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Single-Leg Strength Training

I am often asked what kind of strength training I use with my athletes. My answer is always “What they need”. I don’t follow a particular training program like BFS or Husker Power. I use what strength training is needed. However, I do have a philosophy and have believed in this philosophy for some time.

What is Strength Training?

Strength training is a process in which I attempt to increase the overall stability of the athlete and force production. I have never been caught up in numbers. In other words, if an athlete could not squat 300 or 400 lbs I could care less. What I do want is the athlete to be able to produce force correctly and with speed. I also wanted this athlete to be able to produce force correctly with one leg.

When I coached football my teams were not going to go to some power lifting contest and kick butt. But my teams were always fast, strong, and safe. I bet if I took my team to an Olympic lifting contest (Weightlifting contest) we would have done very well. With my teams, I emphasized strength so we could transition it into power.

Two of the primary lifts I use have always been lunges and step ups. I have since added a lot of single leg squats. I believe these lifts challenge more components of athleticism then only focusing on traditional squats. Please don’t get me wrong. I love traditional squats and use them, just not as much as single leg exercises. I have seen my athletes learn a ton about how to move their bodies doing single leg squats, lunges, and step ups. I watch them begin to understand how to adjust their center of mass to execute the lift properly and with more power. I have seen unstable weak athletes get stable and strong performing step ups and single leg squats. I have seen knees that use to collapse no longer do so. I watched feet hold their arch while the athlete performs intense single leg lifts. In my personal observations athletes learn so much from these exercises and it translates into what they will do on the field, court, and track.

Not only do I use single leg exercises for strength training, I also use them often for warm ups and activation. I love leaps, hops, and balance exercises on one leg. As I mentioned above, the athlete is required to focus and learn how to balance and correct poor positioning when on a single leg. Let me share with you some routines I typically use…

Warm up:

1. Single leg stance with multi-directional reaches with free leg. Great exercise to increase hip stability and strength. The feet and ankles must do a ton of proprioceptive work. I will typically do 2 sets for 20-30 seconds on each leg.

2. Lateral leap and hold. The athlete will leap 18-24 inches and stick the landing for 2 seconds. Because we are leaping laterally the athlete only has the width of his or her foot rather than the entire length to use as a balancing tool. This really challenges the hips (and their control of the knee), and the feet and ankles. Not to mention the adductors and core. I will typically perform 6-8 in each direction for one set- then perform lateral leaps again but add a single leg squat to each landing.

Power:

1. Power skip to lunge holds- The athlete will perform a power skip and upon landing on the hop leg step out into a lunge and hold the low position for 1-2 seconds. The athlete will then power up out of this low lunge stance into the next power skip. I am looking for great upper and lower body posture. The athlete learns to decelerate the body correctly. I will have them perform 5 reps on each side for 1-2 sets.

2. Bench blasts- On a 12 inch box the athlete will perform a power step up. This means he or she will leave the ground explosively pushing off the top leg (the leg on the box). Because this exercise is quick and there is little time to see poor movements I try to focus on body position through out the jump (correct jumping). The athlete learns to keep the knee in alignment with the feet and the hip from kicking out. 5-8 reps per leg and 2-3 sets.

3. Ice skaters- The athlete will leap explosively from the right leg jumping to the left and land on the left leg. They will land in a single leg squat position with the right arm/hand reaching across the body to create a pre-stretch on the cross posterior chain. Then explode back to the right side. Great hip power and stabilizing exercise. 5 reps in each direction for 2-3 sets.

Strength:

1. Lunge- I love lunging in all directions. These are both great strengtheners and super for balance training. I generally perform 2-4 sets for 5-8 reps per leg.

2. Step ups- This exercise has always been a favorite of mine. When athlete have a difficult time keeping the feet from pronating I will get the doing step ups with a little feedback to keep the arch up. Great exercise for overall leg and hip strength and for controlling the positioning of the hips. 5-6 reps per leg for 2-4 sets.

These are some of my favorite exercise for single leg work. I DO NOT PERFORM ALL OF THE ABOVE IN ONE WORKOUT.  As I wrote in the opening, I do what is needed. If single leg work is too advanced I will gradually bring them into it.

Have fun with single leg exercises and stay focused on technique and stability.

Train Smart

Lee Taft

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