10 Single Leg Exercises to Build Explosive Leg Strength

10 Single Leg Exercises to Build Explosive Leg Strength

Feb 15, 2024

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Build Explosive Leg Strength with These 10 Single Leg Exercises

Want to jump higher, sprint faster, and be more agile on your feet? Building explosive leg strength is key. By incorporating more single leg exercises into your leg workouts, you can develop the power and explosiveness needed to excel in sports.

Unlike standard two-legged movements, single leg exercises better isolate and strengthen each leg individually. This helps address any muscular imbalances or weaknesses between sides. What’s more, they force the working leg to fire harder to stabilize your body since it doesn’t have the other leg to rely on.

This increased unilateral leg effort taxes your muscles more, resulting in greater leg strength gains. It’s important to note that explosive leg power comes from your ability to apply maximum speed and velocity against resistance. So focusing on fast, powerful movements is key.

Below I break down the 10 best single leg exercises to build more explosive leg strength. I incorporate a mix of plyometrics and strength training moves. Pair these exercises with your usual leg routines to take your lower body development to new heights!

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What Does It Mean to Be Explosive?

Before jumping into the exercises, let’s briefly go over what it means to be explosive. Explosiveness refers to your ability to utilize strength quickly and with velocity.

It's about recruiting and firing as many muscle fibers as fast as possible to unleash maximum power. This rapid force output allows you to sprint at top speeds out of the blocks or jump high for a rebound.

Explosive leg power relies heavily on your nervous system's ability to rapidly stimulate the working muscles. So incorporating plyometric drills that train this is crucial.

But you must also build a strength base with your legs first to tap into. Think of explosiveness as applying your leg strength quickly. The stronger your legs are, the more force they can apply explosively.

Now let’s get to the top 10 single leg exercises to unleash your lower body’s full explosive potential!

1. Single-Leg Box Jump

Jumping exercises like box jumps are excellent for building explosive leg power. This single leg variation takes the effectiveness up a notch by isolating each leg.

  • Stand facing a box or platform, holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level. Shift all weight into your right leg.
  • Explosively jump up onto the box with this right leg, swinging arms up for momentum. Land softly on right foot.
  • Step down and immediately explode back up with the left leg to land on it.
  • Repeat, alternating lead legs for specified reps.

Really focus on jumping up with speed and power to optimize explosiveness. Time under tension is crucial. The quicker you can recruit those leg fibers to produce force, the more explosive strength you build.

Aim to minimize ground contact as you switch legs. This challenges stability and works the stretch-shortening cycle for increased leaping ability. Sink your arms and hips before exploding up for extra burst.

2. Split Squat Jump

This challenging move builds single leg stability and power simultaneously. By splitting one leg back, you target glutes and quads unilaterally. Jumping then trains explosiveness.

  • Assume a staggered stance with feet apart, one leg forward and one leg back. Descend into a lunge bending both knees to 90 degrees.
  • Explosively jump up, switching leg positions while airborne so opposite leg lands forward.
  • Absorb landing by immediately descending into a lunge with weight in front leg.
  • Explode back up, continuing to swap legs with each repetition.

As you jump, aggressively drive knees upwards while swinging arms for momentum. Move swiftly between jumps to keep tension and minimize ground contact.

Work on sticking landings smoothly to optimize positioning for next jump. Move with control. Complete all reps single side before switching.

3. Lateral Bounding

Lateral bounding boosts sideways explosiveness crucial for rapid changes of direction in field sports. This move taxes the outer hip and glutes through resistance as you push laterally.

  • Assume athletic stance with knees bent. Explosively bound to left by driving left knee and arm up, launching hips right.
  • Land softly on left foot, loading weight into that leg. Rapidly bound back to right with force, jumping laterally.
  • Repeat, pushing off aggressively with each leg when changing directions.

As you drive your leg and arm upward, envision yourself kneeing a ball. Move with deliberate aggression. Absorb landings with soft knees by sinking hips. Keep chest lifted and quick tempo between bounds.

Increase your horizontal explosiveness by covering more distance laterally with each leap. Aim to push hip extension and drive to your maximum with each jump.

4. Single-Leg Deadlift Reach

This challenging balance exercise torches glutes while honing stability and mobility. Adding the overhead reach works core and shoulder stability to enhance athletic prowess.

  • Balancing on right leg, hinge at hips, extend left leg back and sweep left arm overhead.
  • Squeeze right glute to return to tall posture, bringing left leg and arm in. Repeat other side.
  • Perform 8-10 reps per side. Advance by holding light weights in each hand overhead.

Focus on finding stability before slowly and with control tipping into the reach. If balancing on one leg with overhead extension is too challenging, perform standard single leg Romanian deadlifts without the reach.

Concentrate on keeping shoulders broad as you hinge to really isolate the glutes of your standing leg. Protect your low back by preventing it from rounding.

5. Skater Hops

Skater hops mimic the explosive side-to-side movement of speed skaters. Pushing forcefully laterally strengthens outer hips while enhancing agility and coordination.

  • Start with feet together. Jump laterally to right, landing lightly on right foot as you sweep left foot behind right ankle.
  • Immediately explode back to left, hopping lightly onto left foot, sweeping right foot behind left ankle.
  • Repeat rapidly, jumping side to side rhythmically like a speed skater.

As you hop to each side, focus on driving that lead leg into the ground with force to propel your next jump. Bend supporting knee upon landing to absorb impact.

Let your sweeping leg naturally react to the hop’s momentum to build coordination. Shift weight fully between legs with each hop. Start slow; speed up footwork as form improves.

6. Single-Leg Hip Thrust

This challenging hip extension move isolates the glutes through their fullest range of motion. This builds glute strength for more powerful horizontal propulsion.

  • Sit on ground with upper back against a bench. Extend one leg while planting foot of other leg firmly.
  • Drive through heel, lifting hips skyward until body forms straight line from shoulders to knee.
  • Squeeze glute and lower to start. Perform all reps then switch legs.

Push evenly through entire planted foot to maximize glute activation. Position shoulders and head against the bench to stabilize upper body.

Go slowly. Use only body weight before adding external load to ensure proper form. Master the movement pattern single leg before trying two legs simultaneously.

7. Single-Leg Squat Jump

This total lower body exercise combines a unilateral squat for stability with an explosive vertical jump to build reactive power.

  • Stand on one leg, core braced. Initiate squat by sending hips back while allowing front knee to track forward.
  • Descend until thigh is at least parallel with floor. Explode up vertically, jumping forcefully off one leg.
  • Land lightly back in squat before repeating. Perform reps then switch legs.

Use your non-squatting leg for balance by extending it in front of you. Push arms skyward during jump for momentum.

Stick landings smoothly to keep ankle, knee and hip aligned and injury free. Increase height of jumps as power improves. Ensure knee safety by not letting it collapse inward.

8. Single-Leg Kettlebell Swing

This explosive hip hinge variation strengthens your posterior chain for stronger sprints and vertical leaps. Using one leg challenges stability too.

  • Hold kettlebell or dumbbell with one hand. Softly hinge back at into RDL movement pattern.
  • Powerfully drive hips forward to stand tall, squeezing glutes as you swing.
  • Hinge back again, continuing rhythm. Complete reps then repeat other leg.

Generate power from the glutes and hamstrings by driving them hard through hips. Maintain neutral spine by keeping chest lifted as you hinge hips behind you.

Start light until movement pattern is nailed. Heavier loads build more explosive strength by recruiting extra muscle fibers. Ensure you don't swing load using your low back.

9. Lateral Jump Shuffle

Practice fast, explosive multi-directional movements with this challenging shuffle variation. Develops lateral speed and quickness imperative for racket sports or football.

  • Stand in athletic position. Forcefully jump laterally right, pushing explosively off outside of right foot.
  • Land lightly on right foot, immediately driving back left with equal speed and power.
  • Repeat, pushing explosively from leg to leg, keeping tempo fast.

As you jump side to side, think of aggressively ripping the ground away from you as you propel each jump. Move swiftly yet smoothly between lateral jumps.

Increase pace as coordination improves. This challenges the nervous system to stimulate legs faster. Absorb each landing softly by permitting knees to bend before exploding into next jump.

10. Single-Leg Bench Get-Up

This total body stability exercise builds leg strength while enhancing shoulder and core control. By training unilateral leg power in a split stance, lateral power improves.

  • Assume split stance with right foot forward, left leg back on bench/box. Right knee bent, left extended.
  • Hold weight plate overhead with arms straight, core braced.
  • Stand up powerfully onto right leg, bringing left leg forward to meet right in standing.
  • Slowly lower back down into split stance without touching left knee. Repeat then switch sides.

The get-up challenges total body coordination, mobility, and stability strength. Go lighter to solidify form. Execute it slowly initially before trying to explode upward.

Program Single Leg Exercises Effectively

Be strategic with how you program these unilateral moves. Since they tax the body more by isolating legs, leave ample recovery between training splits that emphasize them.

I recommend sticking to 2-3 unilateral leg exercises per workout. Combine them with bilateral moves like squats, deadlifts, and lunges for balanced, athletic legs.

The key is blending stability, strength, and power exercises that train legs through full ranges of motion. This builds the well-rounded lower body prowess needed to unleash your fastest, most explosive capacity.

Prioritize proper form always - especially when performing plyometrics. Move with control. Poor mechanics heighten injury risk. While explosive jumps and hops build reactiveness, don't sacrifice safety for speed.

Commit to strength and conditioning focused specifically on fabricating more explosive leg power. In time, you’ll be jumping higher, running faster, and changing direction on a dime like never before!

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FAQ: Building Explosive Leg Strength

What are explosive leg exercises?

Explosive leg exercises train your legs to apply force powerfully and rapidly. They help build leg strength focused on speed, power and quickness.

Exercises like jumping lunges, depth jumps and box jumps that incorporate a plyometric leaping element train explosive power best. Other unilateral moves like single leg deadlifts also enhance explosiveness by isolating each leg.

Which lower body exercise is best for explosiveness?

Sprinting is a single leg movement, meaning it inherently requires strength in each leg individually to perform at maximum speeds. So isolated explosive leg exercises translate well to faster sprinting. The back leg plays a key role, violently extending the hips to propel each stride.

Exercises like lateral bounds, skater hops, and split squat jumps build this back leg drive strength through similar powerful single leg movement patterns. They also improve lateral agility and reactivity crucial for changing directions.

Should I use heavier or lighter weights for explosive training?

When first learning explosive lifts, use only bodyweight to solidify proper mechanics and movement patterns. Once mastered, progress to lighter weights using resistance bands, cable machines or dumbbells.

The goal is moving the external load as rapidly as possible to help you build velocity-based power. Heavier loads want to build maximal strength, which is also important to become more explosive.

How should I set up explosive leg exercises?

Strength exercises for the lower body like squats, trap bar deadlifts and hip thrusts build the muscular base needed to apply force explosively. Do them earlier in workouts before fatiguing muscles with plyos.

When performing the explosive drills themselves, position your body for success. "Raise your hips and shoulders" into an athletic stance. Load the quads and glutes by "violently extend your hips" so they’re primed to unleash maximum power.

What should I avoid when training explosively?

While jumping higher and sprinting faster may energize your ego, risk of injury spikes if you don't pay attention. Avoid overreaching beyond your capability. Ensure you possess adequate mobility in ankles, knees and hips for explosive patterns through full ranges of motion.

Landings must be carefully controlled, avoiding uncontrolled crashes into the ground. Stabilize these landings with soft knees and ankles. Start with lower intensity plyos, progressively increasing height and impact forces over time as tissue tolerates.

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Exercise Expert Advice

Perfecting Your Lunge Technique

When performing any variation of the lunge, proper lunge position is imperative, both for maximizing benefits and avoiding injury. Start from upright posture, core braced, holding dumbbells or a barbell across shoulders if adding load. Step forward placing one foot far enough that your front shin stays vertical when you descend.

Bend both knees to drop until rear knee nearly grazes the floor and front thigh is parallel to ground. Ensure your front knee tracks over toe, not crumbling inward. Many make the mistake of taking too narrow a step, causing that front knee to collapse. Remember to keep your core engaged and shoulders back throughout the movement.

Drive through your entire front foot, engaging the quadriceps to return to standing. Repeat on both sides for specified reps before adding load. Envision yourself pushing away from the floor powerfully with each lunge rep to build explosiveness.

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Sprinting Your Way to More Explosive Legs

Sprinting enhances sports performance unlike any other training modality. The rapid stride turnover taxes muscles metabolically while also building essential speed and reactivity. Each ground contact must violently extend the hip to propel yourself forward using that one foot and leg.

This makes sprinting intrinsically a unilateral leg exercise, requiring single leg strength and stability to excel. The increased mobility and ankle stiffness needed challenges stability and connects force output directly to performance.

While straight ahead linear sprints build foundational mechanics and leg drive, add lateral shuffles, crossovers, and backpedals to translate speed to sport. Time both short and longer distance intervals. As you accelerate out of the blocks, envision yourself exploding away from the track with each powerful stride.

Sprinting trains your fast twitch muscle fibers and nervous system to fire faster for improved power and quickness. So incorporate some sprint work into leg days to become more explosive and reactive on your feet.

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PS: Make sure you check out the rest of our Legs Training Guides:

Leg Press Machine Exercise | Ultimate Leg Press Workout Guide

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Easy Wall Exercises For Legs | Wall Workout

8 Best Hack Squat Alternatives That Target Your Quads

Best 10 TRX Leg Exercises For Lower Body | TRX Leg Workout

Best 18 Calisthenics Leg Exercises | Calisthenics Leg Workout

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9 Compound Leg Exercises | Best Compound Exercises For Lower Body