Single Leg Training For Firefighters

It is July now and I haven’t posted anything here on for a month; I haven’t even written anything to post.  I would love to say that I planned it to find myself or some bullshit like that but truthfully, I was just working, going on day trips with my wife and daughter and training.  I chose sleeping in over writing.  I chose yard work over writing.  I chose pretty much anything else over writing.  I was finding it exhausting to write; probably because I was writing blog posts that could be considered novels.  I can only imagine how exhausting it must have been to read them.  Which leads me to my main point: I’m going to try to shorten up the posts.  If something needs to be longer I’ll try to break it up into multiple posts and link them nicely.  My goal is to keep each blog post to a one-dump-read.  Two-dumps max.

With my goals in mind please start your poop-reading-timer now… that was a confession and profession of goals, not an intro.


The summer is here now and many people are realizing they should have started training months ago to get in the shape they expected to be in for beach season (if your preferred beach season state is “dad-bod” then great, you do you).  This article has nothing to do with getting into beach season shape (nothing directly).  What I just did there is basically the blog intro equivalent of click bait.

This is about LEG DAY.  More specifically – single-leg day.

Most people regard the back squat as the king of exercises.  It simultaneously strengthens a shit-ton of muscles.  It requires a ton of energy.  You need a fair amount of mobility to do it remotely properly.  I don’t do them.  If you’re one of those internet trolls go ahead and call me whatever name you can think of that goes along the lines of sissy.

The fact is that single-leg strength is a specific skill that cannot be developed through double leg training.  Mike Boyle said that.  I’ve read so much Boyle stuff over the past 10 years and always thought this guy is so smart and has so much evidence to support single-leg work over double leg squatting.  I never totally followed through with his teachings; probably because I’m too stubborn like most people and simply wanted to squat, no matter how little sense it made for me to do so.

So many firefighters focus only on the big three – bench press, squat and deadlift.  Not enough focus on movement quality and physical literacy outside of the big 3.  Boyle is a “functional-guy” and I really believe him so I guess I am too.

Instead of eliminating gluten only to find it actually wasn’t bad for you, this past year I went ahead with finally eliminating loaded bilateral squatting.  What I found was my legs grew, possibly faster than ever.  My low back pain was almost non-existent (this is huge in my opinion) and my job performance was not hindered, even in symmetrical-stance scenarios like lifting patients.  So why do I recommend focusing on single leg training, or at least incorporating more of it?

  1. More specific to task – Most of life and sport takes place on one leg. Things like stair climbing, transitioning from kneeling to standing, raising ladders, getting in and out of a rig and even walking with loads is all performed on, or in part on one leg.
  2. Less stress on the lower back – I come back to this point all the time. Less load is required to load a single leg to a greater extent than what is required in bilateral squatting.  This is especially beneficial for people with a history of low-back pain, which statistically is about 98% of people at some point in their life (<- Not a real stat, but close.  More like 85%) Many people don’t even have the required mobility to squat safely, let alone load it up heavy so if taking a leg out of the equation reduces the risk of injury it’s a no-brainer to me.
  3. Greater emphasis on pelvic stabilizers – Single-leg stance challenges muscles like the gluteus medius and quadratus lumborum more than bilateral squatting. This provides a protective effect but also doubles as a performance enhancer by strengthening the core from which you produce force.

You could sum that up as: more functional, more protective and safer.  Far less people will get hurt training on one leg than those who let their egos get the best of them in two-legged training.  By decreasing the risk of injury, fewer unplanned breaks are taken due to injury and one can become stronger.

For those who like math and are skeptical of how lighter loads on one leg can make you stronger check this out:

My current body weight is 205 pounds.  My lower leg weighs about 15 pounds.  Every thing above the knees in bilateral squatting counts as being lifted so in a bodyweight squat I am lifting 175 pounds on two legs à 87.5 pounds each leg.

In comparison, in a true single leg squat everything other than the lower leg on the stance leg is acting as the load.  This adds up to 190 pounds on a single leg.  Already at body weight we can see how much more effort is required to take a leg out of the equation.

Even a rear-foot-elevated split squat results in about 80% of the effort coming from the front leg so we can calculate that 152lbs are being lifted by the working leg at bodyweight.  This is before any external load.  If I were to hold 60 pound dumbbells while wearing my 55-pound vest then the total load lifted on each leg is about 292 pounds.  Compare that with bilateral squatting and I would have to load up 409 pounds on my back.

I don’t know the last time I successfully lifted that more than once, whereas I can load up the 175 pounds and comfortably bang out 8 to 10 reps of the RFESS.  This is known as the bilateral strength deficit.  It’s a fancy term for being stronger on one leg than two.  What I care about is that I can load up 175 pounds safely and get a better training effect than if I squatted over 400 pounds.

In the video below I am holding two 60-pound dumbbells, with the 55-pound vest.  I have a band looped around my shoulder and working leg which provides roughly 30-50 pounds of extra resistance at the top of the movement.  No injuries occurred from this to either my body or my pride.

In future posts I will outline just how to load and progress single leg training effectively as well as various strategies to incorporate it into your training.

2 Replies to “Single Leg Training For Firefighters”

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