Why Do Single-Leg Work?
Here's a reminder of the benefits:
- Ability to train at higher frequency as opposed to bilateral work
- Motor recruitment of more muscle groups
- Decreased spinal loading
- Ability to train around injuries
- Neurological stimulation and proprioceptive awareness
- Improved stability and coordination
In addition, explosive unilateral exercises improve rate of force development (RFD) and contribute to overall power output. And keep the metabolic component in mind. Training each leg separately comes with twice the work!
Here are some unique exercises and combos to try:
1. RDL to Clean and Step-Up
This is an advanced pre-workout primer you can use to drive hip flexion, fire up your central nervous system, and drive up power output. Do it for 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps per leg.
2. RDL to Snatch and Step Combo
This one is great for those who want to develop sprinting speed. The position serves as a perfect sprinting setup and replication for how your stance would be (more forward lean) when sprinting. Use a controlled eccentric (negative), then explosively drive off the floor. You can use it as a primer for 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps per leg. For hypertrophy, try 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.
3. Reverse Lunge to RDL
Not only will it challenge your posterior chain, but a few reps of this will also get your heart rate soaring. Remember, training one leg at a time is twice as demanding.
4. Single-Arm, Single-Leg Cable RDL to Row
This will teach the scapula to protract and retract along the rib cage. It naturally trains proper packing of the shoulders, so it's truly a back-building movement. This will keep your shoulders healthy for the long haul.
5. Offset Slider Reverse Lunge
Anything offset will be challenging for stability. Asymmetrical loading increases rotational torque on the body, increasing the balance demand and stimulating a stronger neural response. The concentric (positive) is also a great way to practice bracing. If you fail to brace, you crumble over. This translates perfectly to what's needed for heavier squats and deadlifts. Try these as a primer for 2-3 sets of 6-10 reps per leg.
6. Box RDL to Pistol Squat
A solid degree of ankle dorsiflexion is required for this as you descend off the box. Do these as fillers, assistance work, or even primers before your heavy stuff for 2-4 sets of 3-5 reps each leg.
7. Landmine Skater Lunge
You can directly target the glutes and hips with this. The landmine allows you to lean toward it, giving you more ability to isolate the glute medius. You can also load up heavier than other single-leg exercises or use it for slower eccentrics, power and speed, or hypertrophy.
8. Suitcase Reverse Lunge
Not only will it hit your backside, but it'll also give you some serious adductor and core work. If you need, start using a rail for assistance and work your way to unassisted.
9. Deficit Safety-Bar Reverse Lunge
Focus on keeping 70% or more of your total bodyweight on the working leg. The safety bar allows you to focus more on balancing and working the leg than on holding onto the bar. You can even use something like a TRX to give yourself a bit of assistance if needed.
8 Brand New Single Leg Exercises
- Chronic Adaptations to Eccentric Training: A Systematic Review. Douglas J, Pearson S, Ross A, McGuigan M Sports Med. 2017 May; 47(5):917-941.
- Schoenfeld, Brad J The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: October 2010 - Volume 24 - Issue 10 - p 2857-2872 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e840f3