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Unilateral Leg Work

As I consult with strength training programs across the world there are a variety of common denominators. Most typically it's the infatuation with the weight used and the near complete ignorance of on-field performance. It exists at the earliest development phases of youth/teen sports and in the upper echelons as well. The necessity of knowing the requirements of the sport does not go unnoticed by skill coaches and on more than one occasion I've seen and heard of "big-name" strength consultants shown the door as quickly as they arrive. Yet while that speaks of elite athleticism there is equally a common denominator in program development and application with regard to the sporting world and the everyday fitness enthusiast as well. Incredibly, given the myriad of discussions and articles on training, little is mentioned of the need for unilateral lifts (lifting one side/limb at a time). Within each of my programs there must be a reasonable balance between bi-lateral and uni-lateral lifts and while these are noted for athletic purposes, for those training for aesthetic purposes solely, this is an absolute must. Unilateral work will not only assist in developing finite stabilizing musculature and correct musculature imbalances that will in-turn reduce the incidence of injury, but it equally will target intended muscle groups in a more straight-forward pattern. This is easily seen within " leg training", where squatting technique is generally abysmal. While I strongly urge you to read my " Squat Power" series at ProSource to learn how to squat properly, the following six unilateral exercises for powerful and, yes, great looking legs are:
  • High Box Step Up
  • Bulgarian Squat
  • Russian Split Jump
  • Four Corner Lunge
  • Rx Squat
  • Single Leg Box Squat
Each of these the first four should be worked into training patterns as a substitute at or near equal to bilateral work (i.e. substitute High-Box Step Ups for Squats), using the same lifting patterns you generally use. The Rx Squat and Single Leg Box Squat can be used intermittently but will be featured in a next installment of our general health training. However these movements will be done with each training session and even daily at various levels of intensity.

Exercise Descriptions:

Hi Box Step Up
- this movement is one of the best exercises you'll ever find for leg development.

The box height for greater glute development is set up so that with your lead leg planted on the top of the box, your base foot is off its heel and the lead thigh is parallel to the ground. For greater quadriceps emphasis box height should be lowered. To avoid jerking upwards by using the base foot, squeeze the toes of the plant leg and drive upwards with the plant foot on the box.. Focus on keeping the pelvis level and the knee excursion over the lateral half of the foot as the step is performed, to evenly load the hip abductors and adductors.

Bulgarian Squat
- set up in a wide split lunge and place top of back foot on box (roughly 12 " 18 in height). Shin of lead leg should be perpendicular to ground when in deep Squat position thus emphasizing glute and hams. Squat down till rear knee is in near contact to ground and repeat.

Russian Split Jump - Jump as high as possible alternating feet forward to landing in deep lunge position. Repeat to desired reps. This can also be performed while holding a medicine ball at the chest or near the outside hip of lead leg however a weighted vest truly is superior as it will not compromise postural alignment.

Four Corner Lunge - within this exercise there are a number of variations as well as mediums. Beyond the "standard" forward lunge is one of my personal favorites that is the "four corner lunge" whereby you before a standard forward, then backward lunge followed by a deep side lunge to the dominant side, repeating each leg by three repetitions. The key to this lift is the feet are always pointed directly ahead putting particular stress on developing great hip strength and flexibility. Another variation to this is to add lunges to 45 degrees out to the side.

The standard forward lunge is performed from a standing upright with perfect posture; rest a bar along your trapezius muscles behind your head as in squatting or preferably wearing a fully loaded weighted vest. Lunge forward by lifting lead knee to parallel to the ground, reaching out to the ground down to the point that the knee of your rear leg makes slight contact with ground. Powerfully drive up and return to a standing position where you repeat with the opposite leg.

Rx™ Squat
- is equally adapt at developing tremendous strength classically termed as "rooting" and extremely effective in developing neuro-muscular control and relative and endurance strength. This "simple" bodyweight is a grueling 6 part movement. Each of the positions are intended to be held upwards of 45 " 60 seconds in advanced athletes, although in the initial stage a modest few second holds are understandable. Sets are performed in low reps (i.e. 1 per side) given the long time under tension.

Single Leg Box Squat: this is absolutely not a basic bodyweight squat or also what is termed a "pistol squat". To perform, place back of heel against box which is knee height. With one leg raised as in Rx position 2, push butt back to box, drive leg off ground back to starting position and repeat with opposite leg.