Single Leg Training To Build Strong Athletes

Kris Nign


     You’ve heard the saying, “Work smarter, not harder,” but I believe in the saying, “Work smarter, AND harder”. Working smarter makes you more efficient, which, in turn, makes you work harder.


     World renowned Strength-Coach, Michael Boyle, has played a tremendous role in shaping my perspective as well as my approach on training. Thanks to his decades of work in the field, Boyle has a way of taking complex ideals and breaking them down into simple punchlines. One of his punchlines that completely transformed the way I train clients and myself is: “If it doesn’t look athletic, it’s probably not.”


     I firmly believe in Functional Training, which simply means training that makes sense. We can all agree that it makes sense to train athletes to be athletic, right? Think of the demands placed on an athlete’s body during their sport. How do they move? One-leg at a time. Therefore, it makes sense to train athletes one-leg at a time.


Nevertheless, there is such a resistance against single-leg training in the training world.


     There is a negative stigma attached to single-leg training because it’s different from the “norm.” When someone in the gym is doing single-leg work, it’s looked at as “weird” or “different.” Remember, athletes need to be trained to optimize athleticism. They do NOT need to be trained to be powerlifters.


     I’m not saying to completely remove bilateral training from an athlete’s programming. However, I’m saying that  ALL ATHLETES SHOULD BE SINGLE-LEG TRAINING. One could make a case that bilateral training is non-functional in terms of athletics.


     Coach Boyle says, “Single-leg strength is the essence of functional lower body strength training.” Single-leg strength is specific and cannot be developed through double-leg exercises. Single-leg exercises change the role of the gluteus medius (a muscle in the butt), adductors, and quadratus lumborum (a lower back muscle) to operate as stabilizers, which are critical in sport skills. These muscles do not need to perform their stabilizer role in conventional double-leg exercise. Furthermore, single-leg exercises deload the spine from the wear and tear placed on the spine by most bilateral exercises, such as the Barbell Squat. Single-Leg strength is now recognized as a key in injury reduction and has become a staple of all rehabilitation, reconditioning, and knee injury prevention programs.


Single leg training is essential in improving an athlete’s functional strength, speed, balance, and injury prevention. The key point is to remember the reason an athlete comes to your facility: they come to increase their athleticism. Recognize the demands of the sport, and develop your training programs accordingly. Your ultimate goal should be to keep your athletes healthy throughout their season. This is achieved through working hard and working smart. Train athletes to be strong athletes and they will reap the benefits on the field and stay injury free.


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