Skater Squats for Single Leg Strength

In my Dojo, the strength and conditioning training is done on the mat area. Everything we use has to be portable. No power racks, no Olympic platform, no machines. We have a ton of kettlebells, sand bags, dumbbells, bands, pull up mates, paralettes, equalizers, medballs, you name it.

Programming-wise, we have an upper- and lower body push and pull, along with some specific core work. For example, we might be doing the following:

Tri-Set 1

  • Single Leg Deadlift
  • Weighted Pull Up
  • Side Plank

Tri-Set 2

  • Reverse Lunge to Step Up
  • KB Push Press
  • Leopard Crawl

For the lower body, we’re mostly doing single leg training, mostly for the reasons emphasised by Mike Boyle:

  1. Training one leg at a time effectively halves stress on the spine. I might add that obviously, this argument holds true for the sagittal plane only. In the transverse plane, forces are higher during single leg training.
  2. Sports are played on one leg, unless your sport is weightlifting or power lifting. Hence, it makes sense to practice as you play.

Following this line of thought, I’m currently thinking about ditching the single leg deadlift (not the rdl, though) in favor of the skater squat. My thought process goes something like this:

  1. Some of my guys can still lift a lot in the single lift deadlift with high hips. None of them can match Max Shank’s legendary performance, but I regularly have athletes single leg deadlift 80+ KG. At some point, this becomes unfeasible without a barbell. Also, wrt Mike’s first argument, I could probably halve the weight of the sldl and still seriously challenge the skater squat. This effectively quarters the (sagittal plane) stress on the spine. Now at some point, the spine needs certain amount of stress in order to proliferate. Dr McGill has demonstrated time and again how power lifters have significantly thickened spines. Fighters, however, are not power lifters and rotational stability and power are more important in our game than the ability to lift maximal loads.
  2. Few sports techniques rely on locked knees and a high hips position. Instead, knees and hips mostly work together, with variable emphasis, of course. In terms of specificity, therefore, a skater squat, with deep flexion at both the hips and knees might be more beneficial for fighters than a SLDL, where deep flexion occurs only at the hips.

Figures 1 through 3 illustrate different single leg strength exercises. Note that the quad dominant SLDL in Figure 1 and the Skater Squat in Figure 2 exhibit very similar joint angles. Only the high hip SLDL in Figure 3 looks significantly different. Compare the angles of the former two exercises to the sport specific angles illustrated I Figures 4 and 5. During the starting and acceleration phase of the sprint, runners lean forward significantly and implement implement a piston like leg action, as EXOS puts it. The position is not unlike the skater squat. Likewise, shooting for a double leg takedown puts a fighter in a very similar position.

Figure 1. The quad dominant single leg deadlift biomechanically closely resembles both the skater squat as well as the trap bar deadlift. Compared to the bilateral version of the latter, the quad dominant single leg deadlift induces lower spinal shear forces in the sagittal plane, but requires more stability in both the frontal and transverse planes at the spine and hip.
    Figure 2. The upright torso skater squat closely resembles the position fighters are in when initiating a double leg takedown.
    Figure 3. The high hips single leg deadlift minimizes knee action, i.e., deep flexion only occurs at the hips.
    Figure 4. During the starting and acceleration phases, sprinters exhibit a pronounced forward lean and employ a poison like leg action.
    Figure 5. When initiating a double leg takedown, fighters put themselves in a position not unlike the upright skater squat. Excessive forward lean puts the shooting fighter at risk of being guillotine choked.

    Admittedly, the skater squat has certain downsides. For one, it’s incredibly hard to do for many people due to the high demands regarding mobility (hips and ankle), stability (knees, hips and trunk) and therefore, a good series of regressions needs to be put in place before including it in a program. On the other hand, bones require a certain amount of stress in order to proliferate. For untrained individuals, the threshold seems to be around 600 microstrain, with significantly higher loads being necessary to further improve bone mineral density in trained athletes. Hence, unloading the spine to much may put the athlete at risk by not optimally preparing him for the stress encountered in specific practice and competition. During a recent lecture at the Vienna university of sports, Dr Wirth made a point of just how much force a fighters trunk needs to be able to absorb during a fight.

    Training athletes is all about making the right decisions. All contributing factors need to be considered and weighed before including anything in a program. Risks need to be evaluated against potential rewards on an individual basis. Comparing the single leg deadlift to the skater squat is invalid if no context is supplied. Both have their flaws and merits. Again, looking at my fighters, the context can be summarized as follows:

    • Limited maximal strength requirements
    • High impact tolerance requirements
    • High volumes of specific training
    • High impact and joint stress during everyday practice and competition
    • Low volumes of Strength training (two weekly sessions)
    • Low availability of equipment, i.e., no access to barbells and power racks

    At this point in time, the above considerations lead me to the opinion (in the end, it’s not more than that) that in-season, the skater squat should probably be used instead of the heavy, high hips single leg deadlift. In the off-season (which we don’t really have), super heavy deadlifts may be beneficial for athletes that are free of back pain to elicit structural adaptations in the skeletal system and tap into the high threshold motor units. Of course, I reserve the right to change this opinion the moment I’m presented with opposing evidence. Until then, I’ll stick to the skater squat for my fighters.

    In future posts, I’ll show you how to regress (and progress) the skater squat.

    So long,
    Don’t get hurt

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