I love squats and deadlifts. Like really love squats and deadlifts. You can bet that if I’m writing a program, there’s a pretty good chance it will feature a number of squat and deadlift variations.
And why shouldn’t it? They are important motor patterns, they build strength and size, can improve posture, all whilst having a direct carry over to athletic performance.
But with that in mind, I feel like we can sometimes fall into a bit of trap, and focus too much on these exercises alone. If we take a step back and a look at an individual’s goals, the inclusion of single leg exercises can often go a long way in helping achieve our desired results.
Here are a few of the main reasons why I like to include single leg work into my programs.
Single Leg Stability
When training one leg at a time using single leg squat or deadlift variations, there is a significantly greater stability component than when training bilaterally.
This means that the muscles around the hip (think Glute max and glute med in particular) and trunk have to work that much harder to maintain proper pelvic alignment and femur position (avoid valgus collapse of the knee).
This increased stability has the potential to carry over to everyday movements such walking up and down stairs, or stepping down from something high, as well as improving our athletic performance during sprinting, rapid changes of direction, or single leg bounding movements.
Because if we really think about, most sport specific movements (with the exception of powerlifting and olympic lifting) are performed on one leg, and developing an adequate amount of stability on one leg is only going to improve our ability to perform these movements.
Increased workout density
When doing single leg work, we effectively have to do twice the number of reps. I realise that each leg is only doing the prescribed number of reps, but in regards to the rest of the body, its working hard to maintain stability, hold heavy weights and maintain postural position for twice as long as it would during a bilateral exercise.
This means that there is going to be an increase in total work done per session, which has the potential to improve strength and hypertrophy, and also promote fat loss.
On top of that, assuming your using dumbbells as your main form of external loading, it wouldn’t be unlikely to see increased grip strength along with an increase in mass through the forearms and upper back as well.
So to summarize. More Gainzzzz.
Reduced Neural Fatigue
Large bilateral exercises use greater total load, and as such are heavily taxing on the nervous system. By reducing the amount of bilateral exercises we do, and substituting them for single leg exercises (not forever! – just occasionally, like during a deload, or a period where you’re getting considerable fatigue from life’s many stressors), we reduce total load used and therefore neural fatigue.
This is a way that we can still see improvements in lower body strength and hypertrophy, without completely running ourselves into the ground. Do something like this may be beneficial for a 4-6 week period, as a way to refresh whilst still seeing improvements in strength and size, which are likely to carryover to bilateral exercises when we start performing them more regularly again.
Awesome. So now what?
Start doing some single leg work!
I would try to include both knee dominant (think split squats, lunges and pistols) and hip dominant (single leg deadlift variations) single leg variations into your training programs 1-2 times per week to start with and just watch the awesome happen.
If you want to incorporate single leg training into your program but aren't sure where to start, see if you qualify for my coaching program here.