Category Archives: Landmine Single-Leg RDL
As much as a beastly set of quads can really set you apart from the chest and arms crowd, training the quads hard and heavy can be problematic. Many of the best quad exercises put a lot of stress on the knees, hence their “knee dominant” classification.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’ve got healthy knees, but if you don’t, well, your quest to build tree trunks for quads will be an uphill battle.
You essentially have three choices:
Option 1: Ignore your knee pain and train through it. Better yet, just get some knee wraps and wrap em’ up as tight as possible. Buy your ibuprofen in bulk from Costco. You won’t feel a thing. Woot!
I’m kidding. Having gone this route many times before, I can tell you it’s a losing proposition. Never train through pain. It may seem cool at the time, and some of your lifting buddies might say you’re “hardcore,” but when you’re hobbling around and struggling to go up and down stairs, it’s not so cool.
Option 2: Stop training your quads altogether and resign yourself to a lifetime of sweatpants and chicken legs. I mean, let’s be honest, by the time someone of the opposite sex sees your quads, you should have already sealed the deal.
Again, I’m kidding.
Option 3: Get creative and find ways to blast your quads without hurting your knees.
That sounds best to me, so let’s roll with that. Here are some exercises to help.
1. Landmine Reverse Lunges
Landmine reverse lunges are a great knee-friendly alternative to regular lunges, or even regular reverse lunges.
Start by putting one end of a barbell in the landmine unit and holding the other end in your left hand, 1-2 inches in front of your thigh. Keeping your chest up, take a big step back with your left leg while simultaneously reaching your left arm slightly forward.
In the bottom position, your left hand should be approximately in line with your right shin. From there, push through the heel of the right foot and return to the start position.
Repeat with your other leg.
It should look like this:
The barbell functions as a counterbalance, allowing you to take a much bigger step back than what would normally be possible with traditional loading methods, thereby encouraging you to maintain a completely vertical tibia, which in turn helps take stress off the knee joint.
If you try keeping a vertical shin in a standard lunge or reverse lunge using standard loading methods, it’s extremely difficult to execute. Using the landmine, it’s no problem at all.
Moreover, this variation provides offset contralateral loading, which increases glute recruitment and helps to build hip, core, and pelvic stability while also developing grip strength (since you’re forced to hold the thick part of the barbell).
I don’t recommend loading the bar up with too much weight because it can be tricky to handle heavy loads so far out in front of your body, and you don’t want to risk a lower back injury. This is a tough exercise to begin with so you probably won’t need a lot of external resistance anyway, but if you do, try adding a weighted vest.
2. Valslide Landmine Reverse Lunges
To make landmine reverse lunges even more knee-friendly, try adding in Valslides or a slideboard for the reverse lunges.
Do the reps in a slow and controlled fashion and focus on keeping your weight on the heel of the working leg as you slide back as far as you can go, all without losing your balance or having your chest collapse forward.
When you reach the bottom position, think about pulling through the glute of the front leg rather than pushing with the quad. Don’t worry, your quads will still get plenty of work.
Here’s what it looks like in action:
If you watch the video, you’ll notice that the shin of the front leg hardly moves at all during the set and the tibia stays completely vertical throughout. Being that our goal is to deload the knee, that’s a good thing.
If you continue watching, you’ll also notice that I’m able to slide way back; much farther back than you can step in a regular reverse lunge and even a little farther back than you can go in a landmine reverse lunge without the slide pad.
Along with making for one hell of a hip flexor stretch, this encourages a posterior weight shift to take pressure off the knee of the front working leg. Better still, it also limits knee flexion in the rear leg, which again is great for folks suffering from knee pain – sometimes the rear leg experiences pain during lunges when forced to bend excessively and absorb the impact of stepping backwards.
3. Rear Foot (Slightly) Elevated Split Squats
Rear foot elevated split squats (RFESS), a.k.a. Bulgarian split squats, are one of my absolute favorite exercises for building the quads. That said, they aren’t always tolerated well by those suffering from knee pain.
Sometimes the pain is in the front leg, which can usually be cleared up by taking a longer stride and focusing on keeping as much of a vertical tibia as possible.
Interestingly enough, most complaints of knee pain during this exercise are usually related to pain in the rear leg. If that’s the case, the issue can often be ameliorated simply by not elevating the rear leg quite so high.
Most of the time you’ll see RFESS done using a standard weight bench, which depending on the manufacturer is typically somewhere between 17-19 inches. While that height is fine for most people, those experiencing knee pain in the rear leg should try using a 9-12 inch box instead and see if that helps.
Make sure to plantarflex the rear ankle and set up “laces down” on the box to avoid pushing through your toes. Do the reps in a slow and controlled fashion and focus on keeping your weight on the heel of the front foot, like so:
With the shorter box you can clearly see that knee flexion of the rear leg is dramatically reduced as compared to doing them on a full-sized bench. In that regard, it’s very similar to doing a regular split squat with the back leg on the floor.
I like split squats too as a teaching tool, but I don’t like loading them heavy because there’s a strong tendency to cheat and use the back leg too much as the weights get heavier.
I’d much prefer to progress to a RFESS with laces down and just limit the height of the box if need be, focusing on keeping the majority of the weight on the front leg.
Make sure you’re stretching and foam rolling your quads and hip flexors too, as that should also help a lot. In time you should be able to go back to using a full size bench, but until you can do so completely pain-free, don’t push it.
4. Eccentric One-Leg Squats
I’d always thought of eccentric single-leg squats as an effective learning progression to work towards full single-leg squats (which it is), but I learned from Mike Boyle that it can also be a fantastic alternative exercise for individuals dealing with knee pain. After trying it out extensively, I think it works well in both scenarios.
To do them, simply lower down to a parallel box on one leg and come back up on two legs:
The key here is to control the eccentric portion of the rep and not just free-fall down to the box. If you’re unable to control it, raise the height of the box until you can and then slowly increase the depth over time.
If you’re new to single-leg squats and just can’t seem to get the hang of them, try doing these to a standard bench using 5-pound dumbbells in your hands to serve as a counterbalance.
[Insert Pic Ben Single Leg]
Once you can do five reps with 4-5 second eccentrics, you should be all set to do full single-leg squats.
If you’re more advanced and can already do single-leg squats but find they irritate your knees, the eccentric-only version may allow you to do them pain-free. Using a box allows you to sit back farther and keep a more vertical tibia than doing them without the box.
I’m using a front squat grip in the video above because I’ve done these for a long time and have progressed quite a bit in weight, but I recommend starting by holding 5-10 pound dumbbells in your hands and raising them straight-out to shoulder level as you descend. Having your arms out in front helps tremendously with balance so do it that way first until you’re completely comfortable and need to add more load.
You know those people that say a deadlift is just a squat with the weight in your hands and cue you to get your butt way down low before you pull? As someone who loves to deadlift – and deadlift heavy – that advice always used to annoy me because it’s clearly not the best way to pull heavy weights.
I also think it can be dangerous to pull in this manner because almost every time I see someone set up for a near-maximal deadlift with their hips too low, they almost invariably shoot up before the bar breaks the floor and the person ends up rounding his lower back something awful.
So if your goal is to move as much weight as possible, a low hip position isn’t the best way to go.
But this article isn’t about the best way to deadlift as much weight as possible. We’re talking about working the quads here, and if that’s the goal, a lower hip position deadlift where you try to visualize squatting the weight up can be a pretty damn good exercise that’s much more knee-friendly than squatting.
Start by getting your butt down and your chest up with your weight on your heels. As you break the bar off the floor, it’s imperative that the hips and shoulders stay in sync in order to protect your back and keep the stress on your legs.
You’re going to have to drop the weights significantly to do this correctly. I’d even start with 30-40% of what you think you can deadlift normally as you adjust to the new technique. It’s important to be strict with these, both for the health of your back, and to make sure the stress stays on the quads.
I know that seems extremely light, but if you’re doing it right, your quads will feel it. You don’t have to stay super light forever and your numbers should climb quickly, but don’t add weight at the expense of form. The devil is in the details with these.
From time to time I also like to do them from a slight deficit to increase the range of motion. If doing so causes you knee pain, or you don’t have the requisite mobility to get that low with a flat back, avoid pulling from a deficit and just pull from the floor.
My favorite stance is what I’d call “semi-sumo” with my feet slightly wider than shoulder width. If you remove the bar from the equation and just look at the movement, this really looks more like a parallel squat.
You can also pull conventional, but I think the low hip conventional deadlift can be a bit riskier on the lower back, and I don’t feel it quite as much in my quads. Interestingly, I actually pull weight more conventional style than I do sumo, but sumo just feels better. If you choose to pull conventional, be extra careful not to let the hips shoot up as you initiate the pull.
If you’re lucky enough to have a trap bar at your gym, that’s another option too. I like the trap bar a lot, but I find that when my knees are bothering me it can be problematic, so keep that in mind.
Experiment with all the different variations and find what you like best.
6. Reverse Sled Drags
Reverse sled drags have been my biggest staple quad exercise for the past eight months and I’ve managed to add some muscle to my legs, despite not doing a ton of other heavy “quad” work. I’m certainly not advocating ditching all heavy lifting in favor of sled drags, but I do think it’s a great way to finish your lower body workouts, or even as a standalone on days when your knees just aren’t up for the task.
I’m not talking about taking a leisurely stroll at the end of the workout, though. In order for the sled drags to be a viable way to build muscle, you’ve got to push them (or pull them, rather) hard, just like you would any strength exercise. If you aren’t hating life while you’re pulling, you ain’t doing it right.
I’m hesitant to give specific recommendations on how to implement sled work because so much of it depends on the surface you’re pulling on and the space you have available.
As a point of reference, I’ve pulled up to 1,100 pounds on one indoor turf surface I use. On another outdoor turf surface, I top out around 650 pounds, and when I pull on rubber I struggle with 300 pounds. Don’t worry about the amount of weight you use – just worry about increasing that number over time.
Distance will vary depending on your space limitations. If possible, start with heavy drags of about 25-30 yards each. Start with four trips and gradually work up to 6-8 trips.
If that’s not specific enough for you, here’s a good general rule: go as heavy as you think you can go – plus a little bit – for as far as you think you can go (plus a little bit).
I’m not saying to get reckless, and you obviously need to exercise a certain degree of caution, but too many people wuss out at the slightest sign of a quad burn. Sorry, there’s no way to get around that – but the cool thing about sleds is that while they burn like hell while you’re doing them, they won’t leave you too sore the next day, so remind yourself of that while you’re pulling.
You need to push past your comfort zone to get results, but that goes for just about anything worth doing in life.
If knee pain has kept you from training your quads like you know you should, or the current exercises you’re doing are making your knees bark at the moon, give some of this stuff a shot and see how it goes.
And it should go without saying, but if any exercise hurts, stop doing it. Don’t try to be a hero.
Lastly, these exercises aren’t just for those of us with bad knees, nor do you have to wait until you have bad knees to start doing knee-friendly training. Even if your knees are feeling good at the moment, it might still be wise to sprinkle some of these exercises into your program to give your knees a little break so they stay healthy for the long haul.
It may require a little bit of imagination to find exercises that don’t hurt, but one way or another, almost anyone can build a set of wheels they can be proud of if you’re willing to put in the work.
Remember, friends don’t let friends skip leg day.
I wrote an article called Glutes Gone Wild in which I shared a bunch of exercises to help you build a butt you can be proud of without beating up your lower back and knees in the process.
This article picks up right where that one left off, giving you eight more variations to bolster your booty-building arsenal. Think of it as one article for each cheek.
1. Rack Romanian Deadlifts
Properly performed Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) are one of my all-time favorite exercises for developing the glutes and hamstrings. Trouble is, far too often they’re butchered worse than a Christmas ham.
As a small tangent, let me first make it clear that a RDL is not a “stiff-legged deadlift.”
In a stiff-legged deadlift, you keep the knees locked out and bend forward like you’re trying to touch your toes. However, if you do the exercise in this fashion – especially under heavy load – you’re asking for trouble.
Maybe it’s because I’ve gone through so many serious back problems, but I cringe every time I see someone doing stiff-legged deadlifts and wish they’d be ditched in favor of the RDL – which is far safer for the lower back, not to mention a superior glute exercise.
The RDL is a hip hinge where you maintain a slight bend in your knees while pushing your butt back as far as you can.
Lower down only as far as you can go and still maintain a flat back. Go too low and you risk hurting your lower back. By the same token, it’s easy to let your ego get the best of you as the weight gets heavier and you start cutting more and more reps, which you also don’t want.
With that in mind, I’ve found it can be extremely helpful to do your RDLs in the power rack with the pins set at the proper depth. This way you know just how low to go and don’t have to worry about it throughout your set. Think of it like using a box for a depth gauge with squats.
Set the pins at a level that allows you to keep good spinal positioning. When in doubt, or if you’re in between pins, err on the side of the higher setting. You can always lower it as your flexibility improves.
Another thing I like about doing them in the rack is that it forces you to control the eccentric portion of the rep to avoid bouncing the bar off the pins. Place it down gently, pause for a second, and come back up.
With regular RDLs, it’s easy to let your form deteriorate as the set goes on and start relying on momentum to help move the weight, but starting each rep from a dead stop reflexively teaches you to stay tight throughout, which protects the lower back.
You should initially reduce the weight as you adjust to the new technique, but it shouldn’t take long before you’re back up to using just as much weight as you could with regular RDLs – only now you’ll be feeling them in all the right places, keeping yourself healthy, and using a full range of motion on every rep.
2. Landmine Single-Leg RDLs
I’ve been a bit slow to come around to single-leg RDLs, which is odd because it seems like an exercise that’d be right up my alley given that I love RDLs, single-leg work, and virtually anything geared towards building up the caboose.
For some reason though, I’ve always struggled with the balancing aspect to the point that I don’t feel like I’m working my glutes and hamstrings to their full capacity. It’s gotten significantly better with practice, but I’m still not entirely comfortable with them.
If you find yourself in a similar boat, landmine single-leg RDLs may be the answer. Stand on your left leg facing the landmine unit with the bar in your right hand about an inch in front of your right thigh. Keeping a flat back, hinge at the hips as you reach your right leg straight back behind you while lowering your right arm towards the floor.
It should look like this:
When loading with dumbbells or a barbell, there’s a strong tendency to reach your arms too far out in front of you as you lower down, which pitches you forward and makes it tricky to keep your weight back on the heel of the working leg where you want it, thereby putting more strain on the lower back.
You don’t have to worry about that issue with the landmine because the bar travels on a fixed arc, so it automatically puts you in the correct position every rep and lets you get in a good rhythm.
It also allows you to reap the benefits of offset contralateral loading with far greater loading potential than holding a single heavy dumbbell. I do like holding a dumbbell in the opposite hand of the leg being worked, but I find that once I get over 50-60 pounds, it becomes very awkward to stabilize. With the landmine, I’m able to load it up as heavy as I can handle without any issues.
You can also set up perpendicular to the landmine that – due to the arc of the barbell – creates a “cross-body” reaching effect. Set up with the bar directly in front of “the goods,” just to the side of the working leg so that when you reach the floor, it’s directly in front of the foot.
Confused? This video should help clarify.
In the first version, the motion occurs almost entirely in the sagittal plane (although admittedly it requires stabilization in the frontal and transverse planes), but here you’re adding in a transverse plane component, which increases glute recruitment by forcing the hip external rotators to fire harder.
I find this version even easier to balance than the one where you’re facing the landmine, but I don’t like the idea of loading it up heavy once you introduce the rotational component. I’d probably recommend using this variation with lighter loads to familiarize yourself with the movement and then transition to the other way when you’re ready to start crushing some weight.
Play around with both ways and see what feels best to you.
Another bonus to using the landmine is that since you’re holding onto the fat end of the barbell, it’s great for building grip strength. The downside to that though is that as you start get stronger, you may find that your grip becomes the limiting factor. If that’s the case, just use straps.
Lastly, if you don’t have a specific landmine unit to secure the barbell, place it in a corner with a towel over the tip (so you don’t scuff up the walls and draw the ire of the gym staff) and place a heavy dumbbell on top to keep it from shifting around. Problem solved.
3. Offset Single-Leg Glute Bridge
I like single-leg barbell glute bridges more than bilateral barbell glute bridges because despite the load being significantly lighter, I feel an even bigger contraction in my glutes when I do them.
Moreover, because the load is a lot lighter, it’s also much more comfortable on the neck and hips, and there’s a lot less of a tendency to slide back on the floor like there is with heavy bilateral glute bridges. Plus, you don’t have to bother with loading and unloading a heavy-ass barbell at the end of your workout.
To make the single leg version even more intense, try offsetting the load by adding slightly more weight on the ipsilateral side (i.e. the side of the working leg) like so:
It won’t take much weight at all to notice a huge difference. As a point of reference, if you’re doing anywhere under 135 pounds of total load, a 10 pound differential will be about all you can handle. Anything over that and a 20-25 pound differential will be more than enough. Trust me, the contraction from these is insane.
To counteract the additional loading, you’ll need to position yourself a few inches closer to the more heavily weighted side to stabilize the bar on your hips. It might seem that the bar shifting and offset loading would counteract each other, but give it a try. It just feels different and the glutes fire harder.
Start the set by bridging up on both legs and getting yourself situated before removing the other foot from the picture, as that seems to help the set go more smoothly than just starting the set on one leg.
The downside to this one is after you finish one side, you have to physically get out from underneath the bar and face the other direction before doing the other side. Boo hoo. As mildly annoying as that might seem (suck it up), I think you’ll find that after a hard set your glutes will need the break anyway.
I also experimented with offsetting the load on the contralateral side and played around with offset loading for bilateral glute bridges as well as bilateral and unilateral hip thrusts, but I didn’t have as much luck with any of those. They sounded good in theory but didn’t pan out in reality.
4. Single-Leg Hip Thrusts
Single-leg hip thrusts are quickly becoming one of my favorite glute exercises. I actually like the bodyweight version and for many people, that’ll be sufficient for quite a while. Eventually though, bodyweight will no longer be challenging and you’ll need to add some load.
At first, the best way to add weight seems to be draping chains or weighted vests on your lap, but this can become cumbersome after about 40-50 pounds, so you’ll probably find that you’ll need to use a barbell.
It’s tough to balance the barbell at first though, so start by bridging up on two legs and lowering down on one. Keep the eccentrics on the slow side, and make sure you’re really controlling the weight.
Once you feel stable with that, you can then try the full single-leg version. Again, it’s useful to use slow eccentrics in the beginning to make sure you’re controlling the weight, and it also helps with learning how to stabilize the hips and pelvis so the bar doesn’t tip. Remember, using slower eccentrics will require you to use substantially less weight than you think you might be ready for, so plan accordingly.
The last step would be to do the exercise normally – still under control, but just not so slowly.
As with any bridging or thrusting variation, a good rule is that you should always be able to squeeze and hold the contraction at the top for a one-second pause. If you can’t, the weight is too heavy. Pausing the reps at the top also helps to ensure that you’re using your glutes and not just hyperextending from the lumbar spine.
That’s an important point to note. If you’re feeling this exercise in your back, you’re not doing it right and you probably need to lighten the load or slow down the movement (or both) and focus on doing it correctly. I find that for me, the unilateral version is more back-friendly than the bilateral version (probably just because of the lighter loads), but the point still applies.
Happy thrusting my friends.
5. Single-Leg Hip Thrust/Leg Curl Combo
I got the idea for this one from one of my readers, Matt, after writing Leg Curls 2.0. Matt wrote to me suggesting that I try a hip thrust combined with a Valslide leg curl.
So basically, it’d be a hip thrust where you start with your legs extended and slide them in as you thrust up. It seemed like a great idea, so I dropped what I was doing, got out my Valslides, and tried them leaning against my couch. While it’s a cool idea, I found it very awkward to perform a simultaneous hip thrust and leg curl without dipping the hips, and it just didn’t quite feel right.
Of course, maybe it was just too hard for me.
That being said, it got my wheels turning and I kept playing around with it and found that combining a single-leg hip thrust with an eccentric leg curl works really well. As in, it absolutely smokes the glutes and hamstrings.
Perform a single-leg hip thrust until your torso is parallel to the floor and you have a straight line going from your knee to your shoulder (the tibia will be about perpendicular to the floor). From there, maintain that line (which means you have to keep the glutes contracted) while you slide your leg out to full extension. Tap your butt down, return your foot to the starting position, and repeat. The key is to control the eccentric.
Here’s what it looks like in action.
I also tried it bilaterally, and while it’s okay, I like the unilateral version much better. You can also put a light chain across your waist to increase the difficulty if need be.
Beyond just the exercise though, this is a great example of respectful dialogue leading to something good. I appreciate that Matt sent me a message, and I ended up learning something useful from it, and now you will, too. I appreciate all your comments (well, most of them anyway) and please never hesitate to give me feedback as I’m always down to learn something new.
And I’m Out
That’s probably a good place to end. By now you’ve got more than enough artillery to build a praiseworthy posterior, but before you can build up your butt, you’ve got to get off your butt and get into the gym. I can’t do that part for you.