How often do you do single leg exercises? Or single arm exercises for that matter.
Like single leg deadlifts…or single leg squats…or single arm rows…or single arm presses…
Never? Every once in awhile?
Most people don’t include that many single leg or single arm exercises, but they are incredibly important to mix in.
When you do single limb movements, you are forced to engage your core more AND you isolate the working limb so that a dominate side can’t take over for a weaker side!
By doing single limb movements we can correct any imbalances between sides and improve our balance and proprioception, all of which can help prevent injury.
And the cool part about the single limb movements is that we can use little to no weight and get in a killer workout. You can build great strength with single limb movements, which can make them a great option for at home workouts if you don’t have heavy weights available!
Plus if you do work up to heavy weights on single limb movements just think about how much stronger you will be when you do your traditional deadlift, squat or bench press. A LOT STRONGER! You will have better balance, more core engagement, and each side will be equally as strong. Plus single limb movements are a great time to really focus on posture and form so that when you return to the heavy lifts you will be even stronger with even less risk of injury.
Here are some great single limb moves that you should be adding into your workouts!
- Single Leg Deadlift – Can you tell this is one of my new favorite moves!?! The single leg deadlift, is one of the best ways to wake up your glutes and work on your core strength and balance. You can also really build strength with this move. I love to use a kettlebell, but a dumbbell, sandbag or barbell would also work. Even just starting with bodyweight but taking your time to really use perfect form will blast your booty the first workout or so!
- Single Leg Squat – Can you do a pistol squat? For me that is the epitome of strength. There are some great variations you can do to work up to the full pistol squat. You can do a single leg squat to bench or use a TRX for just a little stability. Once you get up to a decent range of motion, you can simply use a little weight for counter balance. To do that, just hold a plate weight out in front and squat down. Whichever move you do, trust me…your legs will feel it and so will your core!
- Single Leg Glute Bridge – A great move to do to activate those butt cheeks! This can be a great move to add to your warm up or a part of your strength training program for the day. If you can get your hips super high when doing the move from the ground, try it with your feet elevated. A super simple, but great way to tone those butt cheeks!
- Skater Hops – If you want to get a bit of cardio and work in a plane other than the sagittal one, skater hops are a great move. They work your legs from a different angle than the moves above and require you to stabilize in a different plane. If you aren’t ready for this jumping move, start with side lunges. While not perfectly a one leg move, you can really isolate one side and make it work, by stepping out to the side and then by making that same leg push you back center.
- Step Ups – It’s crazy how many people have trouble going up the stairs as they get older. This move is a great way to prevent that from happening! You can do these in all three planes if you want to add a bit of variety to your workout and hit your glutes from all angles. Start with a low box. As you can easily step up, driving through the heel without leaning forward or using the other foot, up the height of the box you are stepping on to. Then add weight. You can make this more about strength by adding weight or you can make it a bit more cardio by challenging yourself to go faster or do explosive step ups! Either way, it isolates each leg and really makes them both work!
- Single Arm OH Press – You can use dumbbells or kettlebells but this move is a great way to isolate each arm. You can stay on one side or do alternating arm presses. You can make this a strict press or even work a bit on your jerk. You can even do some isometric holds at the top! Make sure though that you have the mobility to do this move. Too much overhead pressing and a lack of mobility can lead to serious injury.
- Single Arm Chest Press (anti-rotational) – So there are two basic chest movements that I like to do. One is anti-rotational. What that means is that I use a bad or a dumbbell and perform a chest press without allowing my upper body to rotate. Your core really has to work to prevent any rotation from occurring. I love doing this standing with a super heavy band that makes me want to rotate especially since I’m only pressing on one side. (This can also be a great move to help you work toward a one arm push up….in case you are interested in doing one!)
- Single Arm Chest Press (rotational) – This is the second type of chest press that I like to do…the rotational. When I do this standing with a band, it is almost like throwing a punch with the hand holding the band. This move also works your core, but is focused more on the global musculature and not as much on the stabilizing muscles unlike the anti-rotational move. This move also seems incredibly functional to me, which probably is why I like it so much!
- Single Arm Row (anti-rotational) – So I love doing a single arm inverted row and forcing myself NOT to rotate. It is really hard to keep your shoulders level without holding onto the other strap! I also like doing an inch worm with rows. Anytime you do a plank with row and force yourself not to rotate the hips, you really make your core work! And you are still isolating each side while you are performing a row so each side has to do a full workload.
- Single Arm Row (rotational) – While the anti-rotational row is great, so are moves like the “lawn mower row” (where you reach down toward your foot and then row up a little past your side just like starting a lawn mower…if anyone actually remembers having to do that…). Working on the muscles that support rotation are super important since, let’s face it, we usually aren’t in perfect position when we do things in everyday life. NOPE! Usually we are rotating and pulling and pushing at slightly odd angles. So doing a single arm inverted row with rotation CAN be a good thing! It works everything from a different angle!
So looking at this list…How many of these moves have you ever done? How often do you isolate each side to correct imbalances?
And if you have considered some of these moves, have you done some of the rotational or anti-rotational variations? It all goes back to my post from the other day…Are you working in all the different planes?
P.S. I will hopefully have a few picture shortly to help illustrate some of these things!
So yesterday Candy and I did a leg workout. The last two leg workouts we have done have absolutely murdered our leg muscles.
Here are the 10 best (most tortuous) leg exercises (in no particular order because all can be equally dreadful):
1. Heavy Back Squat (Candy’s least favorite)- There is something about putting a heavy barbell on your back and having to squat down and stand back up that is just fear inducing. I’m always afraid I won’t be able to stand back up…which has happened before.
The Back Squat is a full leg workout, primarily targeting your glutes, quads and hamstrings as well as your adductors, abductors and calf muscles. Your erect0r spinae as well as your transverse abdominus are also engaged so you are working your entire core too! A great first exercise to do! Yesterday we did 5 sets of 5, increasing weight with each set.
2. Cocktail Lunges – Cocktail lunges are a front and back lunge combined. You lunge forward and then backwards, trying to not tap your foot down in the middle. A forward and backwards lunge is one rep. The front lunge and back lunge do both work your entire leg and the stabilizer muscles in your hips, torso and spine. However, your quad is the primary mover in both so you really burn out the quad by combining the two lunges into one rep!
For an extra burn, complete all reps on one side before switching to the other leg. Candy and I did 10 reps on each side before switching (one rep is one forward and one rear lunge). We added some weights to make it even more of a challenge!
3. Slider Side Lunges – Let the adductor machine gather dust and pick up a slider instead! Place one foot on the slider and one on the ground parallel to your foot on the slider. Slide the slider away keeping that leg straight as you bend the standing leg and squat down. When you stand, drag the slider back in keeping the leg straight. As Brian says, “It feels like my groin is ripping!!!”
4. Step Ups – I don’t know why…but I absolutely hate these. Like cocktail lunges, they always make me out of breath. They are simple. Pick a tall box (a challenging height) and step up. If the box is higher, it will also isolate the hamstrings more (but don’t make the box too high…you want it to be about knee height). And if you start farther away from the box, you will work your glutes more. When you step up, tap the other foot on top and climb back down. Isolate one leg first. Add some weight and increase the challenge!!
5. One leg squats (to bench or with TRX) – So the goal here is a pistol squat…no bench…no TRX…just a one leg squat as low as you can go. Candy and I both need a little assistance especially since this isn’t usually the first exercise we do. This is a great full leg workout. It makes you work extra hard too because you have to maintain your balance. AND by isolating one leg, you can make sure that each leg is doing the full amount of work instead of one leg dominating!
6. Kettlebell Swing – KB swings are supposed to be the absolute BEST exercise for your back side. After doing one round yesterday, I wanted to take the kettlebell and let it fly out a window. I usually like KB Swings, but yesterday they were brutal and today my butt is very very sore. So if you want a nice butt…do kettlebell swings.
7. TRX Hamstring Curls – We love to hate these. They destroy your hamstrings and you just want to be done with them. Ten times better than the leg curl machine for you!
8. Split Squat Jumps – We did these today. You start in a lunge position then jump up and land in a lunge on the other side. If you do them quickly and get low, split squat jumps are cardiovascular and really burn your legs.
Want some lean legs? Then definitely do these plyos.
9. Preacher Squats (aka Pitcher Squats, Bulgarian split squats or Balance Lunges) – Brian always wants to skip these. He has weak quads and preacher squats really really work the quads. Enough said.
10. Jump Squats -Squating and jumping. A plyometric exercise that will help you develop lean and powerful legs. What could be better?!?
Runners Up: Wall sit, Box Jumps, Air Squats, Front Squats, Plie Squat (Sumo Squat) and box shuffle.
Deadlift didn’t make the list because it is so much more than just a leg exercise. It is the Man Bicep Move!!! You can torture your glutes, hamstrings, traps, back and core with the deadlift!!!