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Single-leg training provides less back stress

Single leg training is very overlooked in the gym & in rehab! Yet walking is the number one single leg activity. In sports, a split stance, single leg stance and pushing off one leg from a parallel stance is used. Doesn’t it make sense to train your body on a single leg?

Anything that causes less load to the low back is a good thing. The rear-foot-elevated split squat (RFESS), also known as the Bulgarian split squat (BSS) or Bulgarian lunge (BL) (it didn’t originate in Bulgaria) is an exercise I like for fat loss and muscular conditioning . This exercsie puts more stress onto your legs and therefore builds more useable strength, and it works around the vulnerable low back, which is often the weak link in bilateral leg squats.

From a functional training point of view I’ve never liked the leg press machine for leg strength because the low back has a tendency to round, which over time might create disc damage. I know in sports the goal is to build stronger legs, and as an injry prevent rehab specialist, I think it’s a good idea to target the leg muscles without having to place heavy loads on the spine. The rear-foot-elevated split squat (RFESS), is a better way to do it.

Benefits of RFESS: Targets the leg extensors (it’s a primary lower-body exercise). Develops balance, hip flexibility, strength, size, and you can use heavy weights to target the leg muscles with limited spinal compression.

Technique:
• Elevate your rear foot. An exercise bench or box works. If the stretch to the quads and hip flexors of your elevated leg is too extreme or uncomfortable, switch to a slightly lower box or step. I like the way the stretch feels and I personally need it for tight hip flexors.

• Start the exercise like a back squat, in that you position the bar on your shoulders in a squat rack, lift it off the supports, and take a step back. From there, lift one foot and place it on the bench behind you. Rest the top of your foot on the bench.

• How deep should you go? Place an Airex pad or mat on the floor under the rear knee, and tell they have to touch the pad with their knee on each rep. This creates consistent depth, and also serves to cushion the knee.

• Keep chest up. Core control is especially critical in the RFESS, as the elevated rear foot can create an unwanted back arch.

Add this in to your program for at least six weeks. Start with 50% of your one-rep max on the back squat.

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