Single leg, also known as uni-lateral, hinge work is one of the most beneficial movements that we have available to us in the gym. It also happens to be the most technically difficult to perform well. In this article I will discuss the why and how you can add this into your training programme along with 5 exercise variations you can use to move through this movement pattern.
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These should be a part of any well written programme for an individual attempting to improve their health through resistance training. Training for health and wellbeing should be made up of all the key movement patterns within strength training, with the hinge being one of these. The hinge movement pattern will help build strength in the hamstrings, glutes and lower back. All of which are essential to a healthy active lifestyle. Adding a single leg element to this will help build hip stability and control.
Athletes can hugely benefit from single leg hinge work and should make sure they are a part of their athletic preparation if their hinging skills are good enough. The unilateral hinge will improve the muscle mass and strength of the hamstrings, which can be highly beneficial for speed development. It will also foster a stable hip, helping build strength in the muscles of the glutes while also providing a certain level of injury mitigation in the hip.
For those who are trying to either improve their strength for powerlifting meets, or improve their aesthetics for bodybuilding, these single leg hinge exercises are excellent accessory work to your main or primary exercises. They can be a brilliant way to add some extra fatigue to the hamstring without adding any full body fatigue.
Individuals with little training experience can take a while to successfully learn the hinge movement pattern. This requires patience and a lot of practice, but once the bi-lateral hinge is dialled in, it is time to work on the uni-later (single leg) hinge work. This is far more complex and challenging. The single leg hinge should only be attempted when the bi-lateral hinge is very competent. I have made the mistake many times with clients when I feel like they are ready for the uni-lateral hinge, yet it is still far to complex for them. Try and make sure the hinge feels natural, that the arch in the lower back can be easily maintained before you attempt a single leg hinge exercise.
When first attempting the single leg hinge exercise variation, be thoughtful with your exercise selection. There are many different gradations of difficulty when it comes to the single leg hinge movement category. Exercises that are done with a foot supporting them, in the kickstand position, will be the easiest, as they are the most stable. Next it will be exercises that allow you to balance using a wall, which will require more stability from the hips. Finally, the most challenging variations will provide no external balance whilst performing the single leg hinge. Here is a representation of these three different gradations of difficulty with exercises from the list.
The most common technical fault in the single leg hinge is the hips and shoulders not remaining in line (square). As the weight is being placed onto one leg, it can be easy to lift the hip that is not performing the work. This is not optimal and should be avoided.
These make great secondary exercises, by this I mean exercises which are positioned after a primary exercise that is slightly more fatiguing. This could a deadlift, back squat, bench press or any other primary exercise from a movement category (this should make sense in your weekly block). Then these styles of secondary exercises can be performed after. Yes, these are challenging exercises but they will be no where near as taxing as the primaries listed above. Some people like doing single leg hinge work after deadlifting as the primary, I preffer to do it fresh after the bench press, this is a case of preference and training age (beginners will want to avoid doing to much of one movement category in one session)
Hinging work targets the hamstring, glutes and lower back. This is especially true of single leg hinge work which isolates the muscles worked, very different from the bi-lateral hinging exercises like the deadlift which are much more full body exercises. Working the hamstrings between 8-15 sets per week with an undulating cycle will likely create the strength or hypertrophy adaptation you are trying to acheive. This number will change based on a number of factors like genetics and training age, so make sure you find a volume which is appropriate for you.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.