Single-leg exercises are no fun. Ironically, that’s why we’re featuring one today!
THE MOVE: Split-squat with Forward Lean
MOVEMENT PATTERN AND MUSCLES WORKED: Single-leg, squat: quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
WHY DO IT: Single-leg exercises can be no fun, and they can also be frustrating. However, they impart numerous benefits that we cannot ignore, particularly when it comes to moving well in athletics and sports. After all, many sports require unilateral movement, like jumping off one foot, or even sprinting. Being strong on both legs is important, and so is being strong on each leg individually.
Well, single-leg exercises can also be frustrating because the challenge of executing them properly is too great. To build strength properly, one must also have the stability and balance to load up the pattern safely and effectively. Otherwise, a trainee can only focus on trying not to fall over during the exercise, which defeats the purpose using that exercise in the first place.
For example, the rear-foot elevated split-squat (or Bulgarians, for short) is a progression on today’s move. Even though the rear-foot is used as a balance aid, some still find Bulgarians too difficult. In this case, having the rear-foot on the ground results in better balance. This is where today’s move comes in.
The basic split-squat is perhaps the first exercise on the single-leg food chain; ahead of lunges, Bulgarians, skaters, pistols, and single-leg RDLs. The technical demands of the split-squat are lower than the other exercises on that list; that doesn’t mean however, that they don’t have great utility for all lifters.
The Split-squat with Forward Lean (done with dumbbells in the low-rack position today) is great for hammering single-leg strength, without having to devote additional mental resources to balancing on one leg. The forward lean in the split-squat also emphasizes the quads more, as oppose to an upright torso which would utilize more hamstrings and glutes. If you’re looking to build single-leg strength, today’s move is an excellent starting point.
HOW TO DO IT: For today’s move, grab two dumbbells/kettlebells and hold them at your sides. Take a split-stance with your feet, wide enough so that you aren’t crowding yourself. Lean forward slightly to start, such that you’re putting most of your weight on your front foot but without losing your balance. The forward lean will help you hit the quads more.
While maintaining your torso lean, squat down and touch your back knee to the floor. Drive up through your entire front foot, and repeat for reps on both sides.
There are some important technical notes to keep in mind here. First, make sure that you keep your shoulders back and your torso braced here to prevent the weights from drooping forward. As you can see in the video featuring Dan, the weights should travel in a straight line up and down. Second, think about maintaining a stable arch in your front foot. Finally, don’t worry too much about locking out your front knee at the top of the rep. This can cause you to drive backwards and lose your balance.
If you do this right, you will really feel your front-leg quad light up throughout the exercise. If you’re looking to hammer single-leg strength without having to worry about balance, look no further. Because they don’t have a great technical demand, I’d recommend using these split-squats towards the end of a workout, for 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps/side. Let us know what you think on Twitter or Instagram @halevylife !
by Jeremy Lau
Jeremy Lau is a Senior Staff Coach at Halevy Life.
Jeremy graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BSc. in Biomedical Engineering and received his Master’s in Exercise Physiology at Columbia University. In addition to his academic accolades, Jeremy is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Jeremy completed a coaching internship at Cressey Sports Performance, where he coached both amateur and professional athletes, among whom were many professional MLB baseball players.
As an athlete, Jeremy has played baseball competitively for most of his life.