Single leg training for most is usually around lunges (Shutterstock)
Single leg training for most is usually around lunges (Shutterstock)

Fit and Fine with Kamal Singh CSCS: A leg up

One leg exercises are way better than those that involve both. And forward lunge is probably the go-to exercise for most people right now
By Kamal Singh CSCS
PUBLISHED ON MAY 30, 2021 07:04 AM IST

Covid has forced all of us to re-examine how we lead our lives. From hand sanitisation, wearing face masks to working from home, we are seeing a paradigm shift. The pandemic has really upended our normal lives and what we took for granted. For the hard-core gym goer, gyms being shut for months was not something that would ever happen. For the heavy lifter, having to discover or rather rediscover bodyweight exercises was an eye-opener. Trainers like me who shouted from the roof tops, “when in doubt load the bar and squat”, have had to find alternatives to keep our clients engaged and progressing.

One is better than two

Single leg training for most is usually around lunges. Forward lunge is probably the go-to exercise for most people when they want to do single leg exercise. But what if front lunge causes you pain – this is not unusual or abnormal because when you step forward, body has to decelerate and this can cause pain in some people. The other exercise which is a favourite of the functional training crowd and makes me cringe when I see about 90% of people do it – the walking lunge, especially the weighted walking lunge. This is a front lunge multiplied by 10. Most people lack the ability to stabilize their body while doing the walking lunge. As fatigue goes up, form goes out of the window and disaster could be the end result . But there are alternatives which trainees can do without creating orthopedic issues down the line.

Simple but not easy

An oldie but a goodie is the Split Squat. Essentially a static lunge, it does away with all the problems of the front lunge while keeping all the benefits. Simple to do – stand with one leg forward, the front foot flat on the ground, the back leg is straight and balanced on the ball of the foot. Keeping most of your weight on the front leg, move the back knee as close to ground as possible, reverse the motion to finish. That is one repetition. The Split Squat can be loaded easily with dumbbells, kettlebells etc. A much tougher version is the Rear Leg Elevated Split Squat aka the Bulgarian Split Squat. In this version, the back leg is on a bench or a stool. The mechanics of the doing the exercise remain the same. But it is tough to do! Since it involves an element of instability, the deep gluteal muscles have to work hard and soreness next day will make you a believer.

The Step Up is also a great option as a single leg exercise (Shutterstock)
The Step Up is also a great option as a single leg exercise (Shutterstock)

The Reverse Lunge occupies a place of pride in my repertoire, since almost everybody can do it without causing knee issues. All the benefits of lunges with almost zero harmful side effects. In this version of the lunge, just step backwards and drive the back knee as close to the ground as possible. The Step Up is also a great option as a single leg exercise. Find a bench or stool as high as your knee, step on to it with one foot, follow with the other foot. Reverse the motion to finish the repetition. Do equal number of repetitions on both legs. The Step Up can also be done sideways. Stand with the bench/stool on one side. Step up with the same foot on the bench, follow with the other foot.

The Step Down is usually not seen in gyms unless you are rehabbing a knee injury but it is a great exercise for those who want to learn to do the Pistol, probably the hardest single leg exercise. Stand on exercise step or a low stool. Lower one leg and touch the heel to the floor and then stand up. Repeat on both legs. This exercise teaches good control while lowering the leg aka eccentric control. As you gain strength and eccentric control, the height of the bench or box can be raised, till you are doing a full squat on one leg to touch the floor with the other leg. There you have managed to successfully do the Pistol Squat.

To summarize

Single leg exercises are way more challenging than the plain old squat. Yes, you can lift way more weight in a barbell squat but that does not mean your fitness goals – strength and muscle gain, cannot be achieved with the various single leg exercises mentioned in this column. So, go ahead and include them in your routine and experience new growth. Now go and do it.

Kamal Singh is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has been coaching for 15 years

From HT Brunch, May 30, 2021

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