Improve Lower Body Strength with Single Leg Work

Posted by & filed under .

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

This past weekend was the Crossfit games which I ended up watching a good amount of.

I was pulling for Gundmundsson who I thought had a good showing and a top caliber name.

One of the main things that I have been seeing lately in these style competitions is the incorporation of single leg work. I have no clue if they did any lunges in the games but some of the smaller scale competitions have been adding them to the events.

I think that is a great thing.

I also find it very entertaining when someone who can probably squat close to 400 pounds gets crushed by 95 lb lunges. It all comes down to how you train.

Bilateral or exercises using both legs, are the ones that get all of the glory. Squats, deadlifts, cleans, and snatches are the ones that everyone thinks either looks cool, or can load up heavy.

Being strong on one leg is also important for a number of things. One idea is the bilateral deficit. This basically says that you are not as strong with both legs as each leg individually. For example, someone that can do a Bulgarian or RFE split squat with 225 on each leg but would not come close to squatting 450.

bb split squat

Using single leg work is a good way to tax the legs more than bilateral lifts could ever.

Being strong on one leg is also important for reducing injury risk. Injuries are not preventable but being super strong on a single leg will certainly help.

Single leg work trains the stabilizing muscles of the lower leg which means they are capable of providing support when they are asked to do so. I work with a lot of athletes so this is obviously important.

The possibilities also seem endless for single leg training.

We can first choose the exercise. The options are:

  • Split squats
  • Reverse lunges
  • Forward Lunges
  • Walking Lunges
  • Bulgarians
  • Bowler Squats
  • Step Ups
  • Lateral Step Ups
  • Single Leg RDLs

Next we can pick how we want to load them. We can use:

  • Med Balls
  • Vests
  • Kettlebells
  • Dumbbells
  • Barbells

When choosing reps for single leg work anything between 5-8 on each leg is good. Lower can be done but should be for more advanced lifters. Anything higher seems to be more served for endurance or metabolic work. Even 8 is a little bit high when we are talking strength training but it is a good starting point for most people.

Adding these exercises to a program can result in some creativity. If we go back to the Exercise Science text books, they say that exercises should go Power, Core movement, and Accessory work.

I wouldn’t necessarily consider all single leg work accessory. I have started many clients out with barbell single leg work because it was the most important lift on the program for that day. I also made it somewhat heavier and kept the reps on the low end.

If you are in the higher rep range with a lighter weight then it probably makes sense to add these exercises to the end.

The best part about this? No one has to stop deadlifting and squatting.

The idea is to add in some single leg work to complement the other lifts. If you want to replace the squat, you could. If you want to complement it, you also could.

A lot of lifters will be amazed at how much stronger they can get once they start to incorporate some single leg work as a piece of the puzzle.