Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Best Way to Do Single-Leg Exercises for Booty Gains

Axially loaded, bilateral exercises [which are done while standing on two feet with the resistance directed downward (e.g. gravity)] are widely regarded as being awesome. After all, who doesn’t love to squat and deadlift?

If there’s one knock on these exercises, though, it’s that they don’t do a great job of targeting the booty (AKA "dat ass"), especially in the range of motion it needs it the most: full hip extension, or even a small degree of hyperextension.

Luckily (for all the booties out there), somewhere along the line single-leg versions of the squat and deadlift came along. Due to their narrower base of support (one footprint instead of the area between two), these exercises require tremendous balance and hip stability (i.e. booty work), which may even make them more specific to sports.

This specificity has led some strength coaches to favor single-leg exercises over their bilateral counterparts (while others berate said freethinkers for abandoning tradition). I certainly can’t blame the unilateral proponents, although as an amputee I’m admittedly biased. My personal favorites, by the way, are reverse lunges, single-leg Romanian deadlifts (RDL), and step-ups.

The Best Way to Do Single-Leg Exercises for Booty Gains

Regardless of whether exercises on one leg or two lead to better performance on the field or court, one thing is for sure: single-leg exercises work the booty a whole lot more -- especially when performed with the twist I’m about to describe.

During single-leg exercises, not only do the glutes work to extend the hip in the sagittal plane, but they’re also active isometrically in the other two planes of motion. That is, they prevent unwanted rotation and side-to-side motion in the transverse and frontal planes, respectively.

And here’s the twist. Because the non-working leg is free to move in space during single-leg exercises, there’s actually a way to take the working hip through a larger range of motion than normal (i.e. into hip hyperextension). You simply "step through" with non-working leg.

[Note: While hyperextension may sound dangerous, it actually isn’t so. Most people have up to 30° of available hyperextension at their hips. In fact, this is actually how lots of people perform walking lunges. We’re just applying the concept to other single-leg exercises.]

To perform the step-through, all you have to do is swing the non-working leg in front of your body by about a foot length at the end of each rep, as if to take a small step forward. At the same time, contract the glute of the working leg forcefully.

The step-through can be applied to a variety of single-leg exercises, including my favorites, the reverse lunge, single-leg RDL, step-up. See the videos below for a visual. Notice in particular how forcefully Mikaela is able to perform the entire concentric phase of each rep. (Great job, Mikaela!)

Note: For the reverse lunge, there may be a tendency to come up onto the toes of the working leg during the step-through. This is a perfectly acceptable variation, provided the heel remains on the ground while coming up from the bottom of the lunge. See this video for a demonstration.

The step-through has a slew of benefits:
  1. As I mentioned, it takes the working hip into hyperextension, which is actually where the glute activates most strongly.*
  2. It allows the working hip to extend hard and fast throughout the entire range of motion, rather than having to put the breaks on early as you near the standing position.
  3. It more directly mimics human locomotion (i.e. walking and running).
  4. It looks cool.
  5. It'll make you taller.

Okay, maybe the last one or two are a stretch. But seriously, give the step-through a try on your next few sets of single-leg exercises. You (and your booty) won’t regret it.

This is actually a picture of padded underwear,
but it doubles as the perfect sham before and after!


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