You might not have seen this unilateral exercise in your gym much but it’s absolutely an athletic essential. What makes it so good? Let us explain.
Use this exercise to boost your power, whatever the sport
Training legs unilaterally has huge performance implications.
It helps balance your body, improve mobility (strength through range) and a move like this one particularly can be tailored to improve unilateral leg speed and power.
Up For Debate.
Some will argue that unilateral training isn’t great because you’ll never get the same explosive neurological and strength adaptations as you would with a bilateral movement (e.g. normal back squat) by virtue of the fact that you can’t shift enough weight to yield those adaptations.
Other schools of thought say that we move and ambulate unilaterally so why would we not train that way completely?
We Don't Want To Rock The Boat.
Being the perpetual fence-sitters that we are, we’re gonna go right down the middle and say both likely have their place.
However if you are someone who can’t do a bilateral exercise because of back issues, or some other ailment, all is not lost. Besides actually putting some effort to fix whatever your problem is (because generally, everything can be fixed) you only need to take one look at GB pilot Brad Hall’s legs to see that training unilaterally can absolutely elicit size, strength and power gains.
GB pilot Brad Hall might disagree with you about unilateral exercises
Let’s Get On With It, Why's It So Good?
So, this exercise, like any, requires excellent technical form to be effective. Start with your body-weight and make sure you can move with speed and stability from the reverse lunge to the step up.
The exercise works all your spinal and core stabilisers as you hold your torso upright (not leaning forward/not leaning back).
It works all your lower body elements, hip, knee, ankle flexors and extensors whilst teaching the athlete to initiate movement velocity under load through a complex, unstable pattern.
Plus, it tricks you into doing massive volume! The lunge and step up counts as a single rep but really you’re doing two exercises. 10 reps is more like 20 reps!
So yeah, it’s the dog’s bollocks.
Using a step or bench that’s no higher than knee height (step height will depend on numerous factors/training phase etc but let’s assume you’re trying this for the first time and not go crazy).
Start with one leg raised onto the step. Find a stable balance point, then initiate the exercise.
To initiate the exercise: take a deep breath, brace your core, raise the flexed leg and drop it back into a reverse lunge. Be careful not to step back too far, if you don’t have the hip mobility you can end up with an extended lumbar position which we don’t want.
After a brief pause in the lunge, exhale on the effort, drive the hips forward and in one movement, plant the lunging foot onto the step and extend into a full step-up.
Make this contact with the step a forceful one (planting the foot flat with three points of contact, heel, big and little toe), but ensure that you arrive at the step ‘tall’. It’s tempting to let the hips drop as you make the effort to stand up but you must complete the movement ‘tall’.
A cue that really worked for me was the feeling of creating space in my hip joint throughout flexion and extension. It helps brace you and keep you tall.
You can either finish the exercise standing with both feet before stepping down, or do as the video shows and step straight down if you are confident and flexible enough.
Boost yo power
That’s the core of the movement. But it has huge creative potential.
1. Start with your bodyweight, when that moves optimally, progress to a kettlebell or dumbbell goblet squat. Move to the barbell when you’re ready to significantly up the load and you can cope with the flexibility demands.
2. You can deload the weight significantly and aim for maximum speed (be careful), where you’d not only think about being explosive in the lunge or step up portion but actually explosive and quick during the transition between them.
3. You can pause in the lunge position to help open your hips and improve your mobility.
4. When ready, you can seriously increase the weight and drop your repetitions to make better strength gains.
5. You can lengthen the lowering tempo, pause in certain ranges or do it all fast to stress the different phases of contraction of your muscles.
6. You can make the step-up a jumping step-up to help train explosiveness.
7. It’s a great contrast exercise movement. You could hit 4 sets of 3 heavy reps followed by bounding or short acceleration for example.
The reverse-lunge step-up world is your training oyster.