5 Single-Leg Strength Exercises
Single-leg exercises should be a part of every hockey player’s training program. They build strength and muscle, improve stability and give your spine a break from heavy loading.
However, many athletes use single-leg movements solely as accessory work in the 8- to 12-rep range. A better approach would be to vary your rep ranges and perform both lower and higher reps to alter the training stimulus. For pure single-leg strength gains, spend more time in the 1- to 5-rep range. The legs also respond well to higher rep “pump” work, so you’ll want to perform sets of 12-15, or even 20 reps, for muscle-building purposes.
Here are five great exercises that increase strength and add muscle to your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
1. Front Rack Split Squat
In our training system, we treat this lift like any other big barbell movement. Low reps, heavy weight, smooth technical execution.
Our best U18 players can split squat 315 or more for a single and hit 275 pounds for 5. Weighing around 170 to 175 pounds, they’re moving loads well over 1.5x their own body weight for five reps, and close to 2x body weight for one rep.
This goes to show that you can build impressive strength on single-leg movements rather than just mindlessly pump away with light dumbbells as so many hockey players do. If those 35-pounders are your true max today, that’s fine. We all have to start somewhere. Just know that the ceiling on single-leg strength is much higher than you might believe.
2. Front-Foot Elevated Split Squat
Another single-leg squat variation you can go heavy on. Elevating the front leg via a weight plate increases the range of motion and brings the glutes more into play. This movement stretches and strengthens your hip flexors, which are often weak and tight in the hockey population.
3. One-Leg DB Romanian Deadlift with Rack Hold
Moving to the backside of the legs, variations of dumbbell unilateral Romanian Deadlifts are excellent choices for hammering the hamstrings and glutes.
You can either perform these with two dumbbells, or just one dumbbell while your free hand is holding on to something sturdy for balance.
4. Band-Resisted One-Leg Valslide Leg Curl
You won’t be banging these out on your first day at the gym. Even though they may look easy, they’re anything but.
There’s a learning curve to Valslide Leg Curls and we have laid out the proper progression steps. Most athletes will be stuck to bilateral variations of this exercise for quite some time before they’re able to make the jump from two legs to one.
Once you’re strong enough to progress from bilateral to unilateral Leg Curls, you’ll immediately notice how effective this movement is. Your hamstrings will feel like they’re on fire. Adding a band to the equation further increases the challenge.
5. One-Leg Glute Bridge off Bench
While single-leg squats and RDLs target the butt muscles to some extent, you’ll also want to do some direct glute work to build that true hockey posterior.
Pause each rep for one second at the top while squeezing the glute hard on your working side. If you have never felt intense glute pumps in your life before, bang out a few sets of 20 reps on these—no extra weight needed. You’ll have trouble walking straight after that.
Although traditional barbell lifts build the foundation for lower body strength, hockey players shouldn’t neglect single-leg movements. From shooting off either foot to sprinting after a loose puck in the neutral zone, most actions in hockey take place on one leg. For that reason, it’s imperative that you develop exceptional unilateral strength for maximal on-ice performance.