4 Single-Leg Exercises to Optimize Your Functional Fitness

By Brandon Richey

The debate over single leg and double leg exercises can be heard in many gyms across the globe. Personally, I look at functional fitness in a holistic manner—meaning I view it from the perspective that a variety of movements and variations of them are ways to create an overall benefit. To me, arguing about whether this can be done with two legs vs. one leg when both applications have merit is pointless.

That’s why, when it comes to how I train, I look at the practical application of a movement or movements and what the overall benefit is to the student’s fitness.

So today I’m going to present four of my favorite single-leg exercises for you try in your own fitness routine.

STAGGERED STANCE ROMANIAN DEADLIFT

This is a great variation to train hip dominance on one leg while still allowing you to stabilize your body with both legs.

To perform this movement stand with both feet slightly narrower than hip width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand. To stress your left leg for this movement simply slide your right foot back until the front of your right foot is directly beside the heel of your left foot giving you a staggered stance.

From here shift center mass and bodyweight over your left leg and hinge your hips bending both knees to lower yourself towards the ground. When doing this do NOT round your spine, but keep a neutral spine during the movement.

Go down until each dumbbell in your hands are at about shin level and then stand back up fully extending your body back to an upright standing position. Once you’ve completed the designated number of reps simply alternate your stance to do the same thing on the opposite leg.

SINGLE LEG ROMANIAN DEADLIFT

This is a single leg hip dominant exercise that is executed by you having to balance on one leg and hinge your hip back on the grounded leg while bending the knee of your grounded leg to lower yourself towards the ground. This one is going to demand more stability than the previously mentioned staggered stance Romanian deadlift.

When you perform this movement, you can execute it with a weight, or without a weight to start. I’ve found this movement to be very challenging to even the most advanced athletes because of the high demand of stability needed at the ankles, knees, and hips.

STANDING REVERSE LUNGE

This movement is rather simple in it’s set up, but can present some challenges. To perform this movement stand with your feet hip width and step back with one leg to drop that knee towards the ground.

For example if you’re loading the left leg for the movement then drop the right leg back lowering your right knee towards the ground.

When doing this, make sure to keep your right knee directly in line below your hip joint as you lower yourself down. From a side view you should have all right angles in your ankle and knee. As you lower yourself into the movement make sure that your front knee doesn’t drift towards the midline of your body, but rather slightly away from the midline of your body.

Stand back up with your feet side by side at hip width apart. You can load holding a dumbbell in each hand to challenge you in this movement. If you find it difficult keeping your torso upright you can also hold a single dumbbell, or kettlebell in the goblet position at your chest and abdomen.

PISTOL SQUAT

This movement is a true test of leg strength, stability, and flexibility. To perform the pistol squat you want to stand with your feet close together and lift one leg out in front of your body. From here you want to hinge your hip back and keep your torso out over the thigh of your grounded leg as you lower yourself down to the ground.

Now this is going to be a challenging movement for most people, but there are some practical ways to do this even if you don’t feel confident in your ability to lower yourself all the way to the ground.

Start by sitting and standing up off of a bench, or plyo box. Sit on the bench, lift one leg, and stand up off of the bench. Once you’ve mastered this do it again off of a lower bench to increase your range of motion (ROM).

You can also do this with a counter weight by holding a weighted plate, or kettlebell out in front of your body as this will actually help you to offset your body to stabilize you in the movement.

As you get better at standing up off of a bench then start from a standing position and squat down to the bench, or plyo box and stand back up. Eventually you can work to eliminate the box, or bench altogether. This is a practical progression.

THE TAKEAWAY

You can’t forget leg day when it comes to your training.

No matter your life demands and training goals single leg strength development is essential for you to develop total function and joint stability. The addition of single leg training may prevent certain injury when you crossover to real life physical and athletic scenarios.

Are you incorporating single leg exercises into your training?

What single leg exercises are you currently training in your program?

Post them in the comments below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

SEALgrinderPT coach Brandon Richey is a certified strength and conditioning coach, author, and founder of Brandon Richey Fitness.

He has worked with thousands of athletes over his 17 years of experience, developing fitness training programs for beginners to professional and D-1 level collegiate athletes at the University of Georgia.

He also trains MMA and Muay Thai athletes, both professional and amateur.

 

QUESTION: I’ve been working out more and I’ve been trying pull-ups, but my hands get so tired fast. How can I make the stronger?

ANSWER: Check out this article—10 Tips to Increase Grip Strength.

QUESTION: I really want to hit my goals, but I feel like I can’t get out of my negative thinking. How do I get past that?

ANSWER: Here’s an article I think you’ll find really helpful so you can get into a positive mindset: How to Get the Mental Edge.

 

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