A Home Workout for Single Leg Strength and Jump Height

By on November 16, 2018

Leg training on the whole is significantly less varied and creative than upper body training among the gym going population. Most  about 100 ways to train biceps but when it comes to your entire lower body, most people stick with squats, leg press, lunges, and some resistance machines.

Not only is this boring, but it also fails to challenge the legs in all the ways they can be used. In particular, it completely ignores the importance of single leg strength.

The Importance of Single Leg Strength

Vertical jump height might be one of the main tests of athletic prowess, but how often do you actually use it in any kind of sport or competition? More often than not, we’re taking running jumps. That in turn means that we launch off of one leg. Likewise when running, we spend very little time on two legs.

And sure, you’ll improve both these things by squatting – but only to a point. Imbalances will inevitably appear meaning that you’ll have greater thrust from one leg than the other (my right leg was recently actually significantly heavier than my left!). You might also find that it’s harder to balance on one leg and therefore to exert maximum force without practice.

jump height training

Not only that, but the neural drive that generates power from a single leg is actually different from the way it engages the legs bilaterally. We see this in what is referred to as the ‘bilateral deficit’ (study) – the observation that we can generate more than 50% of our max bilateral strength from each single leg. That means, for example, that you might be able to leg press 100KG with both legs and 60KG with either leg on its own.

Suffice to say that taking the time to train your legs individually is an effective way to increase your explosive power, your running speed, your jump height, and your strength with either one or both of your legs. You’ll improve your stability too, and significantly decrease your likelihood of subsequent injury (just make sure to ease yourself into the routine I’m about to share and listen to your body).

And what’s handy is that when we train each leg individually, the challenge ramps up significantly. This makes it easier to create challenging leg workouts that we can perform at home without a power rack or heavy barbell. It also makes the training more fun and enjoyable that just squats all the time.

With all that in mind, here is a simple home routine you can use to build single leg strength from home.

A Home Leg Workout for Single Leg Strength

5 Minutes of Foam Rolling: A little foam rolling is a great way to loosen up your lower body and increase range of motion, without using static stretches that can potentially lead to injury.

Pistol Squats to Assisted Pistol Squats: The first movement is going to be the classic single leg move: the pistol squat. This requires you to perform an air squat on one leg, dropping all the way down while keeping your heel flat on the floor. This is a test of flexibility and mobility as much as strength and translates perfectly to jump height and explosiveness.

On its own this is a tough workout, but you’re likely to find you fail due to a lack of balance rather than fatigue in any one muscle group. To counteract this limitation, we’re going to perform assisted pistol squats as part of a mechanical drop set. To do this, you’ll place a hand on a wall, or hold onto a rope, and use that to assist you through the movements.

Assisted pistol squats

Perform as many as you can on one leg then switch immediately to assisted pistol squats – again to failure. Then do the same on the other leg. Pause for 1 minute, then perform both sides twice more for a total of three sets.

Note that if you can’t do a pistol squat, you can one-legged squat on the ball of your foot, or you can start assisting yourself right from the beginning. If it’s too easy on the other hand, then you can perform this weighted by holding a kettlebell for instance.

Jumping Squats to Squat Walk: Start out by performing squat jumps. This means squatting down ATG and then just launching yourself up in the air as high as you can. You’re using both legs at once in this case, but by generating as much explosive force as possible, you’re utilizing the fast twitch fiber just as though you were squatting a very heavy weight (the difference being that the max strength isn’t constant throughout the full range of motion).

As soon as you’ve performed 10 of these, you’re going to then perform squat walks. That means walking up and down the garden/gym in a squat position so that you never raise your buttocks more than a few inches from the floor. Again, this is a mechanical drop set so you’re going straight into this with no time to rest in between. Stop once the burn makes it hard to carry on moving, or after 100 meters. Pause for 1 minute, then perform this routine again.

Squat walks for single leg strength

Optional

This one requires a kettlebell or barbell, so it’s optional. It’s great if you can add it in though. You can also perform this with bodyweight alone, if you’re reaching fatigue at this point.

Side Squats: With either a medium barbell on your shoulders, or a kettlebell in goblet position, you’re going to step out to the side and drop down on the outside leg, then step out the other way. Perform 10 on either side, making sure the weight is heavy enough that this almost takes you to failure. Perform 2 sets.

side squats

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Lunge Walking: Because you probably haven’t had your fill of walking around looking like an idiot just yet, you’re now going to perform lunge walks. Step forward into a lunge and then drop down loooow. Then step through and lunge on the next leg. Perform laps until the burn builds up or for a maximum of 1.5 minutes. Pause for a minute and perform again for 2 sets.

One Legged Bodyweight Calf Raises: Calf raises are performed with your toes on the edge of a step or similar. Drop your heel as low as it will go, and then raise yourself up with your foot pointed. Perform around 10-20 and if it’s too easy, consider grabbing a weight if available to increase the difficulty. You can also perform a drop set of sorts by switching straight to two legged calf raises once you’re finished. Perform 3 sets on either side with a 30 second break in between.

Calf Jumps: End on calf jumps: launching yourself up from the ground with your knees entirely straight so that it is purely your calves generating the force. One long-ish set of 30. This is great for improving jump height as you’re basically isolating one portion of the kinetic chain.

Tabata Tuck Jumps: Finally, we’re going to throw in a Tabata tuck-jump finisher. That means you’re performing tuck jumps at max intensity for 20 seconds, then resting for 10 seconds, and repeating. You do this for a total of 8 rounds, which should take 4 minutes. At this point your legs should be shaking, you should be dripping with sweat, and you’ll have challenged your lower body in a whole new way.

jump squats tuck jumps

Stretching: To cool off you’re going to stretch. Not only will this help you to avoid burn the next day (which is on a whole different level on legs day), but it will also improve your jump height by reducing the resistance that your own muscle tightness presents. The most important stretch of all is to hold your foot behind your buttocks and pull so that you feel the stretch in the quads. You’ll also be stretching the tibialis anterior – the muscle on the front of the shin that fights against the foot as it exerts power and forces you upward.

stretching legs

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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