T Nation

Incorporating Single Leg Exercises


So I am doing a 5x5 program. As far as lower body I am doing:

5x5 squats

5x5 squats (light, about 78% of Monday)
2x5 good mornings

squat 5RM

Could I put a couple of sets of Bulgarian split squats on Friday? Should I do a couple of sets less on squats on Wednesday, and put the 3 sets of split squats in there?

Thanks for any feedback!


This looks a little like the Texas Method from Rip. I have thought about this myself and I like the following:

Back Squat: 5 x 5

Bulgarian Split Squat: 3 x 5 (or something similar)

Back Squat: 5RM

This would be especially good if you did your heavy pulling (i.e., deadlift) on Wednesday and your other lower body moves on Monday/Fridays (e.g., cleans, reverse hypers, GHR).


Single leg exercises such as one lunges, with various rear leg angles, step ups, even sideways lunges all have very good carryover to sports where the athlete shifts his weight from one foot to another.

At a recent coaching presentation at our nat throwing coaches conference, a sr exercise physiologist also mentioned the additional pelvic movement in one legged exercises also helps stabilise - strengthen the lower back.

So I guess you need to ask, what are you getting strong for. If Ol or PL, they may not be relevant, if something else, then maybe.


I personally train for speed/vert, so single-leg exercises are of secondary importance to me. That said, I happen to feel that the Bulgarian split squat (BSS) hits the glutes and VMO pretty hard, both of which are important muscles in jumping and sprinting. After all, this movement is similar to the movement done by Valeriy Borzov, a famed Russian sprinter.

Plus, it works as a nice deload from the back squat, to the extent that this is desirable/necessary.

I find dynamic single-leg exercises to be very awkward. If the knee and hip angles are not correct, you may not be hitting the desired muscles. This is difficult to do on one leg and with a weight on your back/hands. I also feel the danger is magnified relative to more conventional exercises (consider the Oklahoma St. wide receiver who broke his back doing step ups).


So eic you sprint with both legs at the same time then?

I take the point that you will clearly get stronger using bilateral exercises, but unilateral work is still pretty important to running/jumping.

I would add it in x 2 a week, more volume in one session than the other. I dont think it ll make a huge difference when its done, id probably do it on the 78% day and after the 1rm- purely because after 5 x 5 on squats all I want to do is lie down!


I've never really bought into the idea that because only one foot is in contact with the ground at any given moment while running we should be doing single-leg exercises.

First of all, single-leg exercises require a balance component that running simply does not. Thus, recommending single-leg exercises on the basis that sprinting occurs on one leg at a time is a bit like telling a cyclist that they must learn to balance on their bike standing still in order to become a better rider in motion. IMO, that time would be better spent elsewhere.

I am in the weight room to do strength train, not simulate the specific demands of the sport. As you noted, bilateral exercises will increase limit strength far better than unilateral exercises. I can take care of any specific adaptation by doing the movements themselves (i.e., sprinting and jumping).

Finally, unlike sprinting, most of the so called single-leg exercises actually occur on two feet (i.e., lunges, Bulgarian split squats). The only ones that don't are single-leg DL's, single-leg squats, and step ups.

I actually like all three movements, but all three are not ideal ways of building limit strength and may or may not enhance the specifics of sprinting/jumping form. They are also difficult to do in productive form (step ups especially).

I'd rather divide my training time between limit strength moves (squats) and exercises I know will enhance my sprinting and jumping form (actually sprinting and jumping). I am starting to see a consensus emerge on this point from many of the guys who are successful in speed/vert training, including Kelly Baggett, Frank Yang (DigitalAir), A.C. (SquatDr), and Colin (CoolColJ).

They all pretty much agree that the core of speed/vert training is (1) bilateral limit strength exercises (esp. squats), and (2) practicing jumping and sprinting. The rest is just icing, and is not absolutely necessary IMO.

That said, I like mixing in a single-leg exercise for a couple reasons. One, it provides a good deload for the spine/CNS while still allowing decent work for the legs.

Second, it helps ensure equal development between the two legs, whereas bilateral moves can mask disparities. Third, in the case of the Bulgarian split squat, it provides a nice stretch to my hip flexors that I can't get otherwise.

Hope this helps.


I think that as soon as you bring in changing direction to your running the benefits of single leg exercises become more obvious.


Because you are squatting 3x/week, whatever extra leg work you add in should be done WITHOUT a barbell on your back. I would recommend something like high rep Bulgarian squats with just bodyweight, or high rep walking lunges holding lighter dumbbells.


Would unilateral leg work help in strongman events such as truck pull,farmer's walk,yoke walk etc.



I have no experience in strongman, but I would think single-leg exercises would be pretty low on the totem pole when it comes to selecting exercises.

Between training the events and the bilateral exercises to get your limit strength up, I'm not sure how much additional gas you'd have in the tank.

I would think that doing the events themselves would provide more than enough of a unilateral component.

Edit: This actually reminds me that probably one of the best "single-leg exercises" is probably sled pushing/dragging. You get all the benefits of a bilateral limit exercise, but with the added bonus of unilateral work. I'd take heavy sled work over step ups or lunges any day.


Thanks for your most insightful comments.

I'm thinking of incorporating unilateral leg work to bring up my ME front squat.