The primary goal of a sports performance coach is to reduce the chance of injury in the weight room and in sport. Therefore, the implementation of unilateral training is of great importance when programming for all athletes.
Athletes utilizing single leg variations of the squat, hinge, bridge and/or any variation of a lunge or step down/up can benefit for these reasons:
Utilizing unilateral lower body strength variations reduce compressive and shear stress on the lumbar spine due to not reaching the same loads as their bilateral counterparts. As you can imagine, this results in reducing the chance of serious injury on or off the field tremendously.
More advanced athletes can benefit from what is called Bilateral Deficit, meaning they can tolerate more than 50% of their bilateral load (typically due to less stress to the spine). For example, an experienced athlete may be able to lift 315 lbs on a rear foot elevated split squat (RFESS). This does not mean that he has a 630 lbs barbell back squat. Most spines can not tolerate extremely high loads, therefore single leg work can stress the lower limbs with less load on the lumbar spine.
The specificity of single leg exercises translates directly to sport. Very rarely in athletics do you see an athlete compete with both feet planted into the ground. If we can train on one leg with external load, we increase our ability to compete in various situations on the playing surface. Certain sports also place higher stress on particular musculature. We can utilize these movements as correctional exercises to address these imbalances within the body and reduce the risk of further stress and injury.
Build Strength – Reduce Injury