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Keys To Unlocking Single Leg exercises

I was definitely one of those people. Sure, I believed in single leg exercises, but they fell WAY after deadlifts and squats. The truth is I wasn’t all that great at single leg exercises so I found ways to demean them. Like so many, as time went on my philosophy changed because I started to realize my lack of attention to single leg exercises was not only limiting my progress, but not addressing true functional fitness.

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I knew single leg exercises were good, but they felt like balancing acts and I was missing the MUCH larger picture!

Aren’t squats and deadlifts “functional”? Absolutely, but unlike so many times where we think going heavier and heavier makes them MORE functional, single leg exercises give us a very different view point of what it means to be strong and “functional”. Don’t get me wrong, functional training IS a thing and more importantly a system of training (heck, I did a 2 hour webinar HERE).

Why is going heavier and heavier in squats and deadlifts not as functional as going more single leg exercises? It goes back to the many times that I have pointed out that in fitness and performance training we overlook the very important movement pattern of locomotion. While we point to squats, hip hinges, and more, we totally tend to ignore locomotion and it how impacts how our body is designed to move and what that means to what we should be doing in our training.

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It is odd that locomotion is what our bodies are most specifically designed to do and yet most in fitness know the LEAST about it. 

While most would point to the fact that 60-70% of our time walking is on single leg (ALL of our time running is on single leg, really what differentiates the two) as the reason we need single leg exercises that is a bit oversimplified. What does being on single leg mean? Physical therapist and DVRT education director, Jessica Bento, has written quite a bit on something as simple as a single leg stance test (you can read HERE) as an easy screen for stability, balance, and multi-planar strength.

Being single leg doesn’t allow us to cheat anything. We can’t try to lift with our low backs, we can alter our position to develop leverage, it might be one of the truest measures of lower body strength and stability. Single leg exercises force us to both produce and resist force at the same time which not only builds great real world strength, but also activates the need to use more muscles in our body.

The stability, the multi-planar strength, and carry over to real life are all great reasons to use single leg exercises, but the issue for so many is that such drills are just SO advanced for so many people that they can’t ever get to these awesome benefits. So, what do we do? Here are 3 solutions to help people benefit more from single leg exercises.

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Sprinter Stance

Around 2004 I was so frustrated with not being able to help people be successful at single leg exercises that I knew there had to be another solution. Then I had the slap you on the forehead moment. Just like we would make the weight we lift or the number of repetitions we use be incremental, we needed to do the same thing to the level of instability we introduce to people. That is what led to our Sprinter Stance. Initially, I used the term staggered stance, but I realized it was too nondescript for people. So, I wanted the image of a sprinter coming out of the blocks to be more of the image of foot position and where we are putting the weight of our body.

goblet squat

The sprinter stance will feel foreign to many people when you first see it or feel it, but it shows how little we have given to movement variability. 

Sprinter Stance seems simple enough, but many people have been trying to teach it without understanding it. That has led to a lot of small mishaps that lead to BIG issues. Like what?

-They keep the back foot flat. This sounds like no big deal, but it is a HUGE issue. Why, for about 99% of people that do it, that leaving that back foot flat leads to the pelvis being rotated. Such a change places more stress through the low back and can cause serious issues for people.

-They don’t aim for 60/40. The whole point of the Sprinter Stance is that we have a SLIGHT change to instability. Almost think about it as our way of going up by 5-10 pounds in the form of instability. That means our goal is not to have the same weight distribution and that is why I always want to think about 60% on the front leg and 40% on the back leg.

ultimate sandbag training

Even though we are discussing single leg exercises, the more narrow stance allows us to use these same strategies for many upper body dominant exercises. 

Different Planes of Motions/Lunges

I am cheating here a bit listing two things, but they actually relate to one another a lot. We can’t really do rotational single leg exercises, that would be odd if you understand rotation and could put the knee at big risk. However, we can teach the body how to RESIST rotational forces and that has HUGE benefits to our ability to be injury resilient. I bring this up because we are really talking about frontal and sagittal plane movements.

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Lunges usually fall way behind exercises like squats and deadlifts, but that is only because people THINK they don’t produce the same strength because of lighter weights often used. That’s a big mistake! ….. 🧨 What most people miss is that the more challenging stability of lunges cause MORE muscles to be used. Yes, research has shown that lunges can use the same if not MORE muscles than exercises like squats and deadlifts! That is because stabilizing muscles AND big muscles have to be used to both accelerate and decelerate our body. …… 🧨 Between the stability, mobility, strength, and power lunges offer us they should be more of a priority in our training. How do we maximize such a great drill? Find out from the work of @linamidla @evan_the_personaltrainer @larisalotz @janice_strock

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Using lunges and split squats in these planes of motion allows us to progress to single leg exercises because we aren’t truly single leg. Lunges have us in a less stable position, but the back foot is still very important and should be cued to help people find stability. One of the great things about using lunges is that because they have direction to them we have tons of options in building progressions and adding incremental progression when you think about how lunges allow us to really take advantage of…

-Load Position

-Body Position

-Planes of Motion

When you combine that with the more familiar adding weight or reps we have ways to help anyone be more successful in using single leg exercises and that is what it is all about!

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Single leg strength doesn’t get quite the love that more familiar squats and deadlifts receive. That is typically because the weight on bilateral exercises is far more and people think that they will be developing greater strength and fitness. While there is a role for such lifts, people tend to underestimate how much can be accomplished through #DVRT progressions like we show with these movements. ___________ The other challenge is that most people struggle to progress to being able to really use and benefit from single leg training. While exercises like lunges aren’t true single leg movements, they offer us a great opportunity to use them as a bridge to more challenging strength training. ___________ What makes these DVRT drills so powerful and why we use the Ultimate Sandbag is the way we use the weight to make better connections in the body. Whether it is pulling the handles apart or trying to create tension pulling the weight into our body, that is how we gain better stability to help us learn these progressions. ___________ The other important point is how we should be looking to use power in these movements just like we would in bilateral lifts. In optimizing single leg work we can simultaneously improve stability, strength, and mobility at once. __________ Great work @timfit2thecore @thesandmaven @ultimatesandbagsaus @dvrtfitness_uk @corymcripe @rdpaget

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Even when we aren’t truly single leg, we have so many more options than just hanging on to a rack or some support when building better single leg exercises. 

Core Stability

If you truly understand functional training it isn’t hard to see how core stability has a big impact upon our ability to perform single leg exercises. If it isn’t so obvious, don’t worry I’ll explain.

Our body is into survival more than anything and it will do EVERYTHING it can to protect itself. That often is reflected in creating tightness in our hips and shoulders. Cutting down movement to our extremities means less risk to the spine because we can’t create as much movement or demand as much stability. When we achieve proper stability of the spine EVERYTHING works better and has greater strength and mobility.

What Robin Paget and Lina Midla show in the series below is how we use our Press Outs to help build our dynamic plank that provides us the stability that leads to greater strength and mobility. They aren’t just pushing the weight out as Jessica describes above, they are creating specific tension against.

These 3 strategies can go a LONG ways in building both greater success, but also respect for the power of single leg exercises. Try prioritizing these ideas in your workouts and see how much better and more fun your training becomes!

Want to learn more about how our DVRT system creates success? Save 25% on our Ultimate Sandbags, Online DVRT Certifications/Courses, and DVRT workout programs with code “save25” HERE

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Amazing work by these strong women helping see not only the value but how we can build better single leg exercises! As physical therapist @jessbento_physiotherapist explains… Few things are more rewarding to me than seeing great women put out great training ideas. It goes back to that we don’t have to just talk about our bodies and our body image, but we can share ideas on how to get strong, perform better, and get powerful results. That is just what @rdpaget and @thesandmaven show with how to build better single leg training. ___________ Single leg training is such a great way to build mobility, stability, and serious strength all at once. However, coaches often struggle to get people to perform them well because the progressions we often use are TOO big of a jump for most people. The #DVRT movements these women show help us see how we can bridge these concepts. ___________ Why is how we use the Ultimate Sandbag so important? Most people would assume that weight should only be used AFTER we can do these movement with our bodyweight. HOW we are using the weight during these drills is what makes it such a great progression. Pulling apart the Ultimate Sandbag as we press out isn’t about the chest or shoulders, but engaging the lats and core. By building better stability in the core we can develop better mobility and strength in the legs. ___________ Try adding these exercises and see how your home workouts can be some of the best and most challenging training sessions you have performed!

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