Squats, deadlifts, leg press; all great compound exercises that are effective in building strength and conditioning your lower body.
Often overlooked though are the unilateral or single leg movements that should be incorporated into your workouts if you are after shape, tone and strength through your lower body.
I am a big lover of unilateral movements. I find them very challenging and it helps you realise what areas or sides of the body require a little more work when they are singled out.
Unfortunately I’ve recently started to avoid the single leg movements for the lower body and will do for the remainder of my pregnancy as it started to contribute to some pelvic girdle pain. I can honestly say I’m missing my lunges and single leg squats. But for those of you that don’t have any PGP and are looking to change up your leg routine a little and start seeing some changes to your lower body, I highly recommend incorporating some unilateral exercises.
Unilateral movements are fantastic for:
- Increasing your strength – that one leg has nowhere to hide and can’t rely on its buddy to help it out of the exercise. All of the focus is in the one leg at a time. When coupled with a healthy diet assists in improving muscle tone and shape of the area due to the recruitment and activation of various muscle fibres.
- Improving your balance – standing on one leg can be challenging at the best of times. When you add movement into that or some added resistance it will really challenge both your balance and posture, leading to:
- Improved core strength and stability – your core muscles need to work harder and remain activated to assist in balance throughout the movements, resulting in a stronger core.
- Assists with muscle activation and recruitment – performing unilateral movement’s forces you to focus on the specific muscle groups you want to recruit to successfully complete the exercise. This helps build that mind-muscle connection and activate muscle fibres that might normally go unnoticed when performing a normal squat or deadlift.
Some of my favourite single legged exercises for shaping and toning the lower body are:
- Bulgarian split squat
- Back stepping lunges
- Side lunges
- Single leg hamstring curl
- Single legged press
- 45 degree side single leg press
- Single legged deadlift
- Pistol squat
- Cable kickbacks
- Donkey kicks
When performing single leg exercises form is super important and in benefiting from the results and avoiding injury. Be sure to start with body weight or light resistance. Some of the above exercises also really challenge your balance so are great at assisting to improve this and your proprioception. To make them more challenging keep the tempo to a 1:3 or 3:1 ratio or even super slow, add in some bottom half pulses or isometric holds to really feel the burn.
Add 1-2 of these exercises into your next leg routine, or perform a circuit of 3-4 of them on a regular basis to help see some changes to that lower body.