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Why We Use Unilateral Training

By September 13, 2018Athlete Training

Squats are the king of lower body exercises.

But are they the only good lower body exercise for athletes looking to become faster, stronger, & injury-proof?

No, they’re not. And in fact, they may not even be the “best” lower body strength exercise for athletes.

An entirely different category of exercises – single-leg exercises – actually match the needs of athletes way more than squats ever could.

Here’s why:

#1 Single-Leg Exercises Are Significantly Less Risky

In a back squat, you’ll see some pretty heavy loads being moved by athletes& gym-goers who are pretty strong.

Without a doubt, a heavy squats equals strong legs. But not without the low back being involved, too.

To transfer the force produced by the legs, necessary to move a heavy barbell placed on the back of the shoulder, the body must use the torso (including the back) as the “chain” that connects the legs to the barbell.

When the loads become significant enough to challenge & strengthen an athlete’s legs, the back becomes more & more at risk of becoming injured.

Single-leg exercises, on the other hand, require significantly less weight because they only work one leg at a time. So if an athlete squats 220lbs, he or she can use 110lbs for an exercise like the split squat, and still get all the strength benefits with much less risk for low back injury.

#2 Single-Leg Exercises Strengthen the Leg Muscles More Than Squats

In the previous example, we compared an athlete squatting 220lbs vs. split squatting 110lbs.

Logically, what someone can squat (using two legs simultaneously), they can use about half of that weight for single-leg exercises (using one leg at a time).

In our experience over the years, most, if not all athletes are able to use more than half of their squatting weight for a basic single-leg exercise such as the split squat.

We’ve theorized that this is because the low back is the “weak link” in the chain with squats, hence why athletes tend to injure their backs during heavy squats.

What this also means is that squats don’t challenge the legs to the greatest potential (because the low back is always struggling to keep up), whereas single exercises take off the reigns and allow athletes to really hammer their lower body.

#3 Single-Leg Exercises Use Athletic Movements – Squats Don’t

Nearly every movement in sports happens on one leg.

Jumping, cutting, turning, sprint – these all pretty much happen one leg at a time. That involves a large degree of balance, coordination, and of course, strength & power.

They also occur in different planes of movement: frontal, sagittal, and transverse.

Squats, on the other hand, do not happen one leg at a time, and only occur in the sagittal plane.

Single-leg exercises, meanwhile, do happen one leg at a time (dug) and can occur in all three planes.

So which exercise would be better for an athlete: one that matches the demands of sport, or one that doesn’t?

Obviously, single-leg exercises are superior in this regard.

With movements such as the split squat, single-leg RDL, lateral lunge, walking lunge, and lateral squat, there’s no reason to solely rely on the conventional squat for athletic preparation.

We’ve implemented these movements in our athlete program, and have watched our young athletes get stronger & faster over the years without experiencing the injuries we had seen with the regular use of conventional squats.

To learn more about our program & to sign up for a free workout, click here. We’ll hop on the phone & set a time for you & your child to come in for the free trial!

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