Resistance training is one of the best methods of exercise to both build muscle as well as burn unwanted body fat.
Resistance training at least 2 days per week will also minimize the loss of muscle mass while trying to lose fat.
After all, muscle is metabolic so the more you have, the more fat you will burn. Not to mention it flat out makes your body more toned and attractive!
Bodyweight exercises are a great way to build muscular strength and also act as a sort of “bodyweight cardio” as a superior platform for fat loss.
Here are 6 single leg exercise progressions that you should start to incorporate into your strength building and/or fat loss workouts for optimal strength gains and fat burning:
1. Split Squat – Stand with your right leg about 12 inches in front of your left leg, as if in a “split” stance. Brace your core and lower your body down by bending your right leg until your thigh is parallel with the floor. Use your rear leg for balance and support. Push back up through the right leg until back in the original split stance. Complete all repetitions on the right side before switching to the left side.
2. Reverse Lunges – Stand with your feet shoulder with apart and your arms at your sides. Brace your core and take a big step back with your right leg and lower your left leg until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Drive up through the left leg to stand back up and return to starting position.
3. Step Ups – Stand in front of a bench or stool about 20” off the ground. Lift your right leg up and place your right foot completely on the bench. Step up onto the bench, straightening out your leg and standing tall. To return to starting position, slowly bend your right knee and and step back off the bench with your left leg until your left foot touches the ground. Keep your right foot on the bench. Without bouncing your left foot off the ground for momentum, step back up onto the bench with your right leg.
4. Forward Lunges – Stand with your feet shoulder with apart and your arms at your sides. Brace your core and take a big step forward with your right leg and bent at the knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Make sure your knee does not go further than your toes. If it does, then take a bigger step out as your lower leg should be almost perpendicular to the floor. Drive up through the right leg to stand back up and return to starting position.
5. Bulgarian Split Squat – Stand with your arms at your sides with your left leg forward and your right leg extended behind you with your toes on a chair. Brace your core and lower yourself down using your left leg until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Drive up through the left leg to stand back up and return to starting position.
6. Pistol Squat – **ADVANCED** – Stand with your feet a few inches apart and your hands at your side. (If you are doing this exercise for the first time, you may need to use a doorway to hold yourself in position while performing the exercise). Shift your bodyweight to the right leg and put your arms straight out for balance. Keeping your left leg straight lift it up and hold it out straight, about 6 inches off the ground. Bracing your core and using your arms for balance, slowly squat down using only your right leg until you are as low as you can go. Optimally, your thigh will be beyond parallel and your butt close to touching the floor. Stand back up by straightening out your right leg and returning to the starting position.
If you are a beginner, start by practicing exercise #1, the split squat, for 2 weeks before adding exercise #2, reverse lunges, to your workout routine.
Make sure to practice each additional exercise for a minimum of 2-4 weeks to achieve perfect form and increase your strength before progressing to the next exercise.
I do not recommend progressing through the entire list without mastering each exercise in succession first.
Exercise # 6, the pistol squat, is a highly advanced single leg bodyweight exercise and should not be attempted until all other exercises are practiced and mastered for at least 2-3 months.
Work through this list of single leg bodyweight exercises and I guarantee you will be taking huge strides at increasing your leg strength and annihilating your body fat!
Susan Campbell, MS, CSCS