In this article, I’ll show you 3 of my favorite single-leg exercises that will help you strengthen your lower body while complementing your heavier lifting.
When I talk about single-leg exercises I’m not referring to some foo-foo exercises.
These are exercises that are designed to improve strength and stability and can lead to some nice booty gains if done properly.
Single-leg work isn’t just reserved for rehab work either. I think most people would really benefit from incorporating some of these into their training.
Below are 3 of my favorite (I actually hate them because they’re tough) single-leg exercises you should be doing to build and strengthen your glutes and lower body.
Bulgarian Split Squats
I have a love/hate relationship with these.
They can be pretty brutal if you want them to be. If you’re a little crazy like me, sometimes you’ll do them in a drop set fashion which will give you the most fantastic leg pump ever.
While they can be tough, the benefits they provide are awesome.
These will hit your quads, hamstrings, and glutes all in one exercise. There are loads of different variations you can do with these. I usually stick to dumbbell’s, but you can do these with a front squat grip with a barbell, goblet style with a kettlebell, or even from a deficit. The options are pretty much endless here.
Watch this short video demo below to see how to properly execute the bulgarian split squat.
How to Program Them
I’m a big fan of these during higher volume phases because of the stimulus they can provide for the lower body. During these hypertrophy phases, I’d recommend doing between 8-15 reps per leg. Sometimes you can add in a set of 20 to get a bit crazy with it 😉
These can also be used during strength phases or times when squatting or deadlifting is limited due to injury or you simply want to take a break from those two.
Simply use these in place of squats or deadlifts. Using a front squat grip, or with the bar on your back, this can serve as your “big” movement on a lower body day. Stick to sets of 4-6 reps mostly on these, and never sacrifice good form for more weight.
If having your rear-foot elevated is too challenging at first you have several options of making them more doable.
- Hold onto something for balance such as a rail or bench. This will allow you to get the form down without worrying about falling over.
- If that’s still a bit too hard, do split-squats from the ground. You’ll start in a half-kneeling position with both legs bent at 90° and stand straight up and lower straight back down.
If you’re ready for a bit more of a challenge, try using a barbell or holding onto 2 dumbbells to add a bit more load to the exercise.
Deadlifting variations are a big part of the programs I write for myself and my clients.
A lot of people need more work on the backside of their body. Whether it’s sitting all day long, or simply not doing enough posterior chain exercises, we can all pretty much use a bit more lovin’ on the backside.
Because I love hinge variations so much, I think single-leg Romanian deadlifts are fantastic regardless of training age, experience, or goals.
These are exactly like regular Romanian deadlifts, except you’re standing on one leg only. This makes them a bit more challenging because you have to focus more on the abs, foot pressure, and proper hinging at the hips.
When done properly, these will absolutely toast your butt, hamstrings, and obliques.
Just like the split squats, there are plenty of variations to use depending on how tough or advanced you want to make it. For beginners, I’d recommend bodyweight to start, and for more experienced lifters adding weight is a good idea.
In the video below, I’ll be showing you a 1-Leg Dumbbell RDL. You can also use a barbell if you want to load it up a bit more. Keep in mind that with the barbell you lose a little bit of the anti-rotation core aspect. These means with both arms holding the weight, your abs don’t have to resist rotating as much as they would if you were to use weight in one hand only. Any variation of single-leg rdl’s will give you plenty of bang for your buck, though.
Here’s a quick video demo of how to do them properly:
How To Program Them
I would start out using bodyweight only in the beginning. You want to make sure your movement pattern is solid before adding any weight.
You don’t want to turn this exercise into a squat/deadlift thingamajiggy.
You should initiate the movement from the hips and keep a soft but stable knee.
For muscle building and fat loss phases, do these with higher reps, right around 8-15. If you’re using this one as a strength based exercise then somewhere around 6-8 reps is good.
Hold onto something for balance. Continue using your own bodyweight and really own the movement pattern before you attempt them without added stability.
Pro-tip: If your balance is an issue, sometimes removing your shoes can help you feel more stable and planted to the floor. Focus on keeping your foot flat the entire time.
If you’re looking to make these tough, try doing them barbell loaded. While these will take a bit of the stress off the core that the single-arm variations provide, you’ll be able to load the working leg even more.
1-Leg Hip Thrust
Sounds kinda medieval huh?
I promise you they’re not, although they will deliver an unmistakable glute pump like you’ve never experienced before.
But, that’s a good thing, right?
The hip thrust is the cousin to the glute bridge or hip lift that’s done lying on the ground. The difference in this one is that your back is supported onto a bench or elevated surface.
This allows for a greater range of motion, which means more muscle activation and more burnnnn.
It’s a fairly simple exercise but the biggest mistake I see is that people want to flare their ribs and use too much low back.
All of the movement should come from the lower body, and more specifically, the hips. Hence the name hip thrust.
So when you do them, make sure your abs are tight and your ribcage is down. The goal isn’t to lift your hips as high as possible. The goal is to fully extend your hips with a neutral spine while focusing on flexing your butt.
When done properly, you should feel them working in your butt and hamstrings, not your lower back.
Here’s a quick video demo showing you the set-up and execution of the exercise.
How To Program Them
I personally think these are best used with higher reps. I don’t see much benefit to going super heavy on them using low reps. With that in mind, I think anywhere from 8-20 reps is perfect on these.
These would fit pretty well towards the end of a lower body day as a finisher or done as accessory work for the glutes and hamstrings.
If the single leg variation is too tough to do at first, try lifting your butt up with both legs and then lowering with one. This will help you progress towards raising and lowering with one leg only.
Once you’ve mastered the bodyweight single-leg hip-thrust, you can start adding some external load. My favorite way to do this is by adding a band across the hips. You don’t have to worry about balancing any weights on your hips, and you get more resistance at the top.
You can attach a band on the bottom of a squat rack, or throw a couple heavy dumbbells down and loop the band around those. Here’s how the set up looks on those:
Courtesy of my buddies at Show Me Strength
What To Do Next
For one, start including these exercises into your lifting program. You’ll notice a big change in leg strength as well as the shape and appearance of your legs.
Second, be sure to sign up for my newsletter below, which will give you access to exclusive content and more goodies from me.
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