What is single-limb training?
Single leg, single limb, unilateral work, whatever name you call it refers to apply stimulus to only one limb at a time.
Why do i need it?
3 Main reasons….
1. Firstly, the evidence for this type of training is enormous. Single-limb training will improve your ability to move efficiently. Period.
2. Secondly, when you engage only one limb, you will use muscles that are impossible to recruit effectively using both limbs at the same time. E.g. standing on 1 leg you will engage 3 muscles that you don’t use in a regular squat – gluteus medius, the adductors, and the quadratus lumborum.
3. As we move, some muscles act as stabilizers, some help us DO the movement, and others are neutral. When you change your weight distribution (i.e. onto one leg) a muscle that may normally be neutral is now acting as a stabilizer.
What’s wrong with regular squats?
Single limb training is especially important when we are talking about the lower body. Now you may get bigger quad muscles and see improvements aesthetically when training a regular squat, HOWEVER if your goal is injury prevention for life, single leg training is the best way to prevent knee injuries and the best way to train around a back problem.
The case for ‘functional training’
Double leg strength doesn’t correlate to single leg strength. I have come across many individuals that can squat 100kg on their back doing a regular back squat, but put them on one leg and many struggle to lift their own body-weight. This is where a case for ‘functional training’ can be made.
Whilst i am normally against using this term (functional training for a 20 yr old is different to functional training for a 80 yr old), single leg training is one of the most functional exercises for our body. If you think about it, very little we do in life is purely on two feet. Even while walking, you produce a ‘gait’ where one foot leaves the ground as the other touches, so one foot is always off the ground at all times.
There aren’t many sports that use both legs either, and in life it rarely happens.
Injury Prevention mechanisms
Unilateral training allows for better control of knee collapse, which is a common problem during squats and often causes ACL injury. Single-leg training allows you to work your dominant and non-dominant sides equally. When training on both legs, often the dominant side will take over and do a lot more of the work. The body is all about efficiency right? Well this is no exception. Sometimes you need to training ‘inefficiently’ in order to become an efficient long term mover.
Strength and Power
Unilateral lifts are a great way to focus the ‘mind muscle connection’. Unilateral training allows you a safer way to train till failure and get the most out of your final few reps where growth and hypertrophy of the muscle happens. It also helps to improve symmetry throughout the body. There is no better way to fix up a lagging side than with unilateral training, creating more balance throughout the body.
Word of caution – be careful not to overload!. Do not sacrifice form to move more weight. concentrate on form and maximum muscle recruitment to get the greatest benefits in strength development.
A better way to train the core!
Your body has to work to stabilize your core and resist rotating when you’re doing one-sided movements. When one foot is unsupported, the muscles in your core engage to balance and stabilize that limb. Single-leg training also improves control of your hips and lower back, which greatly assists in maintaining neutral posture.
So how do i get started with single limb training?
For simplicity purposes, lets break training for the lower body down into – KNEE DOMINANT and HIP DOMINANT exercises.
Hip Dominant exercises include:
- Single leg dead lift
- Leg curls
Knee dominant exercises – All your squat variations
- split squats,
- rear foot elevated split squats
- One-legged squats
Here at KMJ we are the experts in programming for injury prevention and PREHAB. Contact us today to have a personally prescribed program for you.