THE GAME CHANGING TRAINING FOR ATHLETES.
Hey! My name is Lucas Kruel and I am a personal trainer of 30+ professional athletes worldwide! I take care of maintaining the athlete’s health and performance, progressing towards their objectives and preventing injuries. A VITAL part of the training with athletes is to include Single Leg or Unilateral Training - in fact, this is a large focus of every training that I give. To find out why this type of training is important, how to effectively execute these exercises, plus free unilateral exercises and workouts... keep on reading!
What is single leg training?
Bilateral Training is when an athlete performs an exercise that works muscles on both sides of the body equally and at the same time. Squats and Hip Raises are a perfect example of bilateral movement as both legs are engaged and working during the exercise.
Unilateral or Single Leg Training are exercises that only use one leg at a time. Pistol Squats and Single Leg Toe Touches are examples of exercises that aim to work only the right or only the left leg during a specific movement.
Why is single leg training important?
Single Leg or Unilateral Training is a large part of EVERY training that I give to athletes - whether it is a conditioning, mobility, recover or strength workout. There are many reasons for this but basically, unilateral training (when executed correctly) changes the game in the athletic performance as it is sport specific, corrects physical imbalances, and targets specific and supporting muscle groups.
SPORT SPECIFIC EXERCISES
If you have an exam, you would prepare for it by studying the content that is required for the test. You wouldn't study a totally different area of knowledge… right?
So think about it - if you are an athlete or soccer player, there are not many moments in the game where you use both legs at exactly the same time while doing exactly the same movement. You are constantly running, kicking the ball, dribbling, dodging and performing complicated sequences which require your legs to be executing different movements at the same time. So why don’t we train like that?
Single Leg Exercises encourage athletes to focus on the performance of one leg at a time, so we can enhance those sport-specific movements and particular muscle groups that are so important during a game. Unilateral exercises such as lunges, lateral squats, unilateral jumps and balance exercises are more relevant to soccer specific movements such as exploding into a sprint, jumping up to header the ball or dribbling around players.
CORRECTS IMBALANCES IN POSTURE, MUSCLES AND MOVEMENT
When an athlete performs bilateral movements such as squats, it is more likely that the dominant side of your body will take over and compensate for any weaknesses. When an athlete performs unilateral exercises, there is an opportunity to work the weaker side just as much as the stronger side as muscle groups on both sides of the body can effectively engage, build strength and improve stability.
Single Leg Training can also alert athletes regarding their postural issues or joint and muscle weaknesses that they might have on one side of the body; which they can then follow up with appropriate exercises to fix or improve those problems. With bilateral training, these weaknesses are harder to detect and therefore, more difficult to improve.
For example if an athlete does a lateral lunge, they may discover that one knee is stronger than the other or one side of the hip has less mobility than the other. This is important information for an athlete to know as they can immediately begin work in order to prevent future injuries and enhance performance in that area.
ISOLATES SPECIFIC MUSCLES TO ENHANCE PERFORMANCE
Unilateral training focuses and engages specific areas or muscle groups during an exercise. By working specific muscles or areas; the physical intensity of the training can be enhanced, mental focus is increased and a better understanding of the movements and muscles occur.
For example if "explosiveness" is a key area of improvement, Pistol Squats are a great option for specifically activating hamstrings, gluteals and quadriceps - very important areas of the legs to enhance explosive movements. As we need to incorporate explosive movements on both legs individually during a game, it is important to train both legs individually so both muscle groups are working at the same intensity and imbalances can be corrected - otherwise, athletes risk becoming super explosive on one side, while lacking in explosiveness on the other which can be disadvantageous and also increase the risk of injury.
ENGAGES "SUPPORTING" MUSCLES AND PERFORMANCE AREAS
Single Leg Training also requires additional balance and stability from the body as athletes work through complexed movements on one leg and in an 'unbalanced state'. Therefore, increased core and joint stability and strength is usually an additional result of this type of training.
Following on with the example of Pistol Squats, while the athlete is specifically targeting the strength of their hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps of each leg in this exercise; the knees, ankles and hips are also heavily engaged to support the movement. This then enhances stability, balance and mobility - which are also important aspects of explosive movements.
Single leg training benefits for soccer athletes
Safe single leg training: My tips to progress efficiently and effectively
This type of training is game changing for athletes - but only if you perform the movements intelligently and correctly… because just like any exercise, if athletes are doing it incorrectly, you risk less results and/or injury!
Key areas of technique are body alignment, technique, strength of the joints (knees, ankles and hips) and progressing too quickly without mastering the basics. I advise you to take your time with the training, only move to the next level when appropriate and do not use weights until you have truly mastered the basics.
Below are my tips to progress your way to success!
Begin with simple balance exercises to improve your steadiness and begin preparing your hips, knees and ankles for further work. When you are feeling steady, feel free to vary the balance training by adding balance pads, creating small movements with the joints or closing your eyes.
Begin simple exercises that incorporate small and non-complex movements. These exercises are ideal for building up stability and strength slowly and safely. I recommend using movements that are up and down; or front to back. Lunges are great options here.
Continue to use similar exercises but increase repetitions/holding times and/or increase the range of movement. I recommend to also begin trying lateral movements and some small plyometric movements. Lunges with a variation (eg. Frontal Kick, Knee Up) are great options.
When you have the basic techniques and exercises well established, you can increase the difficulty. This can mean adding weights, add more complexed exercises, plyometric elements and increase the intensity of movements. I recommend this level of training to upper intermediate/advanced athletes. Lateral lunges with a jump is a great example of an advanced unilateral exercise.
Top single leg workouts for soccer athletes
Full body athletic conditioning
Speed, explosiveness & power
Agility & coordination
Team, that's all from me today! I hope you found this information on single leg training helpful and I hope you can implement these techniques into your own training - it will surely elevate your performance!