Split squats and reverse lunges are commonly performed with an athlete holding one dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand. Naturally, this allows for an even distribution of weight on each side to help with balance and stability.
After that, we typically have our athletes use a variety of other holds, loading patterns and positions such as: Goblet, Front Rack, 1-Arm Front Rack or 1-Arm Offset. But, what about loading on the same side as the working leg, otherwise known as ‘ipsilateral loading’? Why don’t we see this loading variation prescribed often enough?
For years, I’ve avoided loading lower body exercises in an ipsilateral (same side) format and I’m not even sure why. What’s more important is that you should give it a try, especially with split squats and reverse lunges.
There’s just a different level of challenge that the ipsilateral loading scheme provides that’s completely different than any of the other ones mentioned. For starters, ipsilateral loading provides an additional core challenge, a novel loading stimulus different from what most athletes are used to, and lastly, it forces the front leg to take lead.
Before we dive into the 3 key reasons why you should start using ipsilateral loading with your split squats and reverse lunges, let’s take a look at the exercise progressions.
You’ll want to start with the easier option, which is the DB Ipsilateral Split Squat:
Notice how both feet are stationary and remain in contact with the ground the entire time.
Next up, once you’re ready to move on, we can increase the balance and stability challenge through the more dynamic version, otherwise known as the DB Ipsilateral Reverse Lunge:
ADDITIONAL CORE CHALLENGE
When holding a weight (one dumbbell or kettlebell) on the same side of the foot that remains planted in front (i.e., the working leg), this promotes an additional challenge to the core muscles.
Ultimately, that weight is attempting to lower your torso to the ground. Your job is to fight hard, stabilize your spine, engage your core muscles and maintain an upright posture.
The weight is applying force laterally, and to a lesser extent, rotationally. This challenges the core both in an anti-side bend (anti-lateral flexion) and anti-rotation fashion.
It never hurts to layer on an additional core challenge when training your lower body for strength!
NOVEL LOADING STIMULUS
As discussed in the opening section, it’s not typical to load in an ipsilateral fashion. More often than not, coaches have their athletes load in one of the following formats:
- Goblet = Holding one dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands tight to the chest (directly under the chin)
- Front Rack = Holding one kettlebell in each hand tight to the front of each shoulder (directly on either side of the chin)
- 1-Arm Front Rack = Holding one kettlebell in one hand tight to the front of the shoulder (directly on one side of the chin)
- 1-Arm Offset = Holding one dumbbell or kettlebell on the opposite side of the foot that remains planted in front, which is the working leg (this is known as ‘contralateral loading’)
When we introduce a slight change in the position of the weight to an ipsilateral loading orientation, this creates a novel stimulus for the athlete. Any time we have a novel stimulus, it becomes something new for the athlete, which also increases the overall challenge of the exercise.
If the goal is to keep training fun and interactive, slight changes like these can make a big difference in terms of training results.
FORCES FRONT LEG TO TAKE THE LEAD
In split squats and reverse lunges, the front leg naturally takes the lead when it comes to loading.
I like to refer to this as the front leg (“Batman”) playing a lead role while the back leg (“Robin”) plays an assisting role.
I’m not really one for percentages, but if we have to break it down, I’d say that the front leg is taking on roughly 75-80% of the overall load while the back leg takes on roughly 20-25% of the overall load.
Now, when we load ipsilaterally, I believe that this changes a bit in favor of adding more of the overall load onto the front leg. This is purely due to the fact that the one weight being held is on that side, which places an emphasis on the muscles in that leg to work a bit harder.
In that light, I’d say the percentages shift a bit to 80-85% on the front leg and 15-20% on the back leg. Again, these aren’t exact measurements, but it does give us a good idea of how physics can be at play with simple position changes in load.
All in all, I’m a big fan of ipsilateral split squats and reverse lunges since they provide an additional core challenge, a novel loading stimulus and an ability for the front leg to take on even more of a lead. Give these a shot in your next training session, toss up a post or story on Instagram to show off your awesome work and be sure to tag @matthewibrahim_ and @truecoach.co
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