Single leg training is often skipped in training because it can be very challenging to do well. However, if you do miss this range of exercises out, you’re missing a great opportunity to build great strength in your hips and legs.
Being competent on one leg is kind of a big deal, since every step you take puts you in that position. Going up and down steps, not falling over, and getting up and down to and from the floor are all fairly important day to day activities. So it makes sense to work on some single leg strength.
Here are a few of my favourite single leg exercises. Give them a go next time you’re training and let me know how you get on.
Split stance RDL
The split stance allows you to use the non-working foot to balance and figure out the position you need. Make sure to keep most of your weight on the working leg, and only use the other to give a little more balance.
Don’t split your stance too much, as this will lead you to put more weight onto the back leg which defeats the purpose of the exercise.
Keep your hips as flat and level as you can.
Split stance Deadlift
Taking the split stance RDL a step further takes you to the full range split stance deadlift. The same rules apply but this time you allow a little more knee bend at the bottom position.
Slide single leg RDL
Using the slide board still allows you to keep both feet on the floor for improved balance and stability whilst loading up the front leg in the rdl position but with less help than the split stance options. Make sure to keep most of your weight on the front leg and only use the trail leg to balance.
Remember that it’s a hip hinge, so minimal knee bend.
Single leg RDL
Without the back leg to support and balance you, you need to build stronger hips to be able to resist the drop of one side to aid with stability. Your glute medius and adductors will be working overtime to keep your hips level on top of your working leg.
Again, it’s a hinge, so minimal knee movement, and keep those hips level.
Single leg deadlift
As with the split stance variation, there is a little more knee bend for a fuller range of movement. And as with the SL RDL, you can touch your foot down at the top position of aid with balance and reset between reps.
Moving from the deadlift variations to more knee dominant options, here are 5 great squat alternatives to try.
A little more knee friendly than the forward lunge variation, the reverse lunge has you stepping back into the lunge position, using your hamstrings as a brake instead of your quads. Don’t step back too far, aim to get your knee below your hip and drive off the front foot, instead of pushing off the back.
The slide reverse lunge
Using the slide board still gives you the balance and stability of having 2 feet on the ground but removes the option for pushing from the back foot to return to the start position. This isolates the front leg and you have to work a lot harder to create good movement.
RFESS aka Bulgarian split squats
Another way to take the back foot away from helping too much, but still having some balance provided by it, is to raise it off the floor. Rear foot elevated split squats (RFESS) does exactly that. And as with most lunge variations, you can alter your torso angle to make it more quad heavy (upright torso) or glute heavy (forward lean).
Make sure the height you raise your back foot to allows you to maintain a neutral low back, if your foot is too high you will reach the limit of your hips ability to extend and end up cranking your low back into extension to make up the difference.
Often seen as a poor option because its often done really badly. As a single leg exercise, your job is to make the front leg do the work, not try to push your self up with the back leg doing most of the work!
Set your step height to be high enough to challenge you but still allow you to use the front leg to do the work. Higher doesn’t automatically make it better!
Lean into the front leg, then drive that foot into the platform and step up. Lean forward slightly and actaully bend your knee on the way down.
Split stance squat
The split stance squat gives the benefits of a single leg squat with the bonus of better balance of having both feet in contact with the ground.
Raising your working foot off the floor, meaning you can only get the toes of your other foot touching, means the helping foot can’t give much push.
A video paints a thousand words.
Finally, a movement that combines the best of both hip and knee dominant single leg exercises in one.
5 point reach
Pick 5 points, one straight ahead, one out at 45 degrees forward, one out to the side, back 45, and straight behind, then try to reach them with your non-working foot.
The first 2 are very much knee dominant, the lateral reach is somewhere in the middle, your hips are travelling more but there is still a good amount of knee bend. The two rear reaches are hip dominant with minimal knee flexion.
Keep your heels on the floor at all times and hold onto something if you need the help with balance.
Give these a try in your next training session and let me know how you get on!