Lower body lifts can range from Heavy double leg exercises to single leg isolation movements, and what to use when and where is difficult to design or have laws for. Every week I see new variations and new exercises, some useful, some just experimenting for the sake of curiosity. Vern Gambetta and Mike Boyle have made an impact with getting coaches to think more about single leg training, allowing for more athletes to effectively train with body weight exercises and other options such as the RFESS. I have maintained an agnostic view to this as I have no affinity to exercises just options based on circumstances. I have lived in the weight room and nearly avoided it based on political and environmental situations. Here is what I have learned from coaches and therapists in my career in coaching.
Bilateral Exercises- Start and finish with two legs. Squats, deadlifts, and olympic lifts fit in here.
Double Support Single leg Exercises- Bulgarian or RFESS and various lunges tend to fall into this category.
Transfer Single Support Exercises- Step ups are the most appropriate here, as well as some lunge options fit as well.
Stationary Single leg Support Exercises- Single leg balance squats with small loads tend to be hear.
Isolation exercises – Calf raises, cable options, single joint movements fall within here this section.
From a developmental standpoint a balance between all of the options are necessary for production and health. For example I think RFESS with medium loads and reps of 5-6 are great for some athletes, but I would never do a one rep max or do high reps with the movement. While no true laws exist, max strength with reps of 1-2 are two risky as the stabilization requirement goes from support to contribution, thus creating adaptations we don’t need. High reps are not strength training, so I wouldn’t go higher than 8 on it. Those that say it requires too much flexibility I would argue that any exercise that need prerequisites with mobility or range of motion are great screens to see if athletes are healthy. For example, I like deep squats and split squats as signs of health, so good deep snatches and split squats (elevated with long jump boxes) are cardinal signs of health. Those that think I am against the movement are wrong, as every exercise has it’s place.
Olympic lifts I like 1-4 reps tops, and the loads are always challenging. Light explosive exercises should be jumps or DB/ Vest options. Circuits should be light and reps of 10-16 and I usually focus on time and technique. Medical side exercises tend to land in the 6-8 rep range. I put the velocity lifts first (after teaching), strength second, support third, and medical or rudimentary last. Why last? Medical exercises done at the end allow athletes not to feel injured going in to the weight room. I don’t do conventional cool downs and I coach the bodywork type stuff more as the primary lifts are more enjoyable to athletes. Conventional wisdom says the most important exercises should be done first, but I have never felt that exercises were the solution to addressing injury when mechanical faults are the cause. I do 1-2 exercises tops that count as medical work. I try not to use corrective as much as imbalances mess the heads of athletes, medical may sound scary but if they are doing it they tend to feel like they have a seatbelt or protective plan in place.
I still believe in sufficient strength levels, enough to transfer and help performance but not hinder what we are trying to do with injuries and maximal performance. Right now I think sufficient can be confused with weak and I don’t agree. I have had athletes run 10.8 with 480 pound squats and athletes squat 325 and run 10.0. I don’t know what works but I know what does hurt with unnecessary risk and get rich quick progressions. Vanilla, well rounded, and biased free approach works best.