Advanced Athletic Leg Training: Complete Neuromuscular Overload.

Leg strength contributes to speed, power, balance and agility, key components in almost all sports. Traditional resistance training programs typically overlook single-leg exercises due to their difficulty and awkwardness ...

All strength and power sport athletes need to develop high levels of leg strength for optimal performance. Leg strength contributes to speed, power, balance and agility, key components in almost all sports. Traditional resistance training programs typically overlook single-leg exercises due to their difficulty and awkwardness. This is unfortunate because single-limb training is extremely important in developing sport-performance skills, as well as being of assistance in the development of muscle size and strength.

I am excited about this lower body resistance-training program as it is specifically directed toward athletes and athletic movements. I believe this program will be found efficient, effective, stimulating, novel and exciting to athletes concerned with their performance. Single-leg training enables the athlete to visual the transfer of training to sport-specific movements and fosters a desire to continue improving in these exercises.

The workout has taken traditional resistance exercises and modified them to incorporate either more muscles OR more sport-specific actions to increase the transfer to the actual sport action. This type of training fully prepares the athlete for pre-season plyometric, speed and agility training, especially in power sports such as basketball and hockey.

Compound exercises and free weights are the primary tools for sport-specific improvements. Machine isolation exercises (i.e. hip adduction) have been replaced by more creative and efficient exercises (i.e. lateral step-ups) that utilize greater amounts of muscle mass and the desired motor pathways. Free weight exercises stimulate the muscle to hypertrophy (grow) and for agility and balance (motor pathways) as well. Thus we may describe the advanced athletic leg-training program as complete neuromuscular training. Finally, the movements demand recruitment of the "core" (abdominal and low-back) musculature for stability and help to improve strength in this area. The program is designed as a circuit of leg exercises that use only the athlete's bodyweight as resistance.

Advanced athletes may hold dumbbells (DB) in their hands as they improve and greater resistance is required. The beauty of the leg workout is in its simplicity. No fancy equipment is needed except for a step or bench, allowing the workout can be performed anywhere and at anytime. This advanced form of leg training also has applications to bodybuilders seeking maximal hypertrophy. An analysis of the cross-section of the lower extremities indicates that the greatest muscle mass is composed of the adductor and quadriceps muscle groups with the hamstrings contributing a lesser component of the posterior thigh muscle mass.

This indicates that the adductors and quadriceps should be given preferential treatment in hypertrophy training programs by using exercises that focus on bringing the leg toward the midline and extending the knee joint. This can be accomplished by using a wider stance in exercises such as the squat, leg press and dead lift, and by using exercises that require leg adduction such as the diagonal and side lunges, and the lateral step-up.

For reasons listed above, machines have been left out from this routine. For example, the adductor machine, despite its moniker and isolated joint movement, may be less effective than the previously listed exercises in stressing the entire adductor complex. In "Target Bodybuilding", Tesch reports the adductor machine does not recruit as much muscle in comparison to the lunge OR leg press. Multi-joint free weight exercises clearly demonstrate superiority in training efficiency and effectiveness.

Remember These Rules For The Workout:

  • Warm-up with 2 sets of 15 repetitions of both full squats and dead lifts (do not use any weight, BUT/ go through the entire range of
  • 2-4 sets of 6-15 repetitions per exercise (2-4 circuits in total resulting in no more than 45 minutes training time)
  • Each repetition must be done with perfect form
  • Do not fatigue the legs OR core prior to these exercises
  • Perform the exercises with the weak leg first to help correct strength disparities
  • Choose one exercise from each block
  • Consider using an exercise every workout

Most athletes will find the routine challenging for 2 sets of 4 exercises during the first attempt at the program. In fact, additional external resistance will be unnecessary as the body weight serves as an adequate resistance in the single-leg exercises. Balance and agility are heavily demanded in this routine and can be further challenged by performing all exercises without shoes (a reduction in ankle support).

Increasing the resistance OR the balance demands of the exercise increases the demands on the athlete's concentration. For safety's sake, terminate the exercise when technique begins to falter so that injuries may be prevented.

In addition to training sport-specific muscle actions, the advanced athletic leg-training program is highly demanding on sport-specific energy systems. Therefore, a high-volume of training combined with short inter-set rest intervals can be used as a metabolic conditioning aid and for the alteration of body composition.

    Exercise Sets Reps Weight
    High Step-Up 2-4 6-15
    Forward Lunge 2-4 6-15
    1-Leg Squat 2-4 6-15
    1-Leg Dead Lift 2-4 6-15
    Wide-Stance Dead Lift 2-4 6-15
    Low-Back Extension 2-4 6-15
    Lateral Step-Up 2-4 6-15
    Diagonal Lunge 2-4 6-15
    Side Lunge 2-4 6-15
    Cross-Over Step-Up 2-4 6-15
    Step-Up + Calf Raise 2-4 6-15
    Step-Up + Opposite Hip Flexion 2-4 6-15
    Backward Lunge 2-4 6-15
    Med Ball (Mb) Lunge 2-4 6-15
    Mb Twist Lunge 2-4 6-15
    Mb Walking Lunge 2-4 6-15

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* Some exercises found in "Complete conditioning for Ice Hockey" (Twist, 1997).

Deadlift (1-leg) - View

Stand upright on one leg and hold dumbbells (DB's) close to the body with a slight bend in the knees. Bend at the waist and slowly lower the torso toward the floor. Keep the head up, shoulders back, chest out and the low back in a flat position. Do not let the back round. Limit the range of motion of the exercise to keep the back flat at ALL times. Return to the upright position by extending at the waist and the hips using the low back and hamstring muscle groups.

Deadlift (wide stance)

Stand with the feet a half step wider than shoulder width apart. Execute a stiff-leg dead lift, making sure to keep the back flat at ALL times. The adductors will assist the movement by attempting to bring the legs in to the midline.

Low-back Bench Extension - View

Lean over an extension bench with the body in a straight alignment. Press the thighs into the pad. Bend at the waist and lower the torso with the back flat. Lower until the back can no longer remain flat and then raise the torso up to parallel.

Lunge - View

Hold DB's at sides and take a slightly greater (1-foot length) than normal step forward. Plant lead foot and lower the body straight down until the trailing knee is just above the ground. Keep the torso upright, back flat and knee in line with foot. Return to the upright position by pushing off the lead leg (recruits quadriceps and hip extensors).

Lunge (backward)

Instead of taking a stride forward, step backward with one leg. Rest only the ball of that foot on the ground. The stationary leg is the working leg. Simply squat straight down with the stationary leg supporting the body weight. Return to the start position using the quadriceps and hip extensors of the stationary leg.

Lunge (diagonal)

Holding light dumbbells at sides, step out at a 45-degree angle (similar to a skating push-off). The knee should be in line with the toes.

Lunge (walking)

Perform alternate leg lunges. Do not return back to start position but continue to progress in a forward direction. Use a medicine ball for increased difficulty.

Lunge (side)

This is a combination of the squat and the lunge. Hold DB's and step laterally. Plant the lead foot with toes forward and squat. Keep the knee pointed in the direction of the toes. Push off the lead foot to the start position. Sideways stepping places stress on the knee ligaments and adductor muscles so make sure those areas are injury free.

Medicine Ball Exercises

Hold a medicine ball in hands to increase the resistance in the exercise. To increase the difficulty, hold the medicine ball at arm's length OR outside plane of motion to offset the center of gravity and to further challenge the stability of athlete.

Squat (1-leg)

Use wall as support if necessary. Stand on one leg and lower the body in squat motion. Begin by bending at the hips and keep the back straight and head up.


Stand upright holding DB's in front of a step OR box. The higher the step, the greater the recruitment of the hip extensor muscles (therefore a more complete exercise). Place the lead leg (weak leg first) on the center of the box and shift the body weight to the lead leg. Concentrate and use the quadriceps and hip extensors of the lead leg only to move the body to a standing position on top of box. Do not rest the trailing leg at the top BUT/ maintain support of the body weight with the lead leg only. Return the trailing leg to the floor by slowly lowering the body using the lead leg.

Step-up (cross over)

Stand sideways to a box holding DB's. Place the outer (lead) leg over inside the leg on the top of the box. Push off the lead leg and bring the torso to a standing position on top of the box. Do not rest the trailing leg on the box.

Step-up (opposite hip flexion)

Perform a normal step-up. At the top of the movement, bring the trailing knee up as high as possible using the hip flexors.


Complete conditioning for Hockey. Peter Twist (1997). Human Kinetics. Target bodybuilding, pp. 116-117. Per Tesch (1998). Human Kinetics.