Tough Single Leg Progression Series
Like many strength coaches who work with field athletes, I do my best to implement a great deal of single leg (SL) exercises. In most cases, I prefer them over bilateral (2 legged) exercises for a few reasons.
3 benefits of SL exercises:
- Asymmetry: Oftentimes athletes favor one leg over the other.
- Specificity: In most situations athletes are using one leg in sport (sprint, bound, kick)
- Risk: Most SL exercises don’t require as much flexibility as bilateral exercises like a squat. Also, these exercises tend to not get as loaded with weight as a traditional squat or deadlift. So, hopefully the risk won't be as high!
Don’t get me wrong, if you come into my facility you will certainly see many of my athletes squatting and deadlifting. In terms of building absolute strength, bilateral exercises typically work better, but that's not always the goal with most of my athletes.
If you go on youtube and search “single leg exercises” you will get 1,000’s of videos from split squats to a dude performing a pistol squat on a yoga ball while drinking a cup of coffee. To keep it simple we will stay away from that progression today...
In this article I am going to outline a simple progression series you can use for yourself or athletes.
Easy —> Not so easy —> Pretty darn hard
No matter the exercise series, I always keep it as easy as possible first. Why? I want the athlete to be able to master the first step without having to worry about too many variables. That’s why for my first single leg exercise I typically start with a split squat.
What does a split squat look like? Click here to watch.
You can get very creative with this exercise, I generally start off either just body weight or the athlete holding a kettlebell in the goblet position (up near their chin). With this there is not a ton of required mobility. You need very little dorsiflexion (which is typically a limiting factor in the squat) and only about ~90 degrees of hip flexion. That’s why this is a great starting point for most people.
Lateral Step Down
Just like the split squat, there are endless variations of the lateral step down. Click here to take a look at what this looks like.
Usually this one is used as a progression for a pistol squat (a very challenging SL exercise), but we won’t be going down that road today.
I program this a lot for my athletes due to what it demands of the hip and ankle. Not only do you need adequate hip and ankle range of motion, but the stability of the arch not to collapse (which can cause the ankle and knee to dive in). This has a direct transfer over to lateral change of direction - where you will see flexion occur at the hip, knee, and ankle.
I promise after giving these a try, your legs will hate you after!
I can go on and on with different progressions, but the final one we will talk about today is the skater squat. Although this one cannot be loaded as much as the split squat and lateral step down, it takes a lot more stability in the foot and hip along with balance. You no longer have the safety net of the opposite foot. Click here to take a look at this one.
I specifically like this one because there is no cheating - it will expose you if you try to compensate. Also, when I have an athlete who is weight crazy, it humbles them- they won't be able to load this one up with 200 lbs.
Having a logical progression of exercises is important for two reasons: a person's development in the weight room and organization of the program. Far too often I see coaches randomly go from exercise to exercise without any goal in mind. Always have a plan for where you would like to go with an athlete - it will make your life way easier with programming!
If you have any questions about how to program these, where to start, or other progressions - feel free to let me know!