The Best Squat Variation for Athletes
You walk into the gym, you have 25 minutes to train. That’s it. You compete in a field sport, you MUST take advantage of the time you have and you must optimize your transfer of training. What is the best exercise to perform? What is the best squat and strength exercise you can perform in just 25 minutes? Is there one squat variation that will carry over more than any other? Absolutely!
Strength coaches need to constantly focus on what the actual goal is of their training program. What adaptations must the athlete have to perform best in their particular sport? Often times, it is very easy to get carried away with a weight on the bar, speed on the turf, the height of a jump, these are all quantifiable tasks that can stimulate massive adaptations. BUT, are those adaptations specific to big performances on a playing field?
One of the biggest key factors in stimulating physical adaptations is understanding what is needed and understanding what exercises transfer best to a greater population of athletes. Comprehending the fact that 90% of sports have a unilateral facet to their training and then analyzing the best way to improve the unilateral performance, can generate massive physical adaptations that will ultimately drive the athlete down an incredible path of greatness.
This is where we have created the best back squat variation on the planet, a variation that may even be greater than the traditional back squat!
Targeting Posterior Chain Neurologically
It is well understood that being “fast” and “athletic” requires a tremendous amount of posterior strength mobility. The key muscles to speed happen to be the glutes and hamstrings. Both groups interconnect and sweep together like a well-formed puzzle and when strength and coordination in these muscle groups is optimized, speed and coordination continue to follow.
In comes the Single Leg Squat. As shown above, the range is set and depending upon the training goal, the group targeted is adapted by altering the length of the stance from the front foot. Not only is this exercise incredibly for posterior chain development, but it also forces a heightened state of neurological activity.
Kids sit ALL day at school. They have poor posture, they shorten the mobility in their lower back and shorten the hamstrings from constant sitting. Over years of sitting at the school desk, their general mobility begins to wane and their neural drive struggles to attain what it did when the athlete was younger and more pliable.
This is where the neurological factor comes into play. As soon as an athlete puts their leg on the single-leg roller, their body immediately goes into a heightened state. The body recognizes a massive load on the back (or chest) and immediately awakens when they feel the individual goes into a single leg position! This DRASTICALLY improves the activation of the hamstring and glutes and can improve hip mobility in just 2-3 sets!
At Garage Strength, we have had athletes that are so tight that their hamstrings and calves spasm when they first hit their beginning reps of single-leg squats. This is due to their incredible tightness and inactive neural drive. Over the next few sets, they begin to wake up and within 1 month of training this incredible movement, they have locomotion that they have never achieved!
Unilateral Stability+TRUNK STABILITY= KEY to Speed
Speed, speed, speed. Everyone loves to use this term, everyone loves to throw it around and say they can develop “speed.” Rarely does anyone specify what speed actually is and rarely do we see quantifiable improvements from these speed marketers. Typically, we see images of speed ladders and individuals sitting in Normatec boots and for some reason, these athletes think they will get faster.
That isn’t the case.
By training unilateral stability, we see an immediate impact on trunk stability. Unilateral stability is the ability of an athlete to hold a unilateral position without losing an excessive amount of energy during their specific movement. Think of a shot putter or discus thrower. When they ground their dominant leg in the middle, they MUST be capable of holding these positions in a stable manner to ensure proper transfer of energy into a throw.
Does unilateral stability lead to trunk stability? 100%! Trunk stability is a hidden gem in sports performance. Through the study of biomechanics, we know that trunk stability factors into EVERY athletic movement. Remember the “do more core work” boom in strength training? When every strength coach believed that if their athletes just did more “core” they would compete better.
This is somewhat accurate but the transfer was never there in their isolated core movements. We know that trunk stability can improve:
1. The ability to cut and juke athletes in football.
2. Sprinting speed because the individual loses less energy swaying side to side, instead, the energy is held stable and locomotion is more effective.
3. Sprint cyclists that improve trunk stability dramatically improve their times on the bike due to less energy leakage.
4. Swimmers with greater trunk stability can hold the improved posture in the pool, leading to faster times.
5. Olympic weightlifters that have a stable trunk can hold a tighter jerk position.
6. Wrestlers with strong trunk stability tend to scramble more effectively and are able to use more rapid re-attacks in their offense. (Ever notice how rigid Jordan Burroughs trunk is on a double leg?!?)
7. In basketball, athletes that hold trunk stability properly are able to cut and defend much more effectively!
8. Ironically, we have even found that single-leg squats correlate to incredible pulling strength in weightlifters and powerlifters!
9. Triple jumpers and long jumpers with optimal trunk stability, jump further.
Trunk and unilateral stability are essentially the hidden gems of sports performance. When athletes are able to hold incredible tension in a split position, they are able to transfer this glute work and hamstring work directly to a competitive state!
Longer Stride = Mobility...Corrective Strength Movement
This brings us to another positive from single-leg squats. MOBILITY! What is mobility exactly? If we can define it precisely, it is gaining flexibility within a joint while also improving stability. This is the type of flexibility that transfers to the realm of athletics!
Because of the set up of single-leg squats, athletes will immediately discover that the movement is a corrective strength exercise. As noted previously with the “spasms” example, athletes will open up various muscle groups dependent upon their own tightness.
When the back leg is placed on the single-leg roller, the hamstring is lengthened, the glute is lengthened, the lower back is lengthened and the back leg also has a lengthened quad and hip girdle! Whatever area needs the most corrective work, that area will noticeably fatigue early and this enables the coach to understand fatigue from specific areas dependent upon movement symptoms.
At Garage Strength, the single-leg squat has been used to develop Olympians, NCAA champions, All-Americans, state champions and All-State athletes across 9 different sports. If this is an area where you struggle, feel free to dive deep into our training programs. Over the last decade, we have spent countless hours researching the results and impact this movement has on sports performance and the results simply speak for themselves. We have used them to incredible success with Power 5 football players, world championship-caliber Sprint Cyclists, throwers and wrestlers alike! Learn how to put this movement into your repertoire and get building toward big gains.
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