Leg-Training With Unilateral Workout Strategy

If you’ve been making less than stellar increases with your heavy weights lately, consider revamping your power training to include unilateral movements. “Unilateral training for your lower body is an excellent way to break through plateaus,” according to Tom Seabourne, PhD, author of The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Great Buns and Thighs (Alpha, 2006). He recommends rebuilding your workout program around unilateral movements for 4-6 weeks to focus on strengthening your lower body one leg at a time.

“Performing one-legged squats or deadlifts will help you target your weak spots so you’ll be stronger when you return to standard moves,” explains Seabourne. Begin with very light weight and concentrate on correct form, he advises. “You’ll be amazed at how weak you feel on one leg.”

Seabourne offers the following tips for performing one-legged squats:

  • Use light dumbbells when you begin. “You can also stand near a wall or hold onto the post of a squat rack to help stabilize yourself if you can’t maintain your balance,” he instructs.
  • Hold your “resting” leg behind you. “Set the top of your foot on a bench a couple of feet behind you or use a Smith machine rather than dumbbells–with or without the bench technique,” suggests Seabourne.
  • Using perfect form, squat down until your upper quad (the working one) is nearly parallel to the floor. Pause, then press through your heel to extend your hip and knee until you return to the starting position. Keep your chest up, abs tight and back flat throughout the exercise.
  • Move slowly through the set, which Seabourne says really challenges your stabilizers. He recommends using at least a slow three count on the down-ward movement, pausing for a count at the bottom, then another three count on the way up.
  • Work up to 10 reps per side. “At first, it may be easier to alternate from one side to the other,” notes Seabourne. “Eventually, work toward performing 10 reps on one side, then 10 reps on the other. When you can successfully perform 10 repetitions with perfect form with each leg, increase the weight.”

Seabourne says you may feel muscle fatigue throughout your entire leg, including the calves, that you normally wouldn’t experience due to certain compensation. “Through this type of unilateral training, you’ll activate all the tiny balancing muscles of your lower leg, and this helps improve your total leg strength. When you return to your regular power-training routine stronger and more balanced than ever, don’t be surprised to find that you’re readily able to break through your previous plateaus.”

Try following this workout two days a week for 4-6 weeks.

Unilateral Power Plan
Exercise Sets Reps
Unilateral leg extension 2 10
Unilateral squat 4 10
Unilateral deadlift 4 10
Unilateral leg curl 3 10
Unilateral standing calf raise 3 12-20

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