Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
When it comes to improving performance and muscle function, mastering foundational movement patterns is key. Although I like to rely on eccentric isometric squats, hinges, lunges, presses, and pulls as well as core stabilization drills, I also like to periodically modify these patterns and take advantage of contralateral (opposite sides of the body) hip activation patterns that involve reciprocal (opposing) muscle groups. This can be applied to most foundational movements by simply including contralateral hip positions (i.e. hip flexion and extension).
For instance, when we run, sprint, or even walk, we repeat a series of contractions that involve contralateral muscle activation of reciprocal muscle groups in opposing limbs. Essentially, one hip is moving into hip flexion while the other is simultaneously moving into hip extension. Additionally, we often involve contralateral arm positions where one arm is responsible for driving one hip and the other arm is responsible for the other hip. Also known as the cross-crawl movement effect, this has tremendous benefit not only for athletic performance and sprinting but also for improving muscle function from head to toe. In fact, we’re seeing a large surge in contralateral movements that involve the oblique sling – a chain of muscles in the body responsible for transferring load or force across multiple joints particularly from the upper torso to the lower body and vice versa as the forces are transmitted through the core musculature.
Although there are many muscles groups involved from head to toe, and it can vary depending on whether we’re relying more on the posterior or the anterior oblique sling, these slings rely directly and indirectly on the upper body (shoulders, pectoral, and lats), on one side of the body, working with the contralateral or opposite hip. As a result, these forces cross through the core and other surrounding muscles that are responsible for stabilizing the pelvis and producing proper alignment throughout the lumbopelvic hip complex. Additionally, many rotational movements as well as anti-rotational drills also rely on these slings, as there’s typically a large emphasis on the obliques and abdominals to help transmit force across the contralateral extremities. This is also directly related to a functional anatomy and biomechanical concept known as the serape effect which describes how various muscle activation patterns cross the body to transmit force via rotational movements (i.e. punching, throwing, hitting, kicking). Read more here.
Although these systems are quite complex with further detail best illustrated throughout the following exercises, the key takeaway is to understand that training unilateral movements (single leg drills) and combining contralateral hip activation of reciprocal muscle groups (hip extensors and hip flexors) can help reinforce these functional activation patterns. Additionally, these movements not only improve athletic performance, they can also have a tremendous impact on improving low back health, hip pain, knee pain, posture, and overall body alignment. Here are some of my favorite drills that apply this concept to foundational movement patterns.
Single Leg Stand with Contralateral Knee Drive and Arm Drive
Perhaps the best way to start off training the oblique slings with contralateral hip and arm activation patterns is to perform a basic isometric sprinting simulation position. Simply hold a single leg stand while driving the elevated leg into maximal 90-degree hip flexion and simultaneously driving the arms into contralateral flexion and extension as my NFL athletes show here. Also make sure to maintain maximal dorsiflexion in the ankle of the elevated leg as this represents optimal foot position during sprinting mechanics.
Essentially you’re holding an isometric stride position that mimics the extension-driving position of a sprint during the maximal velocity phase or upright position. Focus on bracing the daylights out of the core and pulling the stomach in as aggressively as possible rather than allowing lumbar extension to occur in the low back region. Additionally, try to create as much full body tension as possible by continually driving the knee and arms as aggressively as possible. This is where the oblique slings come into play.
The harder you drive the front arm into 90 degree flexion (near the face) by aggressively recruiting the biceps, front deltoids, and upper chest, the more you’ll be recruiting the core, oblique, adductor, and hip flexor of the opposite/contralateral side as this represents the nature and function of the anterior oblique sling. Similarly, the harder you drive the rear arm into extension by aggressively firing the lats, triceps, and rear deltoids, the more you’ll recruit the lumbar muscles and contralateral hip extensors/glutes of the other leg as this describes the nature and function of the posterior oblique sling.
It’s important to make sure the hips are aligned mediolaterally as each hip, knee, ankle, and foot should form a relatively straight line without any side to side deviation. Additionally the foot of the support/down leg should be perfectly straight or even slightly internally rotated to help maximize foot torque into the ground.
The harder you drive the knee and arms while bracing the core and maintaining perfect body alignment, the greater the level of intramuscular tension that should build throughout your body until it ultimately ramps up to near maximal levels from head to toe. In fact, this should essentially feel like a maximal effort overcoming isometric hold where the athlete is giving 100% physical and mental exertion. This is one of those drills where you get what you put into it. If you do it right you should feel like you just performed several max effort sprints. Read more about foot and ankle training.
Single Leg Swap with Contralateral Knee Drive
To further help reinforce proper contralateral hip activation and limb alignment, the single leg swap added to the standing position can help expose and address a variety of weaknesses up the kinetic chain as any misalignment or instability will continue to result in the athlete losing his or her balance. This is a great drill devised by Ben Lai as he took the basic single leg swap I developed years back and modified it to incorporate contralateral hip activation.
Additionally, the hip that’s flexed must drive aggressively into the 90-degree position in order to allow enough room to swap the kettlebell from side to side. These crush the foot and ankle muscles not to mention the hips and core.
Sprinter Hip Thrust
Looking to make the standard hip thrust or glute bridge more sport specific particularly as it applies to running and sprinting? Try incorporating contralateral knee drive while also implementing contralateral arm drive of the upper extremities.
Besides producing a very similar activation pattern to that of sprinting mechanics as well as the single leg hold with contralateral hip and arm drive discussed above, these also have the potential to produce even greater glute activation in comparison to traditional single leg thrusts. Here’s why.
During contralateral movement patterns that involve reciprocal muscle activation of antagonist muscle groups, the harder one muscle group fires, the harder and more aggressively the opposing muscle is recruited. In this case the aggressive activation of one hip flexor helps to create stronger recruitment of the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) in the opposite hip.
However, the arms also play a key role by activating their corresponding hip muscles. For instance, the harder the front/top arm drives into shoulder flexion and elbow flexion (into the 90 degree position i.e. sprinter hands), by activating the deltoids, bicep, and upper chest, the more this in turn activates the obliques, adductors, and hip flexors of the opposite leg not to mention the entire core musculature that connect these muscles. In fact, this illustrates the nature and function of the anterior oblique sling.
Similarly, the harder the lat, tricep, and rear deltoid contract on the opposite arm that’s driving toward the floor, the more this activates the low back, glutes, and hamstrings of the opposite hip. This illustrates the nature and function of the posterior oblique sling.
The harder each hip drives into their corresponding positions, the greater the chain reaction throughout the body, which ultimately produces more and more functional recruitment within the various muscles that comprise the aforementioned posterior and anterior oblique slings. Simply put, we now just took a simple single leg glute bridge and turned it into a brutally intense yet highly functional full body movement that closely resembles the same high level full body activation that we witness during sprinting. Read more about hip thrusts and glute bridges here.
Contralateral RDL & Cable Row
The single arm, single leg RDL cable/band row with contralateral knee drive as shown here by pro basketball player Yelena Leuchenka is a movement that’s been highlighted by many fitness professionals and trainers. Besides targeting various elements of balance and stability it also taxes the entire posterior oblique sling as the lats, glutes, and core work together in one synchronized motion.
It’s important to note that this drill is only as effective as the effort and control you choose to apply to the movement. If you rush through this movement, don’t pause each rep in the contracted and stretched positions, and don’t focus on producing perfect alignment from head to toe, this drill will do very little for you other than reinforce sloppy activation patterns.
To truly reap the benefits of this drill requires the athlete to pay very close attention to the smallest details including 90 degree contralateral knee drive, braced core and abs, tall packed neck and head, straight foot and ankle alignment, 90 degree arm drive (rowing position), and dorsiflexed ankles of the elevated leg. Additionally, this movement is best performed by using a slow and controlled eccentric isometric which in turn helps the athlete dial in their body mechanics and fine-tune their position using enhanced proprioceptive feedback. Read more about eccentric isometrics here.
Bird Dog Renegade Rows with Band Tension
Here I have NPC national figure competitor Leslie Petch performing one of the most brutal renegade row variations you’ll ever attempt. Lets discuss why this is so effective.
First, the balance involved during a bird dog position (balancing on opposite arm & leg) requires incredible motor control. However, by adding the band it exponentially increases activation throughout the core & hips. That’s because on any plank, renegade row, pushup, or ab rollout, we want the hip flexors & abs firing like mad NOT the GLUTES!!! That’s right the concept of squeezing your glutes during planks, renegade rows, & pushups is actually the opposite of what we want. Simply put, the hip flexors & core work together to resist hip extension & lumbar extension. Now here’s where it gets interesting.
If we move to a single leg variation we’ve now magnified the same activation pattern in the support leg since firing the contralateral hip extensor (glutes) of the elevated leg helps fire the contralateral hip flexors of the opposite leg due to equal & opposite activation patterns associated with contralateral activation. In other words contralateral glute activation of the elevated leg helps reinforce hip flexor activation & core activation of the support leg.
Additionally, contralateral hip activation tends to greatly increase recruitment throughout the deep core musculature & lumbopelvic hip complex due to the intense stabilization required to resist rotational torque & twisting. This also very closely mimics oblique sling activation patterns we see during sprinting & other sporting activities (reciprocal muscle activation of contralateral hips) including single leg jumps, hitting, kicking, throwing, etc.
With that said, the main thing to remember here is to extend the elevated leg as hard as possible by firing the daylights out of the glute which in turn fires the opposite hip flexor and quad which in turn fires the core like mad!!! It’s basically a huge chain reaction which starts with the contralateral glute activation of the elevated leg. Although a mini band can work for this movement a thinner longer band tends to work better. Read more about renegade rows here.
Bear Dog Renegade Rows with Band Tension
Similar to the above renegade row, the main difference with the bear dog version is you’ll be assuming a single leg bear crawl position (i.e. approximately 90 degree hip flexion) rather than a single arm straight-leg plank position. The hip flexors, quads, and core inevitably get crushed to an even greater extent here not to mention being even more specific to sprinting mechanics and contralateral knee drive patterns.
Bird Dog Quadruped Row
The bird dog quadruped row is a move I introduced several years ago on T-Nation. Since then I’ve seen it used quite frequently amongst fitness professionals and trainers due to its effectiveness. Unfortunately, over the years I’ve witnessed many coaches, trainers, and athletes, run into a variety of form & technique issues on this movement, particularly as it relates to the lower body, as they fail to reach proper alignment throughout the hips.
For instance the elevated leg is oftentimes not fully extended and the hip extensors/glutes of that leg aren’t fully engaged. If the hips aren’t properly aligned and activated this creates a chain reaction throughout the kinetic chain which compromises activation throughout the core thereby reducing spinal rigidity. Simply put, lack of proper leg positioning can impact the entire movement.
Performing these with a mini band around the feet and ankles of the legs as I show here, requires the lifter to maximally engage the hip flexor of the bent leg and the hip extensors of the elevated leg. Due to the contralateral hip activation effect associated with the oblique slings, the harder one leg/hip fires into flexion the more this causes the other hip to fire into extension and vice versa until incredibly high levels of full body tension are produced as these forces must be transmitted across the core and pelvis.
Additionally the harder the glute of the elevated leg fires, the greater the activation of the lat of the working arm (due to the nature of posterior oblique sling) which ultimately increases the effectiveness of this movement for targeting the upper back and lats. And yes, this can easily be turned into a functional strength and hypertrophy movement provided you’re core is strong enough to handle heavy loads as I demonstrate here with a 100 lb dumbbell.
Single Leg Chest Press
Here I have two of my awesome clients Charlene Harrison and Austin Kane performing a longitudinal hip thrust single leg chest press using contralateral knee drive. Besides blasting the glutes, hip flexors, and hamstrings, these also torch the abs as you’ll be working overtime not only to keep perfect body alignment but to maintain balance and control. Any mediolateral deviations with your feet, hips, or core will result in loss of balance and stability. The harder you drive your hip and knee into the 90 degree position the more dialed in this feels and the more stable the lift becomes.
With that said, a few things to point out about each persons’ form here. Charlene could have driven her knee slightly harder into the 90 degree hip flexion position especially as she fatigued. Austin could have elevated the foot of the hip flexion leg a bit more to maintain a sharper 90 degree angle which also would have worked his core and hips to a greater extent. These are deceptively difficult and require several sets to perfectly dial in. I also recommend starting off with the t-bench setup that I’ve written about over the past years (laying on the bench width wise like a hip thruster) as it’s easier to maintain balance and control in comparison to the longitudinal position where the sides of the bench can’t help anchor you. Once you’ve mastered these try using band tension on the hips to increase the difficulty.
Single Arm Single Leg Bottoms Up Chest Press
If you really want to get crazy with oblique sling activation pattern you can actually combine the single arm and single leg contralateral T-bench variations as well as the half-body off protocol into one incredibly challenging chest press variation as shown by NPC figure competitor Leslie Petch.
This is literally one of the most challenging full body pressing movements there is as you’ll be forced to activate nearly every muscle in your body from head to toe as you resist enormous amounts of rotational forces. In addition this is one of the more physically exhausting chest presses you’ll ever attempt due to the high levels of continuous intramuscular tension throughout each set. Besides devastating your glutes (maximus and medius), it’s also one of the most brutal core exercises you’ll ever perform as it absolutely crushes your obliques and transverse abs as well as your rectus abdominals.
Lastly, if you have poor foot and ankle activation you’ll know almost immediately as you’ll find it quite difficult to maintain your balance for more than a few seconds. In fact, the only way you can reach equilibrium with your body on this movement and find a stable position is by producing perfect foot and ankle alignment. With that in mind this is an incredible foot and ankle exercise provided you’re able to lock your position in and stabilize your body. Oh and if you really want to increase the instability try throwing in a bottoms-up variation as shown in the video.
Bear Dog Pushups
Adding in the contralateral hip drive into pushups by taking the simple bear crawl pushup and modifying it to a single leg variation can do wonders for cleaning up your pushup form however it’s also incredibly sport specific and transfers exceptionally well to sprinting mechanics. Here’s my awesome client and NPC physique competitor Eric McIntyre showing how it’s done.
Focus on extending the back leg and driving the opposite knee into 90 degree hip flexion throughout as this maximize core activation while also reinforcing high levels of spinal rigidity and full body tension.
If you want to further increase the difficulty of this movement and engage the core to an even greater degree, adding a stability ball to the mix takes the intensity up several notches as my awesome client Leslie Petch shows here.
Bear Dog Ab Rollouts
The contralateral hip drive position can also be applied to ab rollouts as Leslie shows here. Make sure you master the standard bear crawl ab rollout first before attempting these single leg bear crawl (bear dog) variations as the difficulty is inordinately high. The contralateral hip drive position, which engages both the anterior and posterior oblique slings, combined with the anti-extension component of the ab rollout literally fires up the abs and core to unusually high levels.
If that still doesn’t do it for you, try adding a mini band to the feet and hips as Leslie shows in the second variation.
If you’re looking to further emphasize the hip activation component, you can also do single leg knee drive rollouts. Focus on nailing 90 degree hip flexion in each contracted position while simultaneously keeping the hips elevated as you extend the leg back into the straight position. Performed correctly this is one of the most brutal core and hip exercises there is that also has tremendous transfer into sprinting mechanics and athletic performance. See 50 unique ab rollouts here.
Dead Bug Chest Presses with Mini Band
If you’re looking to increase core activation and minimize lumbar extension during your chest presses while simultaneously reinforcing full body tension and spinal rigidity, look no further than the dead bug bench press. This is one I’ve posted a few variations of over the last several years due to its effectiveness for eliminating the all-too-common excessive low back arch on bench press.
Besides reinforcing contralateral knee drive which transfers exceptionally well to athletic performance, there’s also a significant anti-rotation component involved that further reinforces high levels of motor control while forcing the lifter to slow the reps down and gain control of the movement. Also, shoutout to Shea Pierre, for upping that ante on the dead bug chest press by adding the mini band which further increases hip and core activation. See more about saving your spine on chest presses here.
Dead Bug Pullups with Mini Band
If you’re looking for a unique yet brutal pullup/chinup variation that torches the core and spinal stabilizers while also promoting optimal body alignment and vertical pulling technique look no further than the dead bug pullup. The offset position produces slight rotational forces that the lifter will be required to resist throughout thereby creating additional tension to the anterior core, transverse abs, quadratus lumborum, and obliques. Furthermore, due to the nature of the oblique slings, the contralateral hip drive position with one hip in flexion and the other in extension creates incredibly high levels of core activation as tension crosses from the lats and upper body into the hips inevitably forcing the core to act as the bridge that allows force to be transmitted across the upper and lower extremities. As a result of the heightened core activation it’s nearly impossible to over-arch the lumbar spine.
With that said, excessive low back arch is a very common problem on pullups. While it’s important to maintain a slight natural curvature of the spine during pullups many individuals attempt to keep their chest out by simply allowing excessive lumbar extension to occur. Instead the lifter should be producing extension through the t-spine while keeping the lumbar spine in a relatively neutral position. This deadbug pullup variation helps the lifter find this optimal position as it’s nearly impossible to over arch the low back. As a result the t-spine must take up the slack resulting in massive tension to the lats not to mention enhanced postural positioning. Perform these without any additional tension on the hips first. Once mastered, add the mini band to further increase core activation and tax the oblique sling.
Inverted Rows with Mini Band
Here I have NFL quarterback Taylor Heinicke performing inverted rows with contralateral hip activation while also using the mini band. I’ve also seen several other coaches use this drill including Shea Pierre.
Poor spinal alignment and faulty posture are perhaps the two most common issues witnessed during inverted rows. When this occurs it’s impossible to perform the movement with optimal body mechanics as the extremities are unable to perform their roles correctly both from a biomechanical as well as neuromuscular standpoint. Learning to improve spinal rigidity and full body tension on inverted rows can do wonders not just for improving overall positioning and posture but also for insuring the lats are full engaged.
Due to the nature of the oblique sling, particularly the posterior oblique sling that involves the lats and hip extensors (the glutes), the harder the hips drive into contralateral hip flexion and extension, the greater the activation throughout the core and obliques, ultimately producing greater recruitment throughout the upper extremities particularly the lats. In other words, it’s a chain reaction that begins with the hips and ends with the upper back. Besides having incredible transfer to sprinting and running mechanics these literally blast the lats as well as the hips making these an excellent full body exercise.
Dips with Mini Band
Although dips are a great mass builder, most folks end up performing them with very little core activation, collapsed shoulders, and poor spinal rigidity. This often contributes to dips that look very sloppy while also producing joint angles that are significantly past 90 degrees. Simply put, the way most folks perform dips, you could argue that they would be better off not performing them at all at least in terms of optimizing muscle function, shoulder health, and overall posture. And while they may still gain some strength and size from them, dips that are performed with proper technique, 90 degree joint angles, and high levels of full body tension will produce exponentially greater muscle growth and strength.
With that said, one of the best ways to increase full body tension, core activation, and posture alignment is by performing dips with contralateral hip activation. Throw in the mini band as my awesome client Leslie Petch does here and you’ve now just ensured maximal full body activation from head to toe due to the nature of the posterior and anterior oblique slings.
Simply put, the harder the hips drive into their contralateral hip flexion and hip extension positions, the greater the core activation as the core musculature is used to transmit force across the lower and upper extremities. Additionally, due to nature of these slings, this setup produces even greater pectoral and lat recruitment. That’s because the harder the hips drive into their positions the greater the recruitment up the kinetic chain. This increased lat activation also helps to ensure the shoulders don’t move excessively into protraction and elevation – 2 very common problems during dips that typically contribute to collapsing at the bottom and going below 90 degrees. This setup helps remedy that as it’s literally impossible to go past 90 degrees if you maintain the contralateral hip positions with maximal full body tension. To go deeper you would have to sacrifice these important kinetic elements. Read more about proper dip form here.
Overhead Presses with band
The single leg overhead press has always been one of my favorite combination stabilization and upper body movements. However, over the last year I’ve begun implementing the contralateral hip drive position more frequently as a means of creating greater full body tension as well as overhead pressing mechanics.
Here’s why this is so effective.
Perhaps the single most common issue during overhead presses is poor core activation that inevitably produces excessive lumbar extension and low back arch. By relying on the contralateral hip drive position this not only helps improve hip and postural alignment but it ensures that the low back can’t excessively arch since the core has to work overtime to maintain the contralateral flexion and extension position. To further increase both the effectiveness and maximize core activation, try adding a mini band as my NFL athlete Taylor Heinicke shows here.
Single Arm Inverted Row with Contralateral Knee Drive
The inverted row is one of my favorite exercises not only for targeting the entire posterior chain including the upper back, lats, glutes, and hamstrings, but also for addressing posture and spinal alignment.
By performing it in a single arm fashion with a simultaneous hip thrust and contralateral knee drive (a.k.a sprinter inverted row), not only does this fire up just about every muscle throughout the body due to the targeting of both the posterior and anterior oblique slings but the transfer this likely has to athletic performance and sprinting mechanics is quite high.
Lets quickly discuss the various mechanisms involved which will also help the reader better understand how to perform this advanced yet highly effective drill. For the sake of simplicity lets focus on the right arm pulling/rowing
The posterior oblique sling dictates that the opposite hip extensor/glute and lat work together to create a coiling sensation. During this drill the lifter would essentially row up or pull with the right arm which in turn would fire the left glute/hip. The greater the hip activation the greater the lat activation and vice versa. However, we also know via contralateral activation patterns that the anterior oblique sling can work in conjunction with the posterior sling to create additional activation throughout the entire body as well as the working extremities.
In this particular scenario, the harder the opposite knee and hip drive into 90 degree hip flexion, the more the reciprocal muscles of the contralateral side will fire, which in this case is the glutes. However, to create maximal hip flexor activation of that elevated leg, this also would require us to engage the contralateral front deltoid and pectoral of the opposing arm as this represents the nature of the anterior oblique sling. This also happens to recruit the adductors, oblique and abs, as the force transmission crosses from the upper extremities into the lower extremities. Simply put, this chain reaction starts with contralateral hip flexion and shoulder flexion which in turn creates greater reciprocal muscle activation in the glute and lat of the opposing sides (i.e. contralateral activation).
Simply put, it’s a full body row that has tremendous transfer to athletic performance and postural alignment.
Good Mornings with Knee Drive
To employ the contralateral knee drive and oblique slings even further on single leg movements such as lunges, split squats, and hip hinges, try employing contralateral knee drive during the top extension phase.
Simply drive the knee of the elevated leg into 90 degree hip flexion and knee flexion as my awesome athlete Brandyn Bartlett shows here on a single leg good morning. Besides ensuring greater activation of the working glute particularly in the fully contracted position due to contralateral activation patterns described throughout this article, it’s also incredibly sport specific and exceptional for transferring to sprinting performance. Essentially, the harder the elevated leg drives into hip flexion, the more intensely the glute of the support leg fires to move that leg into hip extension. Read more about good mornings here.
Lunge and Cable Press
The traditional cable chest press can also be modified to incorporate a greater level of both the anterior and posterior oblique slings by simply performing a unilateral chest press in a contralateral lunge position as my awesome client Leslie Petch shows here.
Not only does this crush the upper body pressing muscles but it fully taxes the glutes, hip flexors, obliques, and abs. Read more about other cable chest presses here.
Single Leg Chinese Plank Pullovers
The Chinese Plank is a great position for working the postural muscles particularly of the posterior chain. This is something I’ve discussed numerous times in my writings over the years. When combined with the single leg contralateral hip drive position, the effects and benefits are even greater.
Here’s an example with NFL athlete Julian Williams as he performs a brutally difficult bottoms up pullover. The single leg position combined with 90 degree knee flexion does wonders for instilling proper lower body alignment and contralateral glute activation that also transfers exceptionally well to sprinting mechanics for athletes. This position can be combined with a number of movements particularly chest presses, chest flyes, pullovers, skull crushers, and more.
If you want to further magnify the contralateral hip activation and resulting full body activation associated with the oblique slings, try adding in the mini band as my awesome client Leslie shows here.
Just be warned the level of glute activation, core recruitment, and rotary stability needed to dial these in is inordinately high. Performed with the bench in a longitudinal position as I show here increases the core activation even further as there’s even greater rotational forces the lifter must resist to keep from falling off the bench.
It’s also worth noting that the incredibly high levels of full body tension does wonders for enhancing upper body pressing mechanics. Combined with the Chinese plank it’s nearly impossible to perform these with anything other than perfect postural alignment which invariably improves shoulder function and glenohumeral joint stability. And yes, that also means you’ll likely be hitting 90 degree joint angles on all of your presses unless you decide to lose complete control of your body and the movement. Read more about the Chinese Plank here.
Lat Pulldowns with Band
Few gyms provide lat pulldown stations that are tall enough to allow the individual to stand and perform lat pulldowns. However by anchoring bands onto the top of a squat rack this provides such an option. Besides, providing a lat pulldown variation that transfers exceptionally well to improving the overhead press due to the same standing position, these also allow the implementation of the contralateral hip activation position.
Simply perform single arm or double arm lat pulldowns in a single leg standing fashion while also driving the contralateral hip into 90 degree hip flexion. Besides taxing the core and hips, this also produces incredibly high levels of lat activation. For instance, when performed in an ipsilateral fashion the harder the elevated leg fires into hip flexion the greater the opposite leg fires into hip extension. This creates high levels of glute activation ultimately traveling up the kinetic chain and posterior oblique sling producing greater lat activation on the opposite side of the body.
Single Leg Squat & Lat Pulldown
Here’s my awesome client Leslie Petch performing a very unique lat pulldown. Although somewhat complex and advanced, the single leg and single arm lat pulldown performed from a skater squat position provides a very unique stimulus that’s difficult to replicate with just about any other exercise. That’s because this allows the lifter to take full advantage of the posterior oblique sling to produce enormous levels of lat activation.
When performed in an ipsilateral fashion the harder the elevated leg fires into hip extension the greater the glute activation ultimately traveling up the kinetic chain and posterior oblique sling thereby producing greater lat activation on the opposite side of the body. Additionally, it’s a great way to kill two birds with one stone as you’re practicing locking in your single leg squat while simultaneously blasting each lat individually.
These also crush the core and abs not to mention just about every muscle from head to toe as you work overtime to maintain body alignment and balance throughout. Although the ipsilateral variation is the go-to method due to the nature of the oblique slings, the contralateral activation also has it’s own unique benefits as you end up working the outer hip and glute of the support leg as a means of resisting valgus forces on the knee. Read more about squatting lat pulldowns here.
Advanced Dynamic & Explosive Variations
Once the slower and more controlled eccentric isometrics have been mastered on the above drills, the same contralateral knee drive and oblique sling emphasis can be employed on more explosive dynamic variations. This works particularly well on lunges, hinges, and split squats
For instance here’s a reverse pause-lunge to jump with contralateral knee drive as demonstrated by one of my collegiate high jumpers Bailey Weiland. Notice how she maintains a forward lean and hip hinge on the lunge phase which represents ideal lunging mechanics for any lunge variation. Once she locks the eccentric isometric into position and feels for the most stable and strongest mechanics she then explodes out of the lunge by loading her front leg while simultaneously driving with the opposite knee. Read more about jumps here.
In addition notice how she focuses on landing on one leg briefly to teach unilateral force absorption - a critical aspect of speed, power, and performance. Finally notice the use of the dorsiflexion throughout which is another subtle yet highly critical coaching cue and technique pointer.
Although the above variation emphasizes acceleration to a greater extent, the same movement pattern can be used to emphasize deceleration and force impact.
For example in this video I’m demonstrating a stride simulated split stance lunge using partner assisted manual acceleration. This is a great drill for addressing, deceleration, acceleration, stability, balance, and motor control not to mention sprint mechanics as you focus on using contralateral arm drive to maximize full body tension and lower body recruitment. The combination of vertical and horizontal forces produced from the partner launching the athlete forward also has tremendous benefits for athletes as you’re targeting sprinting as well as backpedaling.
Notice how I stick the lunge/split squat without allowing my knee to move too far forward into excessive anterior knee drift (an all too common problem on lunges). While a slight amount of anterior knee drift is acceptable and in fact quite natural particularly when there is a horizontal force vector, allowing the knees to move excessively past the toes simply means you’re relying too much on the quads and not enough on the posterior chain. Yes you may be able to get away with it but it’s not optimal both in terms of injury prevention as well as force production and force absorption.
Also notice how I stick the 90-degree position rather than allowing my body to collapse with excessive ROM. On that note, make sure you’ve mastered 90 degree eccentric isometrics lunges and split squats before attempting these as the impact is quite high and you’ll need to have built a proper foundation beforehand with less aggressive variations first.
The same technique can also be employed on lateral lunges as I show here with NFL athlete and GSP sponsored pro Marquell Beckwith demonstrating a partner goblet lateral lunge using partner assisted manual acceleration. This variation involves the same partner acceleration method as the forward lunge only applied to the lateral lunge and contralateral knee drive protocol I picked up from my awesome client Ben Lai.
This is a great drill for addressing, deceleration, acceleration, stability, contralateral knee drive, balance, & motor control not to mention lateral stride mechanics and lateral movement. It’s also great for bulletproofing the groin and inner & outer hips with high levels of eccentric force. Notice as he accelerates back into my hands he drives his opposite knee into a strong 90 degree position to mimic sprinting mechanics.
On a similar note if I had to give one critique of this it’s that Marquell went a tad too deep and should have stuck the landing just a tad more as he’s actually going slightly below 90 degree joint angles here. This is something we addressed on subsequent sets. Focus on bracing the daylights out of your core throughout as this will help you lock the movement in. Additionally work on doing this in barefoot conditions as this will improve foot & ankle strength a critical aspect of performance.
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