Single-leg exercises are frequently overlooked in soccer developmental programs. However, single-leg strength is a critical attribute for soccer players to have. Think about it. You never run with both legs on the ground at the same time. When you kick or pass the ball, you do so off one leg. During changes of direction, each leg is doing a different thing. In other words, you need to train the way you play but increasing the strength and power of each leg.
Here's the challenge. Your legs work better together than independently. If you start leg pressing with both legs, you will leg press a lot of weight. But if you start with only one leg, you'll press less than 50 percent of your bilateral Leg Press. Why? Because you're not used to using your legs unilaterally during exercise. This article recommends exercises you can use to develop your single-leg strength, which will enhance your athletic performance.
This is one of my favorite lower-body exercises, and I used it extensively when coming back from a torn meniscus. To perform this exercise, begin with the bar on the back of your shoulders, just like during the Back Squat. Take a big step back with your right foot. If you do this correctly, your left foot should be flat on the ground and the ball of your right foot should be in contact with the ground.
Keeping your chest out and your shoulders back, flex your left knee and hip to lower yourself to the ground until your knee almost touches the ground, then smoothly reverse directions. Perform the specified number of repetitions, then switch legs.
Initially, perform sets of 12-15 reps on each leg. You will find that this exercise, in addition to developing your quadriceps, also targets your hamstrings and glutes in a way that the Back Squat does not. Begin with 30 percent of what you use for the Back Squat. Eventually you can work up to a great deal of weight, but it takes time.
This is a versatile exercise and it has many variations.
- Begin with the bar on the back of your shoulders. Step away from the squat rack.
- With your chest out and your shoulders back, take a big step forward with your left leg. Your left foot should hit the ground heel-to-toe. As this happens, flex your left knee and hip and lower yourself toward the ground until your right knee almost touches the ground.
- Reverse directions, taking as many steps back with your left foot as you need to maintain balance.
- Perform the specified number of repetitions, then switch legs.
Initially, perform sets of 12-15 reps on each leg. This exercise also targets the hamstrings and glutes in addition to the quadriceps. Once you are comfortable with the basic Lunge, there are many variations. For example, you can place the bar on the front of your shoulders or hold it overhead; step backward or laterally instead of forward; and hold kettlebells or dumbbells instead of a bar.
RELATED: What is the Best Lunge Variation?
This exercise is popular in fitness centers. It's a great quadriceps exercise, but it does not have the same balance, hamstring, and glute stress that the previous two do.
- Begin with the bar on the back of your shoulders. You need an elevated surface like a box or a bench.
- With your chest out and your shoulders pulled back, place your left foot flat on the bench.
- Using your left leg, extend your left knee and hip until your right foot is off the ground and your left knee/hip are almost fully extended.
- Lower yourself and perform the specified number of repetitions, then switch sides.
A word of caution: more elevation is not necessarily better. The box should be high enough so that you have a 90-degree angle at the knee when your foot is flat on the bench. Higher than that isn't necessarily good for your knees and does not result in enhanced muscle recruitment. As with the other two exercises, perform sets of 12-15 reps on each leg initially.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock