Deciding on grip/hand position for single leg exercises

How do you know where and how to place the external load (the weight) when you’re doing single leg exercises? Hopefully this blog post will give you some clues.

The four main options are

  1. Barbell front rack
  2. Barbell back rack
  3. Dumbbells by your sides
  4. Dumbbells overhead

Barbell front rack for single leg exercises

Benefits of the barbell front rack:

  • carries over to the front squat and clean and jerk
  • builds your mid and upper back
  • builds your abs and your whole core
  • improves your posture (as it requires thoracic extension)
  • means less loading on the spine
  • can be cleaned from floor into position

Drawbacks of the barbell front rack:

  • requires a large amount of space if not done inside the rack (for e.g. walking lunges)
  • may not be able to use as much weight as barbell back rack

Barbell back rack for single leg exercises


  • normally allows for more weight to be lifted
  • may work posterior chain more


  • can be difficult and awkward to get into position if not done inside the rack
  • would have to be cleaned, jerked and lowered onto shoulders… before the exercise even begins
  • loads the spine more

Barbell overhead for single leg exercises


  • builds core
  • builds overhead stability
  • builds overhead confidence
  • transfers to Olympic lifting
  • a light weight can be very challenging!


  • can be dangerous / great care must be taken in particular for dynamic exercises such as walking lunges
  • requires a lot of space for dynamic exercises

Dumbbells in hands by sides for single leg exercises


  • builds grip
  • arguably much safer than using a bar
  • might be better for building stability and balance (I personally tend to wobble far more with dumbbells than a bar!)
  • easy to get into position
  • little space needed / can be done at home


  • weight normally limited by grip strength
  • lighter weights normally used than barbell, therefore may be harder to build strength

Dumbbells overhead for single leg exercises


  • extremely challenging! very light weights can be really hard! (especially holding two overhead in each hand)
  • phenomenal development of core strength, balance and stability
  • good carryover to Olympic lifting
  • very little space needed / can be done at home
  • a convenient way to progress from dumbbells by your sides if all you have is a set of dumbbells available


  • very hard for beginners!
  • light weights used so may not be the best option for building strength

Holding dumbbells overhead might also be a good option for people recovering from injuries, as the weight used will be relatively light – but the position and stability/balance required makes the exercise incredibly challenging!

There are lots of options and it very much depends on your goals, the space you have available, the equipment you have available, and most importantly, which exercise you are planning on doing as to how you will perform it!


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