As I’ve mentionned often in the past, I’m a firm advocate for single-leg training. I believe it is truly one of the most important part of lower body training, especially for athletes. It’s more functional, more sport-specific and better for injury prevention purposes. At Endeavor, we use a ton of single-leg lifts with all our athletes, and most of the time we use these single-leg lifts as our main lower body strength exercise.
Some of you might wonder what type of exercise we’re using, because let’s face it, you can’t DB reverse lunges all the time. So here’s a little insight to the progressions we use with our single-leg lifts.
- The DB reverse lunge is the first variation we use 99% of the time. Dumbbells keep your center of mass low, so therefore it’s not too hard on your balance compared to other variations.
A reverse lunge will allow you to use a good push off your back leg, so it is easier for athletes and clients who don’t have a lot of single-leg strength. A reverse lunge is also easier than a forward lunge because you don’t have a big deceleration component on your front leg like you have with a forward lunge. This deceleration component makes it much harder to keep a proper upper body posture throughout your set.
- The second one on our progression list is still a reverse lunge, but in which we will change the center of mass by using a back squat grip or a front squat grip with a barbell. Since the load is much higher, the center of mass moves up and it makes it harder to maintain your balance.
Another variation we use to make it harder by moving the center of mass higher is to use dumbbells overhead. This is a variation we will use more in conditioning circuits or to unload the joints, because the overhead position makes it very hard on the core and shoulder muscles. So what happens most of the time is the core and shoulder muscles will be the limiting factors before you get to a weight that’s going to be heavy enough to be challenging for your lower body.
- Third on the list would be the rear foot elevated (RFE) split squats with dumbbells (a.k.a. bulgarian split squats). Having your back foot on a bench makes it harder to get help from your back leg compared to a lunge; so, more weight is supported on your front leg. Some beginners don’t have the strength to do a RFE split squat; they need to do lunges for a little while to get their strength up before they can progress to a RFE split squat.
- Then, of course, you can progress the RFE split squat with dumbbells to a RFE split squat with a back squat grip or a front squat grip with a barbell. Once again the center of mass is shifted higher, so it makes the exercise more difficult.
- Once you’ve mastered the reverse lunges and RFE split squat variations, you can progress to a slideboard reverse lunge. Don’t let the name fool you, because it is much harder than any other lunging variation. The reason is that because of the nature of the slideboard (slippery…duh!), you can’t really use your back leg to help you much; putting more weight on the back leg would make your foot slide away from your body and dangerous things could happen. Just keep in mind that you have very little support from your back leg and you’re using mostly your front leg to pull yourself up, so you need a decent amount of single-leg strength before you try it.
- Last on the list is the single-leg squat and its variations. The main reason why it’s the hardest one is because the leg you’re not using is totally unsopported, therefore it can’t help you at all. You need very good single-leg strength in order to do this one; especially when you perform it with a full range of motion.
All in all, this might not be the exact same progression we use with 100% of our client because there is many factors to consider when building a program; how old is the client? how much lifting experience does he have? how strong is he? does he have any restriction or injury? etc. All these factors will dictate the progressions we’ll use with everyone of our athlete. Also keep in mind that there are many other ways to progress single-leg lifts and make them more challenging, but this is a basic progression that should give you a pretty good idea on where to start and how to progress athletes and clients from there.