How to Get Super Strong on Single-Leg Squats
Having great single-leg strength is crucial for a powerful skating stride and balance in hockey.
Unfortunately, most hockey players neglect this area. Even if they use some single-leg or so-called "unilateral" leg exercises in their workouts, more often than not, they fail to get strong on them.
For the record, if you're banging away with a pair of 55-pound dumbbells on split squats, you're not strong. We have females who can do a lot more than that.
Our strongest 17-year-olds can split squat over 300 pounds with the bar in the front rack position, and our slightly older guys can do around 350. Split squatting almost 2x your body weight? That is STRONG.
Now, you may be wondering how our athletes are able to build such impressive single-leg strength quickly and if you can replicate their numbers.
The answer is:
As long as you stick to these 3 very important training principles:
(If you’d rather watch than read about how to build impressive single-leg strength for hockey… Check out the video below.)
#1. Treat Single-Leg Squats Like Any Other Main Strength Lift
Using heavy weights for low reps is the best way to get strong. We know that.
So why are you performing 3 sets of 10-15 reps on split squats, Bulgarian split squats and lunges?
Bring your reps down to 1-5 per set and your strength will go up. Guaranteed.
Here's a good rule of thumb to live by:
If it's a unilateral squat exercise where you're using a barbell, either with a front squat grip or on your back, you can perform singles, doubles, triples and so on just like with bilateral or two-legged squats.
If you're holding on to one or two dumbbells, it makes sense to bump up the reps a bit higher to 5's and above.
In any case, to build more strength with split squat and lunge variations, you'll want to spend more time training with lower reps that are actually conducive to getting strong.
#2. Change Exercises Before You Hit a Plateau
Sticking to just one or two single-leg squat variations forever won't maximize your gains.
It also makes training boring. The mind craves variety and the easiest way to add it into your training is by switching movements.
For split squats, you can perform them with two legs on the ground, rear-foot elevated, front-foot elevated, or even both feet elevated to achieve greater range of motion.
What about lunges then?
Do them in place stepping forward or backward. Or walking style where you cover a specific distance alternating between legs.
Depending on the exercise you choose, you can use dumbbells, a barbell or a trap bar for external resistance.
As you see, there's a ton of variety here. Each exercise targets the legs slightly differently. And this diversity is what keeps training interesting over time and leads to complete single-leg strength development.
#3. Vary Rep Ranges and Time Under Tension
The same way you should swap exercises, you'll also want to change rep ranges from phase to phase.
While using heavy weights is crucial for building strength (as we discussed in point #1), you don't want to stick exclusively to lower reps. Sooner or later, you'll run into plateaus.
A better approach is to vary your rep ranges and perform both lower and higher reps to alter the training stimulus.
Like I said before, for pure single-leg strength gains, spend more time in the 1-5 rep range.
The legs also respond well to higher rep "pump" work, so you'll want to perform sets of 12-15, or even 20 reps, for building muscle.
With our stronger and more advanced athletes, we also use various techniques like slow eccentrics and 1.5 reps to lengthen time under tension.
I have found that once guys are hitting around 100 kg / 220 pounds for reps on split squats, it makes sense to introduce these more advanced tactics into their program to spur more gains. It provides a nice mental and physical change from just increasing resistance week to week.
If you're not at that point yet, stick to the basics. Focus on adding a bit more weight to your single-leg squats mainly in the 5-8 rep range from one week to the next, while occasionally switching to lower or higher reps.
That's how you build impressive single-leg strength that helps you skate faster.
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