A lot of exercises exist out there to build your booty and tone your legs — you just have to know how to do them with proper form. Performing these moves with both feet on the ground can be effective for strength, but you won’t always feel it in the muscle groups you want to work, James Shapiro, NASM-certified personal trainer in NYC and owner of Primal Power Fitness, told POPSUGAR. That’s where single-leg exercises (unilateral as opposed to bilateral moves) come in.
What Are the Benefits of Single-Leg Exercises?
There are a number of reasons you should be including exercises with one leg into your workout routine. For one, and as we mentioned, sometimes it can be difficult to feel certain muscles work in bilateral moves because you’re compensating in other parts of your body. “You can improve activation of your quadriceps or hamstrings [or glutes!] when you utilise a single-leg exercise in comparison to the bilateral counterpart,” James said. Also, it’ll help with stability and balance since you’re — duh — using one leg instead of two. This activates your core, NASM-certified personal trainer Sydney Eaton, head of fitness and programs at PK Coin App, said.
Another benefit? Single-leg exercises can help with muscle imbalances. Oftentimes, we can overuse our dominant muscles, like feeling one quad and glute fire more in a squat. “When doing a regular squat, it’s so easy to depend on your dominant side when one leg has developed a weakness, but single-leg squats don’t even give you that option,” Sydney said. You use both sides of your body equally.
James recommends starting with bodyweight or assisted variations of the exercises to learn proper mechanics on each side (for example, standing kickbacks before you perform cable kickbacks, or deadlifts without dumbbells). Because these moves are trickier to master, you’ll probably have to lower the resistance or reps to “help develop sound form that can transfer over to two-legged exercises,” he said. Ahead, check out a list of our favourite single-leg exercises.
Some of the moves, like single-leg squats and single-leg Romanian deadlifts, require your hips and core to really stay stabilized since one foot is lifted off the ground, James noted. If you’re having trouble, a way to build up stability is to perform them with a “b-stance,” he explained. This is when about 20 percent of your weight is distributed to your nonactive leg. For deadlifts, you’d place the toes of your nonactive leg on the ground with your heel up. See examples of more b-stances here. Other single-leg exercises seen ahead, like Bulgarian split squats and cable kickbacks, still emphasise one working leg but don’t require as much balance. Note: this is not a workout. Add a few to your next leg day for a booty burn.