Simple Single-Leg Training Tips

At one point or another, many of us have incorporated single-leg training into our programs. Single-leg training is a great way to develop lower body strength, stability, hypertrophy, and also burn a few extra calories, because each set is going to take you twice as long to complete when compared to bilateral lifts. However, single-leg work is often neglected because it can be monotonous and may put you in positions where you feel awkward and unbalanced.

But, as an athlete—or anyone who gets off of the couch during the day—it’s important to be able to accept and deliver force on one leg. Single-leg exercises can leave you trying to find balance and prioritizing stability over actually training your lower body muscles. Oftentimes, it takes slight technique modifications and focus to master single-leg exercises and reap the benefits of lower body strength, stability, hypertrophy, and improved balance. Below are a few tips to help make single-leg training more effective and efficient for you.

1. Shift Dumbbells to the Side You’re Training During Single-Leg Squats

Feeling balanced and stable during single-leg training has a lot to do with keeping your center of mass within your base of support. Because you’re keeping your non-working leg off the ground during single-leg squats, your base of support shifts over to the leg that you’re training. When reaching the dumbbells straight out in front you, you may not fully shift your center of mass within your base of support and may feel unstable while performing your single-leg squats. Try reaching the DBs out over the leg that you’re training instead and you should feel more balanced during the exercise, which will allow you to focus more on loading up your hip and training your glutes, hamstrings, and quads.

 Reaching DB's straight out in front is great as a counterbalance, but can still leave you feeling unstable. 

Reaching DB's straight out in front is great as a counterbalance, but can still leave you feeling unstable. 

 Reaching DB's over your working leg when lowering down still serves as a counterbalance, but also shift your center of mass more over you base of support and will allow you to feel more stable. 

Reaching DB's over your working leg when lowering down still serves as a counterbalance, but also shift your center of mass more over you base of support and will allow you to feel more stable. 

2. Change Your Holds to Make the Lift More Advantageous for You

Pure Performance Training had an Instagram post last week about how changing the way you held the weight during a reverse lunge altered the exercise. When changing how the kettlebell, dumbbell or barbell is held, you can put your body in better positions while also working on improving other weaknesses that you may have. Let’s continue using the reverse lunge as an example and outline the benefits of different holds for that particular lift.

Dumbbell Hold

  • Allows you to add higher external load
  • May make it harder to control spine and rib cage position
  • Squeezing both dumbbells hard allows you to build good tension through back of shoulders

Offset DB Hold

  • Increases challenge for your abs because you have to resist side bending and rotation
  • Higher glute med. activation during lunges which can lead to improved hip stability

Offset KB Front Load

  • Same benefits as offset DB hold, but front load can also help you keep your spine and ribcage in a better position if you're prone to compensating with excessive low back extension
  • The front load also allows your shoulder blade to stabilize while being more upwardly rotated, which is great if your shoulders rest in a lot of depression and downward rotation or you're an overhead athlete

Safety Squat Bar

  • Allows for you to build strength with a heavier external load
  • SSB keeps shoulders in a safer position than a barbell held on your back

3. Try Getting Better Foot Contact Before Using Band RNT

Reactive Neuromuscular Training is commonly used to correct excessive knee valgus (or your knee caving in too much during single leg exercises). By using a band to pull yourself into the faulty movement pattern, it will cause your body to oppose the forces and hopefully correct the movement pattern by firing the opposing muscles to help put your knee in a better position.

Before jumping into using band RNT during single-leg training, consider making sure that you have good foot contact with the ground on your stance leg. Good balance involves using your vision, vestibular system, and proprioceptors on the bottom of your feet. Oftentimes, taking advantage of the latter can have a tremendous impact on improving the stability of your working leg and give you better control of your knee joint.

4. Add a Counterbalance to Lateral Lunges

Lateral lunges are a great way to train your lower body outside of the sagittal plane (moving forwards and backwards). When training in the frontal plane (side to side), it can be difficult to shift your weight back into your hips and actually use your hamstrings, glutes, and abs. Try adding a pulse to your lateral lunges to help you sit back into your lead hip and better leverage and use your hamstrings and glutes.

 Adding the pulse on the right allows you to load up your front hip better which will allow you to be stronger with your hamstrings and glutes when pushing out of the lunge. 

Adding the pulse on the right allows you to load up your front hip better which will allow you to be stronger with your hamstrings and glutes when pushing out of the lunge. 

In Summary

Being strong and being able to accept and deliver force on one leg is important for sport and many daily activities. Single-leg training is also valuable because it’s a good way to train your lower body without as much loading to your spine. The struggle of feeling balanced and in a good position often overpowers you being able to feel your lower body muscles working hard. Use the above tips to help yourself get in better positions when doing single-leg work and actually train the fitness qualities you want.