Football S&C – If I had a Time Machine, Part 3 – Unilateral Leg Training

Part 3 of Beast’s Blog Series on Football Strength and Conditioning for High School and College Football Players:

I’m in the Beast. I’m screaming in pain and my friends are laughing at my expense.

I have one foot elevated behind me on a flat bench and the other leg is far in front. I’m performing a unilateral training movement known as Bulgarian Split Squats that I learned from Joe DeFranco. A “lunge variation” is the best way I can describe it and performing this exercise is pure torture for an older and larger trainee, such as me.

Bulgarian Split Squats

I’m training this movement using only my bodyweight and yet I feel as though I am going to puke. Perhaps worse (i.e. more humbling than the nausea), I’m holding the handle of a sledge-hammer in one hand to use as a crutch in case I lose my balance. Angry sweat is pouring down the front of my newly acquired Warrior Dash T-shirt (a story for another day).

“What the heck is the matter with you?” Chris asks. “How can you squat over 600 and not be able to use weight with your Bulgarian splits?”

“It’s because of the way I squat,” I grunt, as I struggle through the last couple of reps.

I really sit back into the squat to use my hamstrings, hips, and glutes, placing somewhat less stress on my quadriceps (“quads”). It’s helped with my overall power and helped to keep my knees healthy. My posterior chain continues to get stronger, which is important, but my quads aren’t as strong as they once were.

Unilateral (or single) Leg Training

At Beast, when training athletes, we believe that posterior chain strength is very important (back, glutes, hip flexors, and hamstrings), but we make sure we don’t neglect our athlete’s quad training. The muscles of the quadriceps are very active in propelling an athlete forward during a sprint; they also play a major role in knee stabilization.

We employ unilateral leg training movements on almost all of our leg training days (following our main bilateral maximum effort or dynamic effort movement) to ensure our athletes aren’t neglecting this important area.

Before we discuss unilateral leg training further let me mention that Beast doesn’t employ any seated leg extensions (we don’t have a seated leg extension machine and never will); seated leg extensions are a very commercially popular way to train the quadriceps, however we believe this movement can pose risk to the knees. Lifting heavy weights in a seated position, with the weight focused around the ankle area, results in undue stress to the knee area with limited benefit.

In my opinion, most trainees revert to doing extensions because they are much easier than squats, lunges, and step-ups – and most trainees don’t want to perform the work (however, if you’re reading this blog, chances are you AREN’T like most trainees).

We believe unilateral leg training facilitates functional carryover to performance on the field when used as a supplement to bilateral training. The main advantage of unilateral training is it is far more specific to the functions of nearly every sport. Jogging, running, and sprinting all occur with one leg hitting the ground at a time

In addition, unilateral training can assist with the rehabilitation and prevention of injuries, particularly with restoring strength balance between the injured and healthy limb.

It is also possible to utilize unilateral movements without putting additional stress on the spinal column. Weighted unilateral exercises can be performed holding dumbbells (in lieu of placing a barbell across the trainees back).

Some of our favorite unilateral leg exercises include:

  • Forward Lunges
  • Backward Lunges
  • Bulgarian Split Squats
  • Step-ups
  • Step-ups with knee extension

Barbell Forward Lunges


Another Example Training Program (ME Legs):

  • Box Squats (4 sets of prescribed weight and reps)
  • Step-ups with knee extension (3 sets of 8-10 reps with each leg)
  • Heavy Backward Sled Drags (4 sets of 30 yard drags – super heavy)
  • Medium Weight Prowler Pushes (4 sets of 30 yard pushes – sprint speed)

Barbell Step-ups with knee extension

Please follow the link below to read the next part in the series:

Football S&C – If I had a Time Machine, Part 4 – Sandbag Training

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  1. on December 20, 2011 at 9:29 am
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