When most people get into single-leg work, they usually end up doing only one or two exercises, like split-squats or lunge variations.
But there other exercises that provide their own unique benefits. They’ll even tap into strength deficiencies that your vanilla training program might not have made you aware of.
And if you want to get stronger, fumbling around for positioning isn’t going to get you there. There’s nothing worse than knowing you have plenty “left in the tank” that you can’t access since you’re busy trying to stay balanced.
There are, however, exercises that can be used to load heavy and that don’t take acrobatic abilities. It’s just a matter of shifting the emphasis from single-leg isolation to single-leg EMPHASIS.
1. B-Stance (Kickstand) Squat
Using a B-stance to do lower body work is a good example of shifting to single-leg emphasis. Most people who do dumbbell or kettlebell single-leg deadlifts get great isolation of their hamstrings and glutes, but it usually comes at the expense of not being able to find the proper footing or balance and not being able to lift a weight heavy enough to really elicit gains.
A B-stance fixes this problem. Since the other foot is down, albeit lightly, balance is no longer an issue.
Take a careful look at the video, and you’ll notice an additional benefit. You’ll see that emphasizing the leading leg makes you focus on squat depth and something very important that many lifters lack: dorsiflexion.
To get down deep with flat heels, it’s going to require the knee traveling farther forward over the toe, even compared to typical squats. This can make for a stronger knee joint and a healthier ankle complex.
Since you get to use a barbell, consider the energy expenditure needed per set. Sets of 12 per leg aren’t the way to go here. Focus on sets of 4-8 reps per leg instead.
2. B-Stance (Kickstand) Deadlift
This exercise serves two purposes. First, setting up with a single-leg emphasis will attack the posterior chain of the working side in a great way. Having the foot down reduces the propensity to rotate, which is a common problem with single-leg deadlifts.
I like setting up with more of a Romanian deadlift stance (with the leg straighter than it would be for a conventional pull). It helps keep the knee out of the way to promote a vertical bar path.
Note that I’m using a barbell. Even the 95 pounds I’m using strictly for demonstration purposes exceeds the amount of weight I’d typically use with any dumbbell. Sure, kettlebell or dumbbell single-leg deadlifts have their place, but using a staggered stance and a bar is a better way to get strong while still exploiting bilateral imbalances.
Focus on sets of 4-6 reps per leg.
3. Banded Pistol Squat (For Big Guys with Big Limbs)
For joint health and mobility, many calisthenics aficionados turn to the pistol squat. Not a daunting task when you have a long torso, short limbs, and a 150-pound body.
It’s not the same for bigger people. The extra muscle, the extra weight, and the long extremities make it much harder to do a good pistol squat. It requires a much larger range of motion (meaning more work from a physics perspective) and the requirement for greater hip, knee, and ankle mobility to make sure everything stays geometrically balanced and aligned.
I offer the following solution: band support.
The band also provides confidence for a lifter, similar to the way a box can help in the form of a target squat. The band isn’t providing all the help, but you know it’s there, and you know you won’t collapse on the eccentric/lowering portion of the movement.
To get better, simply use skinnier bands until you don’t need them at all. Since this one is a bodyweight exercise, you can choose the rep ranges that work for you.
4. Rear-Leg Elevated Kang Squat
Time under tension plays a big role in hypertrophy, and making one small change to rear-leg elevated foot squats can be a game-changer for doing just that.
If you’ve never heard of the Kang squat before, it’s a terrific tool to improve squat depth, eccentrically overload the hamstrings, and improve squatting mechanics and mobility:
To achieve the same benefits with a single-leg emphasis, it makes sense to do a rear-leg elevated Kang squat – a variation I hadn’t seen before I tried it myself. Starting with a deep hip flexion before dropping to a bottom position takes eccentric control, and it really torches the glute on the leading leg.
Don’t forget, though, the trailing leg is still mounted on a bench, so you’re still going to get all the quad training and hip mobility benefits on the other side. The rear-leg elevated Kang squat just adds an invaluable element of posterior chain work.
This one doesn’t take much weight to feel, and fewer reps are the smarter call. I like 6-8 slow-tempo reps per leg.
5. Jefferson Deadlift
Jefferson deadlifts are an old classic. The straddle position, when picking up the bar, is an honest way to attack the inner thighs and posterior chain.
I like these a bit more than sumo deadlifts because, beyond emphasizing one leg at a time, they also allow a slightly more natural hip position since one foot gets to be angled slightly forward.
This is great for people whose hips are constructed so that their acetabulae (hip sockets) are positioned more toward the front of their pelvis than the sides. Forcing the legs to be completely externally rotated and held out wide – as you do in a sumo deadlift – may be the equivalent of fitting a square peg into a round hole if you don’t have the body type that accommodates that position. Changing to a Jefferson stance could be just what the hips were asking for.
How Long Do I Rest Between Legs?
Around 30 seconds. In most cases, these exercises involve total-body exertion and the requirement to move serious amounts of poundage (this even applies to the pistol squats).
That can hammer both your muscular system and your nervous system. For that reason, performance quality matters more than ever, and taking 10 seconds before switching to the other leg isn’t enough.
Although I’m basically using that amount of time in my videos, it’s only for the purposes of demonstration. Rest assured, though, you need more. Taking upwards of 30 seconds between legs will ensure a much more even playing field.
One more word to the wise: Start with the opposing leg on subsequent sets.
That way, both sides get the feeling of being “fresh” and the feeling of being second in the order. That may not sound like a big deal, but it adds up over the course of a workout and the course of a program.