Fitness Stuff We’re Currently Testing

Single Limb Training
Gabe trains single leg box squats as part of the tactical single-limb strength cycle the lab rats are working through.


By Charles Bausman

Single Limb Training… Can it Replace Traditional Squatting?

We’re currently discussing removing barbell back squats entirely from our programming. I haven’t done any heavy squatting in nearly a year with the exception of one front squat assessment. My knees feel better, and I can still front squat 1.65x of my body weight. Rob has pain in his ankle and knee, and may cut it out of his programming as well. What would we replace it with?


We don’t want to stop training lower body strength. The substitute we’re currently testing is unilateral strength movements.


Our tactical lab rats are in the middle of a six week cycle which emphasizes single limb, or unilateral, strength and power. Michael Boyle has been a proponent of this method of training for years, and has published the benefits on his blog.


Training a single limb has several advantages according to Boyle. First is training to increase injury prevention and durability. For our pro skiers, ACL tears are by far the most common season-ending injury. With single leg strength movements, the athlete can recognize and correct unilateral strength imbalances that may not have been cognizant of with traditional squatting or deadlifting.


Secondly, Boyle argues single leg training is more “functional.”  You walk, run, and ruck one leg at a time. Even Michael Jordan dunked from the free throw line by jumping off one leg. If weight and power is going to be distributed to one leg, shouldn’t we be training like that if functionality/transferability outside the gym is our goal?


Boyle also argues that a “bilateral deficit” exists with traditional squats and deadlifts. Simply stated, he argues that the sum of weight lifted with single leg exercises for both legs is greater than the weight lifted with both legs at the same time.


Switching to single limb strength training would complicate things for our programming. Our strength standards, MTI Relative Strength Assessment, and Operator Ugly all utilize the bilateral barbell lifts as a test for lower body strength. What would it mean for those strength assessments? From a functionality perspective, is carry a heavy ruck a more accurate measure of military and mountain specific strength?


Additionally, unilateral training is more challenging to determine 1 RM’s, which we use frequently for determining load in strength sessions. How could we duplicate our strength progressions?


We want to find the “sweet spot” in increasing lower body strength and durability safely, without overly complicating the programming. The results from our cycle so far have been promising, and may lead to removing the heavy barbell from your back.

Multi-Mode Endurance

Our endurance training has traditionally focused around unloaded running or rucking. We refer to this as single mode endurance training. Running and rucking are basic components of military fitness, and it’ll remain in our programming. However, can we train endurance without hitting the trail for a long run/ruck?


Some of our Lab Rats just finished “Luke,” we emphasized what we call “Multi-Mode Endurance”, and we just began a Mountain Base cycle which continues to refine the programming. We’re using a single piece of equipment (such as a 60lbs sand bag), 3-4 exercises, and work through each exercise for 5-10 minutes for a total of 60 minutes of constant, steady work. Below are two sample sessions.

We’re using a single piece of equipment (such as a 60lbs sand bag or barbell), 3-4 exercises, and work through each exercise for 5-10 minutes for a total of 60 minutes of constant, steady work. Below are two sample sessions.

2 Rounds – 60 Minutes Total on Running Clock
5 Minutes – Power Clean + Push Press @ 45/65# 5 Minutes – 20 Step Ups, 6x shuttle run
5 Minutes – Clean Grip Snatch @ 45/65# 5 Minutes – 20 Step Ups, 6x shuttle run
5 Minutes – Barbell Burpee @ 45/65# 5 Minutes – 20 Step Ups, 6x  shuttle run


6 Rounds – 60 Minutes Total on Running Clock. 3x Through …. 
10 Minutes of …. 
6x Sandbag Toss and Chase @ 40/60#
3x Sandbag Keg Lift @ 40/60#
6x Sandbag Get Up @ 40/60#                                     Then …. 
10 Minutes of …
20x Step Ups @ 15”
6x Shuttle Run


The speed of each repetition is relatively slow, pacing the reps through the duration of the training session. We’ve found this creates a respiratory rate that is very similar to a run at a moderate pace. We’d also like to measure the lab rats heart rate to see if the demands are similar.


Multi-mode training could be utilized in austere environments where you may not have space to run or ruck. It may also serve as a way to replace our “Stamina” cycles, which have not been designed into programming lately due to the amount of garbage reps which were involved in the old stamina sessions. We’re feeling our way through designing and implementing this theory… more to follow.


Central Nervous System (CNS) Tap Test

We all have bad training days. Overtraining, lack of sleep, or poor diet can affect our CNS and therefore, performance. In the past, we have used basic observation of the athlete to see how they’re feeling. Most of our lab rats have been training at MTI for years, so we can tell when they are dragging ass and should be sent home for the day to rest. However, can we quantify overtraining to truly determine when an athlete should or should not train?

Running coaches have utilized athlete’s resting heart rate to determine overtraining. If his or her resting heart rate increases, it is a sign of overtraining. This study published by researchers at the National Institute of Sport found that the correlation between a higher resting heart rate and decline in performance to be accurate.


Resting heart rate is best tested by looking at your heartrate once you wake up. This would mean our lab rats would have to do this on their own and record it. As a whole, our lab rats simply aren’t that smart, so we needed a way to test overtraining without resting heart rate. Our answer came from Dr. Kevin Serre, who works with Canadian SOF, and attended our Scrum last year. He had his athletes do a “tap test” on a phone app.


We borrowed Dr. Serre’s idea, and we’re testing our lab rats with a simple CNS finger tap test app to develop a baseline for each individual. The Finger-Tapping app is a 30 second test designed to measure psychomotor and CNS function. Commonly used with medical patients with diseases affecting neurological performance such as Alzheimer’s, we are testing to see if is predictive of physical performance.


The athlete completes three rounds of 10 second max finger taps onto their smartphone. The average is recorded. By completing this immediately before and after each training session, we are able to determine the baseline score for each athlete.


Once we have their baseline established, we can compare daily test results to determine whether they are overtraining and fatigued, or performing at normal levels. If the results are low, we may alter the training session or simply force them to recover. This can also be utilized for intentional overtraining and specifically timed de-load weeks, which has been shown to increase performance overall.


Comments, questions, concerns?

Want More? Click HERE for our Single Limb Strength Training Plan.


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