deadlift

Single leg secrets. Why unilateral training may be the missing piece of your training puzzle.

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.

Hunter Bennett Performance. Single leg training, stability, athletic performance, single leg stability, unilateral training, hypertrophy, strength.


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.

Exercise Regressions and Progressions. Why regressing can be progressing.

The other day I was at the gym training and got caught watching an individual perform TRX push ups with god awful (I mean GOD AWFUL) form. We’re talking severe hyperextension of the lower back, scaps winging all over the place and approximately zero stability anywhere.

Not that TRX push ups are a bad exercise, it’s just they were obviously far to advanced for this particular individual. It got me thinking though. I wonder how many people see an exercise on youtube, at a seminar, or on a site lie t-nation, and go and try it out the next day, and see no improvements in themselves because the exercise is far to advanced for them to complete properly.

Hunter Bennett Performance. Exercise regression, exercise progression, strength, fat loss, athletic performance, rehab

I know that advancing exercises is nice. It’s a measurable way of seeing progress, and allows us to keep clients interested by introducing 'new' exercises that train similar movements and muscle groups. But what if they are not ready to progress? It would be silly to move onto a more difficult exercise for the sake of variation alone, because they are not going to see any improvement if they can’t perform it properly.

It is OK to regress. In fact, in some scenarios a regression is progression.

Say you have someone who can’t goblet squat to depth without significant pelvic tilt and lumbar flexion. Regressing them to a goblet squat to box would be appropriate, allowing you to manage depth safely. As their capacity to perform the exercise improves (through simply performing the exercise, with additional mobility and stability exercises) you could gradually lower the box until they can perform a deep box squat without compromising spinal position. Once they are at this stage you can progress to a goblet squat, which they should be able to perform deeply and safely.

This is a fairly simple example but it shows how by regressing an exercise that someone can’t perform properly, we can progress safely and effectively.

Now I am by no means saying that we shouldn’t progress exercises, but should do so only when we are ready. And it’s a pretty simple concept. If an exercise looks like trash despite your best efforts to coach the movement, regress it. If the regression looks acceptable start there and slowly and safely build up.

You wouldn’t start doing cleans with someone who couldn’t perform an acceptable Romanian deadlift? It would be dangerous and unnecessary. And I have a feeling that those cleans would probably look like trash.

Regress to Progress.

4 Delicious Reasons for Deadlifting

Deadlifts – 4 reasons Why you should be doing them

I’m not shy about the love I have for the deadlift. If I’d have to pick a favourite exercise it would be right up the top of the list (bit hard to choose one favourite, right?). Not because I’m particularly good at them, but because as an individual exercise they provide a huge amount of benefit. Seriously, in terms of bang-for-your-buck exercises, deadlifts are king.

You can’t cheat a deadlift. Either that bar is coming off the floor or not. Sure you can quarter squat a ton of weight, but a quarter deadlift doesn’t count.

So in this little post I am going to outline a few of the reasons why I think deadlifts are hands down the most beneficial exercises you can implement into your program.

Hunter Bennett Performance. Adelaide. Deadlift Strength Fat loss


They reinforce the hip hinge

The hip hinge one of our fundamental movement patterns. It allows us to lift considerable loads through the loading of the posterior chain. This loading (if done with a neutral spine) spares our lower backs from any undue stress.

Learning to hinge at the hips is important in relation to both pulling huge ass weights off the floor, and lifting things in day to day life. By learning to stabilise the trunk in a neutral position, while applying a concentric load through the hips, we can limit stress placed on the lumbar spine, and avoid any issues associated.

Good deadlift on the right, not so good on the left. Notice the nice, neutral spine on the right.

Good deadlift on the right, not so good on the left. Notice the nice, neutral spine on the right.



Dat Posterior Chain

The posterior chain refers to the back of the body (AKA spinal erectors, glutes, hamstrings, calves). You know, all those muscles that tend to get missed during the third (or fourth? I can’t remember) chest and bicep workout for the week.

And the deadlift crushes it. Every muscle on the backside of your body is working overtime to stabilise the spine against flexion forces, extend the hips, and maintain retracted scapula. Both hitting muscles that often, and undeservedly, get neglected By training these muscles we can also reverse the negative postural deviations caused by the excessive sitting (something that a lot of us do too much of).

Not to mention the important role that the posterior chain plays in the explosive hip extension seen during sprinting and jumping. Increased strength of the posterior chain could significantly improve athletic performance by making an individual faster and more powerful.


Grip Strength

Believe it or not, hanging on to a really heavy barbell increases your ability to grip stuff. Hard. Important when doing heavy rows, chins and presses, if your grip strength is not up to scratch it can limit your improvement in heap of other exercises by giving out before the target muscles do.

Not to mention the importance a firm grip can have in day-to-day life, from unscrewing the lid off a jam jar to shaking someone’s hand.  Heck, deadlifting may actually improve first impressions by both improving your handshake quality and making you looked jacked.


They can be regressed and progressed to suit any scenario

The deadlift is extremely versatile. Want to teach someone to hip hinge but they lack the necessary mobility to deadlift from the floor? Deadlift from blocks or do rack pulls.

Have a solid deadlift but lacking single leg hip stability? Single leg deadlift variations can help.

Solid hinge but a weak upper back? Snatch grip deadlifts could be your answer.

Anywho, you get the point. Very versatile, with a heap of variations that can be implemented to target a heap of different goals.


*Bonus Point*

You look like a boss ripping a loaded barbell from the floor.

Truth.