If you haven't read this article, Dirty Secrets of the Single Leg Training Craze, don't bother to continue. I can promise that the things I'm about to say won't make much sense. First off, let's try to set the parameters of the discussion.
No real strength coach, me included, is telling anyone to do only single leg exercises all the time. Therefore the premise of the entire article changes.
There really are no “dirty secrets”.
What I have said and written is that for higher level athletes, we have found unilateral knee dominant movements to be not only safer but more effective. We continue to do bilateral power exercises ( Olympic lifts and variations) as well as both unilateral and bilateral plyometrics.
In addition, with healthy athletes we continue to use Trap Bar or Hex Bar Deadlifts. So the reality is that there really is no single leg craze, only a steady progression of good empirical thought reinforced by what we now understand about functional anatomy.
With that clarified, lets dig into the article a bit. Carl declares himself to be a man without an agenda yet the article reeks of agenda. Nothing generates "Likes" and views like telling a bunch of people what they want to hear. The man who thinks he is right loves affirmation.
In fact, opinionated pieces that profess to be not opinionated are perfect for the “see I was right all along crowd”. Readers think “this guy (who has declared that he doesn't have an opinion) agrees with my opinion”. The good part about Carl's article is that it won't change the minds of those of us who really understand the issue and see through the smoke, mirrors, topic changes and deliberate confusion.
What an article like this will do is reaffirm for the dinosaurs that they have a few more years until extinction. Much like a 3 Card Monte wizard, Carl plays quickly, mixing facts and opinions and never clearly distinguishing when switching to one from another. He seems to express opinions as facts with no mention of opinion.
The Gloves are Off
Lets try to deal with some of the “unbiased” statements, one at a time.
Carl begins with the dichotomy of “the gloves being off” as he prepares to offer “a fair and balanced overview”.
This is paragraphs one and two. Either the gloves are off (fight analogy) or, the article is going to be fair and balanced? Can you take the gloves off and write a fair and balanced article? Clearly, at least from my perspective the article is neither fair, nor balanced? The next five to six paragraphs discuss agendas, smoke screens and product sales? Very fair and balanced. As you follow the first few agenda-less, unbiased, paragraphs, you are given the impression that people like me gave up on bilateral squats because we have an agenda. We hide behind smoke screens in order to sell products?
My only agenda is attempting to help teams win and to have healthy athletes. In the interest of full disclosure, I sell information products but, trust me, they do not represent a majority of my income. Also, I do not sell equipment. I do work for an equipment company (I'm a speaker for Perform Better) but, I have not ever been involved in equipment sales as a profession.
Hands-on session at the Perform Better Summit in Munich
Carl goes on to say “so far nothing has surfaced in any training facility that screams that moving toward split squatting is a game changer.”
I would beg to differ.
It is a game changer in my facility. Back pain has nearly disappeared, vertical jumps have climbed, and most importantly championships have been won at the collegiate, professional and Olympic level.
Ask Devan McConnell at UMass Lowell if he thinks single leg work has been a game changer.
Ask Cameron Josse at DeFranco's.
In fact, ask any coach who has really committed to single work if it has been a game changer.
Gurus and Outcomes
Carl goes on to state that “most proponents of single leg training are the functional training gurus who use the visual appearance of exercises as their hallmarks to success rather than the outcomes of entire training systems”.
As the author of New Functional Training for Sports, I might think that this is an un-opinionated and unbiased reference to me.
If in fact it is, I can again say that we are not relying on the visual appearances of the exercises but instead on the results of the exercises, both in what they are doing and, what they are not doing. Teams are winning and athletes are healthy.
That is not appearance. We don't appear to be healthy and, we don't appear to be winning.
We are healthy and we are winning. I have the stats to establish both.
Overused and Oversimplified
Next Carl states that “saying that 'because we run one foot at a time' is the most overused and oversimplified argument as to why an exercise is a superior or better option."
Sorry. Overused? Maybe yes.
Entirely accurate? Absolutely.
This is the science of functional anatomy.
The musculature behaves differently in unilateral stance. The entire patterns are different. This is akin to telling the track coach, that bounding and hopping are overused and oversimplified. Why not just do lots of double leg jumps and then go do the event?
A Path to Overuse
The next opinion is “doesn't adding more exercises that load one leg cut a path to overuse syndromes and pattern overload the same gurus warn us about?”
The answer to that would be yes if the gurus were saying that unilateral exercises decreased loading on the hips or knees.
However, those I know that espouse unilateral training do so to avoid back issues.
So, the agendas and smoke screens seem to emanate from the author vs the subjects.
Carl then moves into some really confusing talk about bilateral deficit.
The reality is that the bilateral deficit exists and, that it explains what we see in unilateral exercises.
We can use heavier loads because the body is neurologically wired to work unilaterally, not bilaterally.
I've already written about Bilateral Deficit here- Unilateral Training and the Bilateral Deficit
Back Squat and Split Squats
In this section Carl goes on again to restate that switching to unilateral knee dominant training has not proven to be effective.
He states (for the second time) that “so far nothing has surfaced in any training facility that screams that moving toward split squatting is a game changer. I've previously cited the study on academy rugby athletes that compared squats to split squats where the data showed similar results, not dramatically different results.”
Again Carl ignores those of us that have seen split squatting as a game changer.
But, most importantly, Carl ignores the reason that we switched. The motivation to move toward unilateral knee dominant work was not the performance benefit as much as the injury prevention benefits. The rugby study cited actually supports my/ our position as the study showed that unilateral training and bilateral training had equal benefit.
What Carl neglects to mention are quotes like this from none other than Frans Bosch (a big unilateral proponent).
Bosch states' “not only is the value of deep squats questionable, but so is the claim that double leg squats are particularly suitable for improving strength in the legs. Strength in the back muscles may be the limiting factor, rather than strength in the legs, and so double leg squats may in fact be a maximal strength exercise for the back muscles”
This is very much in line with my “transducer” argument. I stated a few years ago that the back was a bad transducer. The back is not an effective vehicle to get force from two legs to a bar held on the back.
That is just reality.
The back becomes the limiting factor in squatting. That is not opinion, that is fact.
You can watch 100's of failed squats and you will rarely see the legs give out while the torso remains solid and erect.
I have competed in powerlifting and have watched literally thousands (probably millions) of squats and failure occurs the vast majority of the time via a rapid lumbar flexion.
This article seems to be a deliberate attempt to pander to the bilateral audience.
All I could think of as I read this was the Henry Ford quote “if I had listened to everyone else I would have invented a faster horse”.