Single Leg Strength
This is a big one for athletes. Often times we hear how important the SQUAT is, but why don't any of the single-leg variations get some love?
Unilateral (aka single-leg) exercises are incredibly important from both a performance and injury prevention standpoint. Single leg exercises allow the legs to work independently of one another, forcing you to activate the muscles in each leg on their own. What I mean by this, is instead of having both feet on the ground in a traditional squat or deadlift - evenly distributing the force across both limbs, you would only be relying on the muscles of one leg.
Another great component of single leg exercises is the focus on BALANCE. Having a smaller base of support to rely on (one foot vs. two feet on the ground), you must activate and strengthen those stabilizer muscles in your foot to keep you rooted into the ground. Balance is a whole other blog post in itself, but it is definitely a huge contributor to success in single leg work.
As athletes, we are rarely in "perfect position" so we need to make sure they can be explosive from either leg. Being sound, strong and stable in unilateral exercises, will create a stronger foundation for bilateral exercises (squat, deadlift, etc.). Not to mention, it is great for muscle development and 'toning' in the lower half!
Here are some of my favourite unilateral exercises ...
(1) Pistol Squat (AKA Single Leg Squat) - very similar to a regular squat pattern, focusing on driving through the heel when coming to stand. A couple different variations for this one ... the one pictured below is using the TRX as support - allows you to get full range of motion with support from the straps. Another great option is pistol squatting down to a bench.
(2) Single Leg Romanian Deadlift (AKA Stiff-Legged Deadlift) - this one is all about HINGING at the hips. Keeping a micro-bend in the knee of the anchor leg while help protect the knee joint from locking out. Make sure to maintain a flat back and lead with your back heel.
(3) Bulgarian Split Squat (AKA Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat) - Back foot is elevated on a bench behind you, as you bring the back knee down towards the ground, then pushing through the heel of your front foot to come back to standing position. Keeping the knee in-line with the toes will help activate the muscles of the quad.
Other favourites include: step-ups, split squats, lunge matrix, and more. Make sure to incorporate some of these exercises into your workouts for all around strength!