When you think of lower body exercises, squats, legs presses, deadlifts, lunges, leg extensions, and leg curls come to mind because they’re the most commonly used. As well they should be because they’re all great moves that get results. <strong”>However, all those movements except one (the lunges) are bilateral exercises – they involve using both leg simultaneously.
Double leg training is effective and certainly should be a part of a comprehensive lower-body training program. But we all have one leg (i.e., one side) that isn’t as strong or as well developed as the other. And, single leg (not double leg) oriented exercises are the most optimal way to focus on improving your muscle balance. Not to mention they are also an effective way to add a new training stimulus and exercise variety to your lower-body workouts.
Below there are five lower-body exercises listed – four advanced single-leg exercises and one very cool double-leg exercise combination move. Lower-body exercises can be classified as either hip dominant (like an RDL) or knee dominant (like a squat). Two of the single-leg exercises listed below are hip-dominant and the other two are knee dominant. To round things off, the final double-leg exercise is a combination of the two joint actions, hip dominant and knee dominant.
Knee Dominant: Barbell Reverse Lunges from Deficit
Standing on a platform (that is, from a deficit) increases the range of motion, which increases the training stimulus on the lower-body.
How it’s done: With a barbell across your shoulders, stand on top of an aerobic platform or on top of a 45lb plate. Step backward with your right foot and drop into the lunge position allowing your back knee to lightly touch the floor. Then reverse the movement by returning to the platform. Alternate legs each time.
Knee Dominant: Single Leg Knee Tap Squat
How it’s done: Stand in front of an aerobic step platform on your left leg with your right knee bent and hovering over the platform behind you. Slowly squat down, keeping your weight-bearing foot flat. Tap your back knee lightly on the platform before reversing the motion. Perform all reps on the same side before switching.
When performing with bodyweight, outstretch your arms in front of you as a counterbalance.
When performing with dumbbells, hold one at each shoulder in the racked position so they’re parallel to one another. One end of each dumbbell will be resting on each shoulder.
Hip Dominant: Barbell One Leg Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs)
Performing single RDLs with a barbell is more difficult than using a single dumbbell due to the width of the barbell, which causes more weight shifting that you must control.
How it’s done: Stand tall balancing on your left leg while holding a barbell in front of your thighs. Hinge forward at your hips while keeping your left knee bent at a 15-20 degree angle until your torso and rear leg become roughly parallel to the floor before your reverse the motion. Perform all reps on the same side before switching.
Note: The video below not only demonstrates the Single Leg Barbell RDL, it also shows you how to do one of the Triple Threat Protocols we developed at Performance U.
Hip Dominant: One Leg Hip Thrusts (Shoulder & Hip Elevated)
Popularized by my great friend Bret Contreras, this is a great move for improving the form and function of your glutes.
How it’s done: Sit on the floor with your mid-back and shoulders resting against a bench or box, and your heels on top of another bench or box or the same height. With your knees bent at 90 degrees, lift your left leg into the air and drive your hips toward the sky as far as possible without overarching at your lower back, so your body forms a flat tabletop-like position. Slowly lower your hips back down to the floor and repeat all reps using the same leg before switching sides.
Combo: (Two Leg) Dumbbell Squat + RDL
This exercise just takes two great moves and combines them into one great exercise, which we love to place at the end of a comprehensive lower-body workout.
How it’s done: Hold a pair of dumbbells by your sides and perform a squat by sitting back with your hips and bending mostly at your knees. Once you return to the top (standing position), move the dumbbells in front of your thighs and perform an RDL by slightly bending your knees (15-20 degrees) and hinging forward at your hips until your torso is parallel to the floor. One squat + One RDL = One rep!
As you’ll see demonstrated in the video below: Be sure to maintain a lordodic lower-back curve throughout this exercise.
Note: If you don’t have a strong grip, you may want to use wrist wraps for this one, so your grip doesn’t limit the weight you use and take away from the intensity or weight-load your legs experience.
Lower-Body Workout Plan
Now that you know how to safely perform each of the exercises covered above, here’s how to put these exercises together into a comprehensive lower-body workout plan you can immediately use:
- Barbell Reverse Lunges from Deficit: 3-4 sets x 8-10 reps each leg
- Single Leg Knee Tap Squat: 2-3 sets x 10-14 reps each leg
- Barbell One Leg Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs): 3-4 sets x 8-10 reps each leg
- One Leg Hip Thrusts: 2-3 sets x 10-15 reps each leg
- Dumbbell (Two Leg) Squat + RDL Combo: 2-3 sets x 8-10 reps