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Plateau Buster: The Squat

Hit a wall in your leg development? Increase strength and growth with unilateral training.

All body parts hit roadblocks and, as powerful as your legs are, they too are susceptible to frustrating plateaus. At times, it can seem like an eternity before you get yourself to the next level. If you’re currently experiencing a digression in your leg strength or size, it’s about time to try something new. We asked Ben Bruno, a strength coach in North Andover, MA, about one of his strategies to revamp a leg routine.

Unilateral Training

Everyone knows the traditional squat is performed bilaterally, or with both legs. Unilateral training is the use of a single side or single leg at a time. In practice, unilateral training will “pre-exhaust,” or fatigue, each single leg and remove any excessive strain on the spine and lower back. “You can go heavier on the single leg work because your legs aren't tired. And once your legs are pre-exhausted from the single leg work, you do your bilateral squatting,” Bruno says. When moving on to the traditional, bilateral squat, “it won’t take as much weight to fry your legs."

Training Prescription

Start out at the leg press station. Perform a set of 12 repetitions with your right leg, then immediately perform a set of 12 repetitions with your left leg. Perform three to four total sets on each leg with 60 seconds rest in between sets.

Upon completion of the leg press exercises, head over to the squat rack and perform three sets to failure with 60 seconds rest in between. You will notice that the amount of weight you can squat is much less than normal due to the pre-exhaustion from the leg press, but you're still blasting every muscle fiber to pieces. “Bilateral work is good for a finisher because you can push through fatigue without worrying about stability. You also completely torch your legs without hurting your back,” Bruno explains.

Use the unilateral pre-exhaustion method on your legs for two to three weeks. In the following weeks you'll be sure to see new growth and an increase in overall strength.

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