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Imbalance! Unilateral Leg Exercises

So as the topic states I’m facing a muscle imbalance, and it pisses me off. My right leg has become significantly bigger than my left. No matter how much I focus on squatting, leg press or w/e the exercise is, straight down it always seems like the majority of the weight is being put on my right leg.

So my question is if anyone has some good unilateral movements that could help me just bring up my left leg. Currently the only unilateral movement I’m doing is walking lunges, and I’m looking for another one to target just my left leg, suggestions welcome!

Do low-pulley split squats. If done correctly, they’ll fucking own you.

I like split squats and single leg squats.

single leg leg press, single leg leg extensions, single leg leg curls

all those ‘leg’ next to each other looks ridiculous

[quote]Trenchant wrote:
I like split squats and single leg squats. [/quote]

do you do these on the smith machine or free weights? And split squats as in the bulgarian ones were one foot is on the bench or am I thinking of something else?

Join the club big boy.

I rolled my ankle hard about 4 months ago and kept squatting (like a total ass). And wouldnt you know it, my right leg became way dominant. Not only did my ankle mobility go down on the left but it does not recruit muscle as much or as fast at all. I know its just trying to protest itself but fuck. On video i can see myself leaning to the right hard on squats, its comical.

So I talked to a few people and looked into the issue and the best thing you can do is to switch to entirely unilateral movements for a while. At least until you get some semblance of parity.

I know it seems drastic to shirk squats (trust me, I leave the gym feeling like i’ve cheated on a faithful girlfriend that makes me rhubarb crumbles on wednesdays). But if you think about it it makes sense. Every bilateral lift you do is making your right leg stronger and your left leg weaker. you are essentially doing a unilateral lift with primarily your right leg any how. and in the long run your squat will eventually plateau hard as the strength dichotomy between the two legs gets larger. Then you put your back out or get a patellar separation and then you’ll really be looking for a way to get the baby out of the blender.

What I’ve switched to still allows me to go heavy and will likely transition easy into squats.

  • Bulgarian split squats
  • raised lunges/split-squat (front leg on a short box, allows you to put your butt right on your ankle and get full ROM)
  • single leg squats (either ah la pistol [stand on a short box or platform if you dont have the flexibility] or step-ups with your other leg coming off the SIDE of the box instead of off the back, lift the toes of the foot on the floor up to avoid cheating with that leg)
  • single leg RDL and single leg hamstring curls (or single leg extensions if you can/want)

After these lifts you can do stuff like single leg press on the leg press sled but you shouldn’t need to. Another important part for me is doing some standing on one foot balance shit in the warm up. no actual balance balls or anything like that. and then on certain days i do single leg plyos like hurdle jumps and box jumps. I’ve been told that this single leg plyo and agility is the most important for me because it will help facilitate propreoception in my left foot/ankle/leg again. And if you can propreocept fast then you can squat big. I also do strength ankle/calf work too but you may or may not want to do that as well.

The good part about these lifts is that with big enough DB’s, chalk and straps you can get some heavy-as-petting sets of 3 and 5 in on split squats and raised lunges. using the barbell on the back is a bit unpredictable but you can rock it for the raised lunges if you have the room in the rack. x-vest makes the step-up and pistol shit way more ergonomic and less annoying.

Alternating lunge variations are cool to but I am not a fan of the smaller range of motion they get compared to raised lunges, step ups or pistols. I want to make sure i still train the fullest ROM.

The cause of your issue isnt the same as mine (injury while walking, believe it) but it is still likely or has become an issue of poor nervous system recruitment in the leg due to god knows what reason, so id say the plyo and agility shit would likely help.

Another thing is that the imbalance in your legs is very very likely a part of imbalances in other areas such as your hips or back. If you have slightly misaligned hips (anyone who keeps their wallet in the back pocket and sits for more than a while. or anyone who sits for ages at all) this can lead to huge muscle imbalances in athletes. same with a slightly off spinal posture.

So what i’ve noticed is that a strong, experienced sport chiropractor is invaluable. and if you cant find that then even a good osteopath will do (they might be a bit out there though). Cop some ART or DTT massage if you can afford it or its covered on your insurance.

The weeks after I get adjusted by the chiro I am far stronger in both legs but more so the weak one. It might take a couple months of good adjustments but it will be worth it in the end and is a good tool to keep you strong into the future.

I’m going to be on my single leg only plan for another cycle (december 16 - march 1). After that I’m going to test my single leg vert and my single leg max on the selector machine press thingy (I know ghey, but the leg press machine is so akward). If they are anywhere close at all ill slide back and front squats back into the mix along with the strongest unilateral lifts.

Hope your leg gets better soon (relatively speaking, a cycle or two away). Have fun hoarding the heavy DB’s. and try to take your shoes off if you dont wear chucks or weightlifting shoes, or some such similar.

-chris

[quote]waylanderxx wrote:
Trenchant wrote:
I like split squats and single leg squats.

do you do these on the smith machine or free weights? And split squats as in the bulgarian ones were one foot is on the bench or am I thinking of something else?[/quote]

bulgarians you want your knee on the back leg to just touch the floor as your shin (back leg) goes 90 degrees to the floor. the back foot is on a bench or box that allows this. get a low one and put plates on top till you get the right height. there are a few kinds of split squats but bulg and raised lunge are the two that allow you to work the hardest id say.

Use free weights, DB’s or KB’s.

-chris

In addition to the gold that Avocado just dished out, I’ll toss a few cents into the mix

[quote]waylanderxx wrote:
I’m looking for another one to target just my left leg, suggestions welcome![/quote]
The worst thing you could do is add extra work for your other leg.

It’s just too hard to balance with the rest of your training, and there’s really no way to tell how much “extra” is just enough, not enough, or too much.

Revamp your lower body work to be primarily unilateral (you could possibly use a bilateral exercise as a finisher) and cater to the weaker leg for the reps and weight. You’re basically putting your “good” leg on maintenance while your left one is put in the crosshairs.

Lunges, reverse lunges, step-ups, pistol squats, Bulgarian split squats, single-leg Rdls, single-leg back extensions, the occasional single-leg curl; whatever you’re doing, start your sets using the left leg, hammer it as best you can, and then match those reps with the same weight for the right.

I think you might have one hip slightly more flexible than the other in outward rotation…

this is really common with your symptoms…

stretch your groin a lot…

sleeping on your stomach also helps adjust your hips if you bring one leg up it might help…

[quote]Chris Colucci wrote:
In addition to the gold that Avocado just dished out, I’ll toss a few cents into the mix

waylanderxx wrote:
I’m looking for another one to target just my left leg, suggestions welcome!
The worst thing you could do is add extra work for your other leg.

It’s just too hard to balance with the rest of your training, and there’s really no way to tell how much “extra” is just enough, not enough, or too much.

Revamp your lower body work to be primarily unilateral (you could possibly use a bilateral exercise as a finisher) and cater to the weaker leg for the reps and weight. You’re basically putting your “good” leg on maintenance while your left one is put in the crosshairs.

Lunges, reverse lunges, step-ups, pistol squats, Bulgarian split squats, single-leg Rdls, single-leg back extensions, the occasional single-leg curl; whatever you’re doing, start your sets using the left leg, hammer it as best you can, and then match those reps with the same weight for the right.[/quote]

Hey thanks for posting chris. It’s actually bad to do extra work for my left leg? I think I’m making my problem sound worse than it actually is haha. After my leg workouts both my legs are really sore, but it just seems like the tear drop on my right leg is always sore and I can’t target it on my left leg.

I was just thinking about throwing in 4 sets of single leg squats after front squat and leg press for my left leg. For sanity’s sake I’m not sure if I could completely switch to unilateral movements hah, but I see your point.

And yah I pm’d avocado, that was some good stuff.

[quote]newbatman wrote:
I think you might have one hip slightly more flexible than the other in outward rotation…

this is really common with your symptoms…

stretch your groin a lot…

sleeping on your stomach also helps adjust your hips if you bring one leg up it might help…[/quote]

Yah I’m one inflexible mofo, Il have to work on that. I always stretch my hip flexors before I do legs but I’ll have to throw in some groin work thanks.

Thats how I always sleep so I’m on track, chea!

You might not think its a big issue right now just because it only causes a strange inconvenience. But that inconvenience is a sign of a larger and possibly very inconvenient issue in the future.

The thing is, with every bilateral lift you do where you are going heavy you are making your right leg stronger and furthering the imbalance.

Even if you put some sets of unilateral work in after your usual training it will be a warm shit in a stiff wind to fixing the issue. especially after you do your other work, you will [or should] have little power left.

The longer you postpone your dedicated rehabilitation the closer you get to incurring an acute injury (knee ligaments, ankle roll/break, L5 herniation etc.) that will not only prevent you from training the far funner bilateral lifts like squats but prevent you from training at all. The only time you’ll see the gym is to do your mobility and rubber band rehab.

So I would say take at least a baby cycle (4 weeks) and focus on the unilateral training. then test your pistol rep maxes on each leg and see if they are close. If so get back into normal.

and dont train one more than the other. just use the same weight and reps for each. as said above, the right leg is just playing “keep it real” for a bit.

And dont be fearful. I would be willing to bet that your Squat and DL numbers will rocket past your current PR’s about 3 weeks after you finish a solid 4-6 week block of single leg only. As it stands you are very highly ultra likely to be squatting with a specific muscle dominance pattern.

As in your body has picked how best it like to lift your heavy squats and it uses some muscles preferably to others. It acts on a super economical basis. It will not maximally use any muscles that it doesnt have to. and if say your lower back/glutes are enough to get the weight up then you will likely not get the most out of your quads/hams etc.

So altering to the single leg only will help bring up under recruited motor units and probably net you some good size on your wheels. I find that the single leg work is making my lower quads get bigger than squats ever did. especially the raised lunges. they really get the tension working on the inside close to the knee. its that full ROM.

I’d say you only have shit to gain by altering your program for a shitty 6 weeks. Stay strong fella,

-chris

I’m glad you posted this topic…

I also think that if people would pay more attention to detail they could locate these problems before they get out of hand…

my right foot was all deformed looking compared to my right because of a twisted ankle in 2000 and it just got back the muscle on the side because I didn’t notice it was atrophied until now…

this foot injury I think led to multiple others over the last 8 years I suspect…

wow

This is absurd. Tell us your leg measurements!

[quote]FightingScott wrote:
This is absurd. Tell us your leg measurements![/quote]

I cant remember what the measurements are, but last time I checked I believe the upper thigh was the exact same size, but the tear drop region, was over an inch bigger on my right leg than left

[quote]Avocado wrote:
You might not think its a big issue right now just because it only causes a strange inconvenience. But that inconvenience is a sign of a larger and possibly very inconvenient issue in the future.

The thing is, with every bilateral lift you do where you are going heavy you are making your right leg stronger and furthering the imbalance.

Even if you put some sets of unilateral work in after your usual training it will be a warm shit in a stiff wind to fixing the issue. especially after you do your other work, you will [or should] have little power left.

The longer you postpone your dedicated rehabilitation the closer you get to incurring an acute injury (knee ligaments, ankle roll/break, L5 herniation etc.) that will not only prevent you from training the far funner bilateral lifts like squats but prevent you from training at all. The only time you’ll see the gym is to do your mobility and rubber band rehab.

So I would say take at least a baby cycle (4 weeks) and focus on the unilateral training. then test your pistol rep maxes on each leg and see if they are close. If so get back into normal.

and dont train one more than the other. just use the same weight and reps for each. as said above, the right leg is just playing “keep it real” for a bit.

And dont be fearful. I would be willing to bet that your Squat and DL numbers will rocket past your current PR’s about 3 weeks after you finish a solid 4-6 week block of single leg only. As it stands you are very highly ultra likely to be squatting with a specific muscle dominance pattern.

As in your body has picked how best it like to lift your heavy squats and it uses some muscles preferably to others. It acts on a super economical basis. It will not maximally use any muscles that it doesnt have to. and if say your lower back/glutes are enough to get the weight up then you will likely not get the most out of your quads/hams etc.

So altering to the single leg only will help bring up under recruited motor units and probably net you some good size on your wheels. I find that the single leg work is making my lower quads get bigger than squats ever did. especially the raised lunges. they really get the tension working on the inside close to the knee. its that full ROM.

I’d say you only have shit to gain by altering your program for a shitty 6 weeks. Stay strong fella,

-chris[/quote]

Thank you sir, I guess I’ll just have to put my go to the side and take one for the team.

Oddly enough I’ve been continuing to hit new PR’s every week. Got 320x2 ATG front squats yesterday, shooting for 400x1 by mid january. Thanks for all the advice man.

Edit: oh yesterday on my leg workout, after my front squats I threw in 4x10 of single leg squats for my left leg. Usually through out my leg workout my right leg is always more pumped, but those 4 sets made it feel equal in the left.

THe reason I thought think thats significant is b/c the bigger the pump, the more I feel that muscle working in subsequent sets. My right and left legs are proportionately sore today, yay!

[quote]newbatman wrote:
I’m glad you posted this topic…

I also think that if people would pay more attention to detail they could locate these problems before they get out of hand…

my right foot was all deformed looking compared to my right because of a twisted ankle in 2000 and it just got back the muscle on the side because I didn’t notice it was atrophied until now…

this foot injury I think led to multiple others over the last 8 years I suspect…

wow[/quote]

story of my damn life. ankle injuries are like herpes for me, I get them once a year.

But no more. I must make them invincible!

-chris