Top 3 Single Leg Exercises For Yoked Ass Legs
Coincidentally enough I choose the picture for today’s guest post before actually reading it.
Oops, a minor editorial mistake.
You see, as you’ll learn below, placing a barbell on your back during single leg exercises – while not a wrong strategy to partake – does have a distinct disadvantage.
HINT: More load isn’t always the “x-factor” with regards to making exercises more challenging.
Suffice to say, lesson learned (but I’m too lazy to go back and find a different picture).
I hope you enjoy this excellent piece by two colleagues of mine – Dr. Michelle Boland (a phenomenal local coach here in Boston) and Tim Richardt (a former coach at CORE who’s now located in the Denver area) – that gave me a few Ah-HA moments.
Top 3 Single Leg Exercises For Yoked A$$ Legs
Quarantine have your legs and butt looking skinnier than Gollum’s?
My precious (legs)
An excellent example of commitment to a singular goal, but not of muscular development.
Get your quads, glutes, and hamstrings looking more bountiful than a post-Mordor-crumbling Shire feast with these single leg exercises!
We’re done with the Lord of the Rings references now, we promise.
We’ll explore loading options, body positioning, front versus rear foot elevation, and direction of center-of-mass (COM) movement to help you taste those sweet, sweet single-leg gains.
Let’s get right to it…
#1 Front Foot Elevated Zercher Split Squat
Load Position Advantage
Holding the weight in the crook of your elbows allows for more relaxation of muscles on the backside of your trunk, enabling increased depth WHILE circumventing grip strength as a potential rate-limiter for loading.
A barbell placed in the traditional “back rack” may rob you of comfortable hip range-of-motion (ROM) due to compression of muscles on the backside of your trunk.
Loading in the Zercher position lets you maintain more VERTICAL displacement throughout the movement, and more pure-up-and-down displacement means more stimulation of muscles that DO vertical displacement (i.e. glutes and quads), leading to more gains and more eventual jealousy from your high school ex after they see your jacked wheels on Facebook.
No barbell? We can accomplish a similar effect with 2 DBs.
Vertical displacement whilst keeping a STACKED position during a split squat, vital to loading muscle tissue (yay!) and minimizing joint strain (boo!), is reviewed, HERE.
Why Front Foot Elevation?
Elevating the front foot shifts your COM backwards, meaning the muscles of the front leg can relax to a greater degree to allow for more depth during the lowering (eccentric) portion of the movement. Additionally, raising the front foot shifts the trained range of motion into deeper degrees of hip flexion, leading to greater mechanical stress placed on the musculature that extends the hip (dat booty).
Bonus; Heel Up?
Try elevating your front heel to enable increased loading of the knee and hip whilst maintaining the “vertical stack” during this drill.
Be sure to maintain heel contact and allow your knee to drift forward over the mid-foot to allow for more hip and knee flexion.
#2 Staggered Stance Retro RDL
Why Backwards is Better…
The Staggered Stance Retro RDL allows you to use the front leg to push your COM backwards towards the leg that’ll be doing all the work. This exercise HAMMERS glutes and hammies, and is a great stepping stone towards an eventual unassisted SLRDL.
The KEY distinction between the conventional RDL (or Heels on Wall Variation) and the staggered stance retro RDL is the direction of your COM travels. In the rear foot single leg deadlift, your COM translates forward, whereas in the staggered stance retro RDL, your COM migrates backwards.
Going front foot supported allows for more of a sit “back” scenario encouraging a more advantageous orienting of the hips to access ROM (remember: more ROM, more loading, more gainz) as well as reducing the challenge of NOT falling forward onto your (pretty) face.
Why Single Arm Loading?
We love a single KB held in the opposite hand (in reference to the back leg), as this encourages rotation of the ribcage TOWARDS that rear leg. Rotation towards the side we’re loading means we’re able to load muscles of that hip to a greater degree, and the combination of an opposite hand reach AND a front foot support ensure we’re loading the back leg’s hamstrings and glutes as much as we possibly can.
Some pointers with the Front Foot Supported Single Leg Deadlift:
- Position the non-working leg in front of the working leg and use the front (non-working) leg to push the back (working) leg backwards. This results in a hip “shift” TOWARDS that back leg.
- The arm opposite the working leg holds the KB and maintains a path over the big toe of the back foot. That reach further supports the shift you obtained in step 1.
- Sit your hips back in space, feeling loading on the heel, base of the big toe, and base of the little toe. Reverse this motion by pushing through this “tripod foot” back to the starting position.
#3 Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
Jack Up That Back Foot
The Rear Foot Elevated (RFE) Split Squat is a variation that places greater emphasis on the front leg. This exercise is also a good progression towards a strict single leg activity, such as a single leg squat.
While performing a boring ‘ol split squat, the load is fairly evenly distributed between the front and back legs. However, elevating the rear foot shifts your center of mass forward, dramatically increasing the loading of the front leg. Train this sucker and that leg’s getting more yoked than a Marriott Courtyard omelette bar.
The RFESS is #3 on this list because it trains a little like a cross of exercises #1 and #2.
It’s a vertical movement (like our FFESS), but the forward lean created by the elevation of the rear foot enables some degree of forward/backwards COM displacement (like our deadlift variation). The result is an unholy cross of glute and leg destruction.
An altogether different type of unholy cross
Placement of Load
To optimize loading with this drill, we recommend dumbbells in each hand- like THIS. As we mentioned previously, a barbell placed in the traditional “back rack” position tends to compress muscles on the backside of the body, robbing the body of hip flexion availability and trainable range of motion.
The distance between your front and back legs- your “stride length” during a split squat- also matters.
A short stride length (front foot closer to back foot) will bias hip musculature (glutes). If you elongate the stride length you’ll shift the loading to more quads, leading to more yoked legs with which to better fill out those new early-Christmas jeggings.
And Now, This…
You can check out these three extra loading variations that target different planes of motion in the RFE split squat: RFE Split Squat Planes of Motion Variations
Bonus Yoked-Worthy Exercise: Walking Toe Touch Lunges
Walking Lunges with an opposite arm reach facilitate more high hamstring recruitment by biasing a posterior tilt of the pelvis. High hamstrings fix the position of the pelvis, enabling greater loading of the hip extensors (butt), making this drill an excellent choice for a “finisher” after your main exercises. To quote our good friend, the wise and powerful Tony, after performing a set of these, “I FELT it in my soul”!
DISCLAIMER; Michelle and Tim are NOT responsible for any Soul-Delayed-Onset-Muscule-Soreness (SDOMS) experienced after performing this drill.
Big pointers with the Walking Toe Touch Lunges
- Maintain up/down motion by keeping your head stacked over your chest and stacked over your hips… put simply “mostly elevator, a little escalator”
- Reach your opposite arm to your front big toe keeping your breastbone pointed straight ahead and letting your shoulder blade reach around your ribcage
- “A little” hinge at the hips is necessary to stay moving FORWARDS, but “a little” is all you get
- Be nice to your back knee, a soft surface is ideal with this drill
- Focus on turning into your abs on the same side as the front leg
- Stand up by pushing the ground away with the front foot (that same tripod foot as we discussed previously)
- You get no bonus points for lunging LONG- keep your stride length short and controlled
- Choosing single leg exercises that will allow you to achieve the greatest ROM while moving heavy loads are key to targeting more muscle mass. Gettin’ more yoked than a 12th century plow animal is all about moving load over ROM.
- Intelligent holding positions, such as DBs at sides and zercher, beget more motion availability.
- The positioning or elevation of your feet relative to one another is VITALLY important in ensuring we’re loading the target tissue through as large of an available range as we can muster.
Now go get those legs so HUGE that grandma’s gonna have to buy you new Christmas stockings.
About the Authors
- Owner of Michelle Boland Training
- PhD in Exercise Physiology
- Instagram @dr.michelleboland
- Check out Michelle’s Free Training Program Considerations Handbook!
- Owner of Richardt Performance and Rehabilitation
- Doctor of Physical Therapy
- Instagram @tim_richardt_dpt