Single-leg exercises like reverse lunges, rear foot elevated split squats and 1-leg squats can have great value in a training program as it improves your strength, your stability and your balance on 1 leg, which is the way most sports are played. Whether it is when you run, when you change direction, when you skate (if your sport is played on the ice) or when you decelerate, all of these actions take place on one leg at a time.
For these reasons, single leg exercises might be more “functional” than 2-legs exercises like squats. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love squats, but they might not transfer as much as single leg exercises when it comes to developing strength, speed and power in a sport context. You just need to know which one to use and when.
Athletes still need to be able to squat as it is one of the most primitive patterns that the nervous system should control and master at a very young age. You could be surprised to see how many athletes have a hard time squatting properly. It can be because of mobility restrictions, stability or motor control problems, or other reasons, but it’s still a movement that an athlete (and any person as a matter of fact) should own.
That being said there is a strong neural relationship between single-leg strength and its carryover to sport’s performance. And these can be used as a main lower body lifts just like a squat or a deadlift. On top of being very beneficial in the transfer to sport’s performance, single-leg lifts can be great to reduce spinal loading (because you’re usually using less weight than double leg exercises) and to establish symmetry between both sides. Also everything changes from double leg to single stance; more stabilizer muscles are engaged, core muscle activation is increased and the foot’s proprioception is challenged to a much greater extent.
Even if spinal loading is not as great as with regular squats, you can still get a tremendous effect out of single-leg training and gain a lot of strength. If you’re not convinced, just check out this video of one of our hockey player at Endeavor doing Reverse Lunges with 255 pounds for 6 reps!
Even Coach Jorts from CoachJortsTraining.com can’t squat as much double leg! (barely 225! Pfff, those jorts don’t even make you stronger)
In all seriousness, my friend Kevin Neeld just released his Ultimate Hockey Training book last week and he goes into great details on the benefits of single-leg lifts. Make sure you get a copy; he’s still selling it at the introductory price (less than 35$!!)