vertical jump training

Unilateral Training

Written by Jack Woodrup for

Single leg, or unilateral training as it is sometimes called, is becoming increasingly popular with top level athletics coaches around the world, and as far as we can tell, for very good reason. In this article we will outline the pros and cons of unilateral training with specific reference to improving your vertical jump.

Pro Number 1: increased Impact of Bodyweight

When performing unilateral exercises your body weight plays a much greater role in the level of resistance. For example, try comparing the ease of performing an unweighted two legged squat with that of a pistol squat. The pistol squat it is significantly harder because of the way your loss of balance forces you to work extra hard to complete the movement.

The benefit to your vertical jump of performing an exercise such as the pistol squat therefore is that it is a more functional way to train.

Pro 2: increased Development of Functional Strength

This logically follows on from Pro 1. Double leg training doesn't necessarily translate into unilateral strength. For example there would be many athletes that can squat 2.0x or more their own body weight for reps but struggle to perform even one deep pistol squat.

Obviously if you are training in a more functional way, you will develop more functional strength. This is very much the case with unilateral training.

Pro 3: Greater Recruitment and Development of Stabilizers

One of the things we loveabout unilateral training is how it forces you to really work hard to maintain balance. This balancing work is done by the recruitment of extra stabilizer muscles.

The development of these muscles results in a stronger, more explosive, and more injury resistance athlete.

Cons 1: Not as Full Body Intensive

Single leg varieties of exercises are often very difficult to do due to the increased balance requirements, but they also generally don't tax your whole body as much as the two legged versions.

Consider how taxing a heavy session of deadlifts is on your body. It really works your posterior chain, quads, back, and arms thoroughly. A few heavy sets using high percentages of your 1RM really takes it out of you. Now compare this to the single leg versions. These tend to more isolate the glutes and hamstrings whilst reducing the interplay of the other muscle groups.

The same applies for the single leg versions of squats. Due to the need to compensate for your loss of balance and the consequent reduction in the amount of weight you can lift, they are nowhere near as demanding on your body as a full barbell back squat. Yet, when you perform a vertical jump, your whole body is involved. This is more in line with the manner of a barbell squat than the pistol squat.

How To Incorporate Single Leg Training Into Your Program

On the whole we feel the benefits of this type of training massively outweigh the drawbacks. That said we still absolutely loveour two legged varieties and the tremendous whole body training they provide. So how do we go about getting the best of both worlds?

Some of the techniques we like using are alternate single leg and double leg training days. For example, if you are still a beginner and trying to develop your base levels of strength (i.e. you are mostly just weight training with minimal plyometrics and jumping) you could do two heavy double leg days per week (performing traditional squats and deadlifts) with a lighter, more explosive single leg only day somewhere in between.

Other alternatives are to reduce the amount of double leg work you are doing and replace it with some singles. As an example, if you are training with 5 x 3 heavy squats and 5 x 3 heavy deadlifts you might consider doing 3 x 3 of each, and 2 x 5 single leg exercises.

The same sort of logic can be applied to your plyometrics. Depending on what sort of jumping you are trying to improve, you might perform one day of single leg jumps such as power skipping and the 123 jump, and on another day just use two legged jumps. Obviously if you are more of a two foot jumper you may want to focus more on double leg exercises, but if your sport requires you to run and jump then the one legged will be of great benefit to you.


The various methodologies used for training athletes has come a long way and vertical jump training is no different. Unilateral training will target your muscles in ways that double leg training simply doesn't. It can also be used to stimulate dramatic and rapid improvements in your vertical jump in ways that double legged training won't always be able to.

Unfortunately, many trainers still stick with the dogmatic approach of doing the same old exercises in the same old ways in order to maximize their vertical leaps. Whilst this may work for a while, training this way exclusively means you may be leaving some inches on the table.

For an amazing display of single leg power have a look at the last 30 seconds of this clip of noted trainer Steve Cotter. It will certainly give you something to aim for.

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