I love single-leg training. Actually, I take that back. I friggin’ hate single-leg training.
Reason being is simply because I’m not very good at it.
(Yes — I’m not very good at it.)
However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t appreciate the benefits of incorporating some lower body uni-lateral work here and there. I know — the Squat and Deadlift are dubbed the king of exercises and they look so much sexier than single-leg training, so why bother?
For starters, it can offer a change of pace in your training. Sure the big compound movements are the meat and potatoes, but make no mistake, you can gain a ton of strength by dedicating some time with single-leg drills.
Secondly, because I said so.
Thirdly, you can achieve similar muscle activation without the shear forces you get from conventional squatting and deadlifting. You can virtually load up as much weight as you can, but with less spinal loading — max recruitment with minimal risk. Furthermore, you work your deep core musculature to a larger extent.
Photo Credit: thePTDC.com
And lastly, sports (and daily activities for that matter) are primarily played on one leg, not two. Which lends itself to the fact that single-leg work should be a part of any strength and conditioning program.
With that in mind, there are a lot single-leg variations you can choose from, so here’s my top three.
1. Assisted Single-Leg RDL
**It was a toss up between Landmine Single-Leg RDL’s or Assisted Single-Leg RDL’s.
Probably one of the most advanced exercises anybody will ever come across is the single-leg RDL. Learning how to properly hinge at the hips is a difficult movement to coach in and of itself, so you can imagine the difficulty of learning how to hinge on one leg.
The vast majority struggle with this exercise because the limiting factor is going to be balance, which is why when most people try to execute it they look like they’re driving under the influence. In addition to the balancing aspect, most beginners tend to round their lower backs and let the weight drift too far forward, which makes it hard to get a decent training effect.
Approaching it with this variation allows you to still reap the benefits of the exercise while limiting the chances of you looking like a drunk driver.
- Place supporting hand on foam roller or stable object.
- Pack your neck for a neutral spine.
- Focus on keeping your weight centered.
- Slide your hips back to ensure proper hinge motion.
- Squeeze hands to increase irradiation.
- Keep toes pointed forward and keep majority of the weight on your heel.
- Keep the weight close to your body (your lower back will thank you).
2. Barbell Reverse Lunges w/ Clean Grip
I would be one of the first to tell you that I dislike forward lunges. It’s not inherently a bad exercise, but you can definitely get more juice with less squeeze. Know what I mean?
One of my favorite exercises, the Barbell Reverse Lunges with a clean grip offers so many benefits when it is done appropriately. Achieving proper depth while staying relatively upright is a problem for most lifters. In addition to building single leg stability and hip strength, you can definitely garner some postural benefits from this movement because it encourages thoracic extension and anterior core engagement.
Using the clean grip reinforces you to engage your upper back and anterior core to prevent from falling over.
Moreover, stepping back doesn’t put as much undue stress in the knees as it does with forward lunges.
- Think “chest and elbows high” to keep the bar from falling forward.
- Don’t step too far back.
- Keep toes pointed forward and most of the weight on your mid-foot.
- Maintain normal hip width stance. You’re not on a balance beam.
- Too much of an upright torso is unwarranted. A slight forward lean is okay.
3. Deficit Bulgarian Split Squats
Any time I write this in my training log before hitting the gym, I curl up into a little ball and start to cry. They’re that hard. Bulgarian Split Squats or Rear-foot Elevated Split Squats from a deficit hurt like hell. The larger range of motion you have to go through increases glute activation.
- Squeeze and press your arms towards the dumbbells to create irradiation.
- Don’t pick a bench that’s too high. It can aggravate your hip flexors.
- Create a deficit by using a box or step boards. Be careful not to create too much of a deficit.
- Keep toes pointed forward and drive off the mid-foot.
- Slight forward torso lean is okay.
There you have it. Keep in mind that these are just three variations. There are more variations you can choose from. The take home message here is, if you’re not up to par with single-leg training, start doing them now.