5 Single Leg Exercises for Maximum Gains

Single leg, or unilateral, exercises, should be in every person's programme. We all have one leg which is dominant and stronger. Usually, this isn't an issue, but it can lead to obvious visual imbalances, and injury if one side is taking more of the workload. Single leg exercises allow us to work each leg independently, to address these potential problems. They can also reduce injury risk by building stability in the hips and knees. Not to mention, they are humbling. In exercises such as the single leg press, you will be loading much less weight than you are used to, and working at least as hard during the set, if not more due to the longer sets and higher total reps.


Split Squat

We all love to hate them, and it's no surprise why. Split squats are tough, but they work. With the back foot elevated, you will squat down to at least parallel. Every major muscle of the legs are worked here, but foot positioning can be adjusted to target more glute or quad depending on your own biomechanics. This can be loaded to increase difficulty in a number of ways, with a barbell on the back, dumbbells at sides, or using a smith machine to help with balance and take out some core and stabiliser involvement are personal favorites.

Walking lunge

The walking lunge adds some cardiovascular work into your leg session. Again, these can be loaded in whichever way you find more comfortable and works the parts of the legs you are most concerned with. These are usually best performed at mid-high reps for healthy knees.

Single Leg Press

Performing the leg press with one leg at a time allows for a greater range of motion and allows many people to achieve a greater connection with the glutes by pushing through the heel of the working leg. For those who are able to go heavy on a standard leg press, this also saves time loading and unloading plates- win win!

Step Up

Experiment with different heights of box for these. A key thing is to push through the leg on the step, not bounce up from the foot on the floor. Get comfortable with bodyweight, before advancing to weights.

Single Leg Extension

Performing a seated leg extension with one leg at a time allows us to really focus on squeezing the quads in the fully extended position, and makes it more difficult to swing the weight. Perform paused reps in this fashion, and drop set with both legs on the final set for a real burn!


We would recommend you add in at least one single leg movement per leg day.

About the Author

Savannah Westerby, BSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition. IG:@savannahwesterby
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