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After suffering a few injuries to my hamstrings and back this year, I sat down and re-evaluated my training program a little bit to see how I could improve it to optimize performance and prevent more injuries. One of the main things I had been neglecting was unilateral exercises, which are amazing to strengthen your core, your stabilizing muscles and your imbalances. I’ve always loved to lift heavy weights and choose exercises that look spectacular, but as I’m getting older and have stopped doing as many unilateral exercises outside the gym (sprints, American football, etc.) my body was starting to look bigger and stronger but I was not taking into consideration that my base also needed to become stronger and more stable. Here are my 4 favorite leg exercises to boost your strength, muscle development and fat loss in your lower body.

Single leg deadlifts

The single leg deadlifts not only develop hip strength but they also allow the muscles of the hips and legs to act as stabilizers. They’re great to work your butt (ladies!), your hamstrings and your lower back! When you pick up something from the floor or extend your back to jump, you’re not always completely symmetrical, so this exercise is definitely functional and translates to more every day strength, performance and safety.

Bulgarian Splitsquats

Everyone knows that squats are the king of all exercises to train your legs, but they’re not always right for everyone. If you suffer from back problems, are rehabbing from injuries or simply want to have an exercise that’s more sport specific, the Bulgarian splitsquats might be the right choice for you. By lifting your back foot up, you put all of the weight on the front leg, which has to work much harder to stabilize you by activating more muscles which will help develop your quads, glutes and hamstrings more. Since you won’t be going as heavy as normal squats, this exercise will be safer on your back while still working your core plenty!

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Single leg hip thrusts

If your goal is to build your glutes (for the beach or for sprinting), the single leg hip thrusts definitely has to be on your program. Since it teaches you to push in a horizontal plane using your glutes, it will help you in sprinting where you need to apply force horizontally as quickly as possible, but it will also isolate your glutes (especially when doing unilateral) which can be great to pre-fatigue the muscle before a bigger compound exercise like the squat (and really make your butt grow!)

Pistol squats

This is one of the best exercises if your goal is to show off on Instagram! They really are great for lower body development though and they don’t require any equipment. They’re amazing to strengthen your quads, glutes and hamstrings, but also force you to be very mobile and flexible in your ankles, knees and hip joints. If you can squat 500lbs but can’t do a pistol squat, that should be a red flag to start working on your stability, mobility and imbalances ASAP because it’s only a matter of time until you get injured!

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