3 sets of 10 repetitions on each side. If you notice that one arm is much weaker than the other, you can do more repetitions with the weaker arm. After a while, arm strength in both arms should be about the same.


  • Don’t arch your back or lean backward.
  • As mentioned earlier, feel free to do a few extra reps on your weak side for better body symmetry.
  • Keep your palm facing in so your elbow doesn’t stick out to the side.
  • Don’t let your elbow point inward as you lift.

For a more advanced variation of the Single-Arm Overhead Pass, you can try the following variation:

Single-Arm Overhead Pass (Progress To Walking)

For this variation, you simply perform the above exercise while walking. Do the same number of sets and reps, and switch sides as you walk.

I love to share these Weekend Challenges with you because good nutrition and regular exercise come into play for building strong, healthy bones. There’s tons of helpful bone health information at this website, but if you really want to bring your bone health to the next level, the Osteoporosis Reversal Program and Densercise can show you step-by-step how easy it is to incorporate both into your daily life.

And as always, please let the community know how you’re doing by leaving a comment below.

Till next time,

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Comments on this article are closed.

  1. selma

    Thanks Vivian!

    It is much easier to do one side at a time. This exercise is great!


  2. susan leiterman

    I would like the Densercise to be a DVD I could purchase. I can’t do exercises at my computer. Also I did order this and never could download it. I do love reading all of your emails and have purchased your book. You help keep me motivated!! Thanks, Susan l

  3. Ms. L. Carmel

    Good Afternoon Vivian,

    Thank You Very Much For Sharing The Single-Arm Overhead Press With Us.

    Because As We Get Older We Need To Make Sure The Keep The Strength In Our Arms.

    Until Next Time – Take Care And Stay Well.


  4. Ann

    Great exercise suggestion. I am a personal trainer and often encourage using a single limb for the reason you stated. The only problem I have is with the suggestion to do it while walking. Lifting the weight overhead will shift the center of gravity which will increase the possibility of falling. Also, since it is multi-tasking, form may be comprimised on the lift. Heavier weight can also be utilized standing still, which will offer more benefits.
    Keep exercises coming!

  5. Bert C

    I’m pleased to see that I am not the only person in the world
    that does singel arm overhead presses. I generaly do arm exercises one arm at a time. Probably do because they foster equal effort with both sides. I also like doing them that way to facilitate aerobics. Hard to press weights nonstop if you are using both arms. I guess I have been doing them that way for more that 50 years.
    Lighter now though. I could do them with about 120 pounds in either hand once upon a time.
    Thanks for all your efforts to help people save their bones.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      You’re definitely not alone, Bert! And you’ve been doing something right all along. 🙂

  6. Joyce

    Thanks – I look forward to getting these and doing them!

  7. Marlene

    Dear Vivian,
    I’ve had challenges doing these exercises due to my
    bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome especially on my left
    side. Thank you for your encouraging e-mail.
    May GOD richly bless you as you continue to share your
    blessings through your knowledge and the truth regarding bone health. Take care always, Marlene

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Be careful, Marlene – if an exercise causes pain, make sure you stop! Choose lighter weights if it helps. 🙂 I am so glad to hear you found this e-mail encouraging!

  8. Shirley L.

    Thank you for these “weekend exercises” – – they are very practical and easy to do in the home. I plan on trying the arm exercises above using light-weights while walking outside, now that the weather is improving (in Canada!) … multiply the benefits of walking and exercising at the same time. Thanks again for all your bone-building tips and advice.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      You are welcome, Shirley. It really is wonderful to be able to exercise outdoors once the weather warms up. You’ll get lots of Vitamin D that way, too! 🙂

  9. Christine Watson

    Re: single arm exercise:
    In #6 above you state that if one arm is weaker, “you can do a few more repetitions with the stronger arm”
    and then in “tips” you recommend “do a few extra reps on your weak side for better body symmetry”
    This sounds like a contradiction to me. Please explain.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Thanks for catching that, Christine! You should do more repetitions on your weak side. 🙂

  10. Ita

    thank you,Ita.

  11. barb

    I really appreciate these exercises b/c we are in a small African country and these are things I can do on my own….now, if I had a buddy to hold me accountable, I’d probably be more consistent ~ THANX.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      That’s what the community is for, Barb! Glad you’re here. 🙂

  12. Chuck S

    You might want to use a gallon of milk, which is 8 pounds. A half gallon is 4 lbs.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Not a bad idea, Chuck! As long as you can hold it in the proper position, that could work fine. …although I’d suggest a container of distilled water! 🙂

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