Total Lower Body Training with Minimal Equipment

Takeaways:

  • Unilateral training requires the glutes and hamstrings to work more than bilateral work and overall has proven it causes equal if not, slightly more skeletal muscle damage than bilateral training
  • The maximum adaptive volume per week for legs can still be effectively achieved with minimal equipment
  • Do not let the lighter weights or lack of take away rationality, it is equally as effective

Benefits of Unilateral Training:

The benefits of unilateral loading (single leg) places heavy emphasis on the glutes and the hamstrings, and slightly less activation on the quadriceps compared to bilateral loading (double leg). Also, it is found that there is less systemic fatigue on the body so you can train the lower body more frequently to achieve a higher volume per week.

These are notably due to the reasons below:

1) The knees have to internally adduct while the hips have less external rotation, thus the stabilisers of the hips and knees need to work overtime (glutes, hamstrings, and vastus medialis)

2) A forward body lean creates a greater posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings) involvement

3) Due to lesser load use and lesser recruitment of the erectors (lower back muscles), less total fatigue is produced

I can go on, on why unilateral work trumps bilateral work for sports performance, hypertrophy (muscle growth) for the posterior chain, rehabilitation for the knee and the likes but for this article, I will stick to why unilateral training should be utilised not just during this lockdown period but post-lockdown period along with bilateral training.

In this study, it is shown that unilateral squats with the same external load per leg produces significantly greater peak vertical ground reaction forces than bilateral squats 

In another study, skeletal muscle and liver damage markers were equal in both exercise types.

Without further ado, I am going to list some exercises that works the muscles of the lower body unilaterally and bilaterally to form a complete program at the end of this blog post.


Pistol Squat:

Due to the full range of motion and the upright position of the body , the pistol squat works the entire lower body especially the glutes and quadriceps as it requires almost full flexion from the hip and knee, coupled with full extension, making the pistol squat so challenging yet effective.

Regressions:

Regressions for the Pistol Squat is dependent on whether it is due to a lack of mobility, balance, or strength. For this article, I am going to assume that it is a strength issue as mobility will be an entire different article altogether. The Bulgarian Squat is a great regression if lower body has a huge strength issue, while the bench pistol squat is a great exercise in between for the pistol squat and the Bulgarian Squat. To make the bench pistols more challenging, simply increase the range of motion by decreasing the height of the bench.


Deficit Shrimp Squat:

The deficit shrimp requires the initiation of the movement with a hip hinge as you descend till the knees touch the floor, this exercise places huge emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes due to the lengthening of these muscles especially on the eccentric (lowering portion) coupled with a slight lean forward with the angle of the torso.

Regressions:

Regressions for the shrimp squat again could be due to a stability or strength issue. The reverse lunge serves as both a stability and strength aid especially if the lower body is not conditioned. The reverse lunge also teaches the right mechanics by emphasizing hinging from the hips and leaning the bodyweight towards the front leg. The bloc shrimp squat is a great progression from the reverse lunges and makes the deficit shrimp squat easier due to the shorter range of motion.


Hard Run/Stair Run:

Benefits of sprints:

  1. Burn fat
  2. Builds the entire lower body musculature
  3. Build fast twitch fibers
  4. Improve cardio-respiratory function
  5. Improve insulin sensitivity

Has sprinting gotten your attention yet? If you have not done any hard runs or sprints both on land, hills, steps or the likes, you are really missing out on the benefits stated above. Not only are they known to build fast twitch muscle fibres, but they work the body in its entirety from every single fibre in the legs as well as the abdominals.

Regressions:

If in the event you have never done any form of sprint or it has been awhile, a regression is to start off with brisk walks, slowly proceeding to jogging, striding then sprints. Sprinting right off the bat is extremely dangerous. It not only requires a great deal of warm up but also your connective tissues have to be ready for it. By doing the regressions as mentioned above, you will slowly build up your connective tissues for the sprints.


Eccentric Nordic Curls and Reverse Nordic Curls:

Another way to effectively work muscles besides concentric action (shortening of muscles) is the opposite of it or the eccentric action (lengthening of muscles). The Eccentric Reverse Nordic works the rectus femoris (one of the four quadriceps) via loaded stretching. It is a very challenging exercise and extreme precaution must be taken. The Eccentric Nordic works the hamstrings similarly via loaded stretching and again, precaution must be taken.

Regressions:

Regressions for the above two exercises are straightforward. The deeper the range of motion, the harder it is, so start off with something you can handle before increasing the range of motion.


Determining volume:

Before we get into the program, we need to understand the concept of Minimal effective volume (MEV), Maximum adaptive volume (MAV) and Maximal recoverable volume (MRV) as popularized by Dr. Mike Israetel. As the name suggest, the (MEV) is the minimal volume one must attain in a week for adaptations to occur and the (MRV) is the maximum recoverable volume before diminishing returns. The (MAV) could be anything between the (MEV) and (MRV).

Below is the table from an excerpt of Dr Mike Israetel’s volume for Hypertrophy.

Cross referencing with James Kriger’s volume landmarks for hypertrophy, it seems on average, muscle growth tends to occur around 6-8 hard sets per muscle group per training session.

As there is no hard data that confines compound (exercises that crosses multiple joints) movements to how much it carries over to another muscle group, (example would be as much as a squat works the quads, it also works the glutes and hamstrings), we will take it as a set of squats is a working set for the glutes, hamstrings and quads.

With the principles being set, methods can be aplenty. To make things easy, we will take the (MAV) for each body part and see how we can string things together.


The Program

Pick a variation which corresponds to a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of 7-8 on each exercise.

For Day 1 of leg day, a sample routine can look like this:

A1 Weighted Pistol Squats        3 x 8/8 (2111)*, Rest 90-120s

B1 Deficit Shrimp Squats          3 x 8/8 (2111)*, Rest 90-120s

C1 Eccentric Reverse Nordic    3 x 6 (4111)*, Rest 30s

C2 Eccentric Nordic                   3 x 6 (4111)*, Rest 60s

Note:

*2111 means tempo of

First Number – 2 seconds on the eccentric or lengthening of the muscle

2nd Number – 1 second on the pause at the fully stretched position

3rd Number – 1 second on the concentric or shortening of the muscle

4th Number – 1 second on the pause at the fully shortened position

To progress, utilise the single progression method and increase 1 rep for A1, B1, C1 and C2. Increase 1-2 reps per session on each of this exercise. If that is difficult, increase the time under tension by adding 1s more on the eccentric portion of the lift.

For Day 2 of leg day, a sample routine can look like this:

A1 Sprints                    6 x 12s, Rest 120s

For progression, utilize the single progression method as well, by adding 1 set per session or increasing the duration by 2s.

In a week, the above training volume works out to be:

Not only do we fall in the recommended (MAV), each session also falls between the confines of 6-9 sets per muscle group per session.

Give this routine a shot, you will be surprised at not only how effective it is in building the lower body, but also how it helps with fat loss.

P.S: Be sure to check out our YouTube channel for Legs training to have even more ideas and advanced exercises with bodyweight only, coming out on the 27th May 2020.


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