Five Leg Exercises That Translate From Gym to Field

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Want to jump higher? Sprint faster? Stay off the injury report? How about all three? Try adding functional leg training to your workouts.

By focusing on muscles and movements used in games, functional leg training translates directly from the gym to the field. In the 10 years that I have been using these exercises to train professional, college and high school athletes, I've only had one full-time client suffer a season-ending knee injury.

When you strengthen the muscles you use most during competition, you're building the foundation for long-term athletic success. Boost your on-field performance with these five functional leg exercises.

Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat


  • Increases hip flexibility
  • Increases single-leg power for more explosive movements

How to Perform the Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat

  • Place top of foot, with laces facing down, on 18-inch plyo box or bench
  • Keep weight on heel of front foot
  • Bring back knee to down about two inches from floor
  • Use standard Squat technique
  • Return to start position; repeat for specified reps


  • Goblet — Hold kettlebell or dumbbell under chin
  • Barbell — Hold barbell behind back across shoulders
  • Offsetting Dumbbell — Hold dumbbell in opposite hand of working leg
  • Two Dumbbells — Hold pair of dumbbells

Sets/Reps: 3-6x3-8

Overhead Lunge


  • Increases hip, ankle and shoulder mobility
  • Builds core strength
  • Improves leg power

How to Perform the Overhead Lunge

  • Raise weight over head, keeping core tight, shoulders back and chest up
  • With weight over head, perform Lunge
  • Repeat for specified reps


  • Barbell — Hold barbell over head
  • Kettlebell — Hold two kettlebells instead of barbell
  • Offsetting kettlebell or dumbbell — Hold weight in hand opposite lunging leg

Sets/Reps: 3-6x3-6

Trap Bar Deadlift


  • Uses a much more athletic stance than a traditional Deadlift, leading to a more natural transition to the field
  • Adaptable to athletes of all shapes and sizes

How to Perform the Trap Bar Deadlift

  • Step inside bar with feet shoulder-width apart
  • Lift bar by extending knees and hips while keeping chest up, back flat and core tight
  • Drive hard through mid-foot; do not allow heels to come off floor
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 3-8x3-6

Trap Bar Deadlift

Three-Way Lunge


  • Develops first-step explosiveness
  • Builds strength through all three planes of movement

How to Perform the Three-Way Lunge

  • Perform a traditional Forward Lunge
  • With chest up, core tight and both feet facing forward, step left leg out to side
  • Perform Lateral Lunge, holding arms out for balance
  • Return to start position, then step 45 degrees backward, keeping chest up and core tight
  • Repeat series on right leg
  • Repeat for specified reps


  • Plate — Hold weight plate in front of body
  • Med Ball — Hold med ball in front of body
  • Vest — Wear weighted vest through all Lunges

Sets/Reps: 3-5x3-9

Unsupported Single-Leg Squat


  • Reduces knee injury by strengthening the muscles that attach the knee to the upper leg
  • Increases upper-leg power

How to Perform the Unsupported Single-Leg Squat

  • Stand with back to weight bench
  • Keeping chest and core tight, squat and touch butt to bench
  • Hold arms out for balance
  • Keep non-working leg straight and off ground


  • Dumbbells/Plates — Hold five- or 10-pound dumbbells or weight plates in front of body
  • Vest — Perform Squats with weighted vest

Sets/Reps: 3-6x3-8


A strength and conditioning coach at the collegiate level since 2002, Jason Spray is currently the director of strength and conditioning for men's basketball and assistant director for football at Middle Tennessee State University, where he also aids in day-to-day physical and nutritional development. Spray earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from Middle Tennessee and is CSCS, SCCC, USAW, NSCA, NASE, FMS and CSCCa certified. He is also a USA Weightlifting Club coach and a certified physical therapy aide. Spray has trained athletes ranging from high school to professional and Olympic levels. He has been featured in Premier Players Magazine and is the head sports performance adviser for RSP Nutrition.

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