Unilateral Leg Training For Greater Gains

Single leg training is a funny topic in the field of strength & conditioning. If I can make very broad generalizations based on my experiences, I would say that most bodybuilders tend to be okay with certain single leg exercises such as lunges, single leg leg presses, and standing single leg curls, but they aren’t well-versed with many other excellent single leg options such as single leg RDLs, Bulgarian split squats, or single leg hip thrusts. Most powerlifters tend to  prefer bilateral movements, even with their assistance movements, so they tend to shun single leg training. Most strength coaches tend to love single leg movements due to the decreased spinal loading. Most physical therapists love single leg training because of the functional transfer. And finally, most female lifters love single leg training because they hit the glutes well.

Ronnie Coleman

Fitness professionals tend to be very black & white with their recommendations, but in most cases, topics exist in various shades of gray. The fact of the matter is, single leg training can be highly beneficial for athletes, lifters, and rehabbers. It compliments bilateral exercise and is a valuable component to good strength training.

Tim Tebow single leg hip thrust

Please click HERE to listen to a one-hour podcast with Superhuman Radio Host Carl Lanore on the topic of unilateral leg training for greater gains. One last thing – for the lifters who say that “lunges are for pussies,” please do a set of 20-rep walking lunges with 225 lbs on your back and report back to me. Toward the end of the hour-long podcast, we discuss the hip thrust and whether it transfers to powerlifting.

14 Comments

  • Tasher says:

    It’s quite interesting to listen to the both sides of the fence about unilateral training. I’ve found it extremely beneficial. About 80% or so (depending on who you read) of gait is single leg stuff. So whether you’re jumping, sprinting, skating, in a rugby scrum, you’re asking your legs to perform individually more often than not. Why not train them individually then?

    • Bret says:

      My thoughts exactly! I do agree that most powerlifters should do mostly bilateral stuff, but they shouldn’t dictate the way that athletes, bodybuilders, or women train to achieve their goals.

  • Alex says:

    Thanks for all the great info Bret!

    Is there an innovative way to use the leg press machine at the gym for glute development… there are no weighted kickback machines at my gym and I think I’m too strong to keep using the 10 lb leg weights for bird dogs

  • Hind says:

    Hi Bret,

    I realized the Abductor machine is a very popular machine with brazilians and those trying to build more muscles on their glutes however, I realized that most of the hardcore athletes are using this machine without actually sitting on it, they either face backwards on forwards and are off the machine seat.

    Examples:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itqAjL7I3vg
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5V4o_TFCcxI

    and there are some other variations to using this machine as well, since you are the glute guy can you please tell me whether this machine is efficient or not for building stronger glutes because I have read a lot of mixed information about this machine and I’m totally confused now.

    Thanks a lot glute guy btw great post as always 🙂

  • Hind says:

    Sorry I forgot to add this in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2s4hLWsof0 in this video the girl is not moving up and down on the machine.

  • Stew says:

    I’ll listen to the podcast over the weekend, but single leg work should definitely be included for near enough everyone.

  • Alien Strength Trainee says:

    Greetings, Earthly Strength Coach!

    I have just beamed in from another planet, and I desire to learn about the citizens of Earth, and these concepts and principles of strength training. I will then take this information back to my planet and dispense. On my planet, we do have some difficulty with this notion of human communicational nuance, so I seek clarification.

    You mention that decreasing spinal loading appears to be a desirable goal for strength coaches. Thus, the takeaway appears to be that one should seek to eliminate or diminish spinal loading if one desires to get stronger? Please explain.

    I was able to research the large citizen in the featured picture. He is performing what I have learned to be a barbell lunge exercise. Our alien research indicates that his name is Ronnie Coleman, and apparently, he would seek out large asphalt spaces used for the storage of Earthly transportation devices in order to perform this exercise.

    The move that Citizen Coleman is performing: how does it compare to the “Bulgarian Split Squat”, a similar maneuver. (Our preliminary research indicates that the “BSS” exercise as currently performed and coached has morphed from the original “Bulgarian” move, which rather more resembled the move Citizen Coleman is shown performing, albeit from a 4″ box.)

    Further, are the beneficial adaptations from the “BSS”, or the American counterpart, the American Split Squat, or “ASS”, as excellent as those that Citizen Coleman is performing?

    I will eagerly await in the spaceship for your reply. Our citizens are eager to apply these ideas!

  • Jim Mara says:

    Brett, great article and podcast. I agree that power lifters must do more bilateral leg patterns it’s sports specific for them. However, it wouldn’t hurt them to cycle some single leg exercises in periodically for their ancillary lifts. Athletes and everyone else should focus more on single leg training . It has a functional and practical application for sports and everyday living. I have a totally unrelated question, when hanging from a pull-up bar performing scapula protraction and retraction movement to strengthen the scapula, do you feel it’s a safe and effective exercise for people to develop scapula strength and mobility ? I have found it helps develop requisite mobility and stability in the scapula for proper pull-up form. Let me know your thoughts. Thanks. Jim

  • I love unilateral leg training. I’ve found that it benefits me in my bilateral movements and feeds the performance element during athletic movements. I’ve experimented with unilateral training in general for years with both myself and with many of my athletes and I’ll tell you that I’m on your side of the isle when saying it does benefit pretty much everyone. Thanks for the share Bret. Great post!

  • Mitchell says:

    I think any body who is really serious about having a competitive edge has far has training their legs. should include single leg resistance training into their workouts. It will definitely make you more stronger and give overall greater glute and leg development. Bret is right on the importance of single leg training.

  • Bob says:

    Hi, how many reps for each set do you recommend for the training routines shown in your fantastic book Bodyweight? Thank you.

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