How Strong are You on 1 Leg?

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Strength seems to be a quality that people either have a lot of or disregard.

Both sides of the equations have their advantages and disadvantages. Significantly less for strong people though.

The problem is that strength training is difficult and a lot of people are not willing to train in that fashion.

When we get athletes that are quick and fast, they typically only want to work on their speed and agility. It is their comfort zone.

The same goes for professional athletes that are the best at what they do. Wide receivers love to do their speed drills and lineman like to lift weights.

Instead of being balanced among the different qualities we have athletes heading to college that cannot even perform a squat.

To throw a new wrench into the equation looking at an athlete’s single leg strength can be very eye opening.

A lot of sports require single leg strength. Very rarely are athletes asked to do things with both feet under their center of mass and pushing off of both legs.

Kicking a soccer ball, going for a layup, and skating down the ice all require a lot of single leg strength. But where does single leg work fit in the pecking order.

Forward Lunge-460

Bilateral strength movements are still the foundation of building strength. Getting strong in the bilateral lifts should always be the first priority. This is also something that should be developed in the offseason, prior to the preseason. That of course assuming that there is an offseason which seems rare today.

Once an athlete is strong in the bilateral lifts single leg work can start to take over to prepare for the season.

What is strong enough bilaterally?

Female:

  • Bodyweight squat
  • 1.5 bodyweight deadlift
  • Progress has seemed to halt and minor nags and nicks start

Male:

  • approaching 2x bodyweight squat
  • 2.5x bodyweight deadlift
  • Progress has seemed to halt and minor nags and nicks start

Now just because an athlete reaches these numbers it does not mean that they should stop strength training or adding weight. The weights can continue to increase as long as technique is good and it does not crush them for multiple days.

Warning signs that a new approach is needed is when the annoying little injuries, tweaks, etc. start. Overly sore backs, hamstrings, and knees may mean its time to go single leg.

When choosing single leg work the logical progression is split squat, reverse lunge, forward lunge, walking lunge, Bulgarian or RFE split squat. On a parallel track is lateral lunge variations.

You must be cautious not to substitute these exercises in in lieu of doing actual hard work. It sure seems easy to go from heavy back squats to split squats with 30 lbs.

That is why I recommend the Bulgarian split squat. Mike Boyle has been using it with his athletes for a really long time with great success. That alone shows its value.

It is also a really difficult exercise that allows a substantial load to be on the bar. This means that we can continue to build strength it is just one leg now.

The benefits of single leg training are:

  • decreased compression on the body because the total load will be lower
  • increased force placed on each leg individually. A Bulgarian with 135 puts that much on each leg when it would require a 270 pound squat to match that
  • increased stability unilaterally to help with the demands of sport
  • increased core stability

The goal of single leg training is to help prepare an athlete for their sport. A number to shoot for on the Bulgarian is more than half of the squat. Someone who was squatting 200 pounds would show relatively good single leg strength when they got above 100 on the Bulgarian.

Single leg strength is built on a foundation of double leg strength. Do not try to use it without a solid base in place. The results will be disappointing.