Training The Lower Extremity – Building & Rebuilding the Athlete From the Ground Up


My philosophy almost from the day I started coaching was to build and rebuild the athlete from the ground up. Functionally strong legs are a foundation for all performance. That being said I never lose sight of the fact that I must train the whole kinetic chain. I know it is has become very popular to divide the lower extremity into posterior and anterior kinetic chains. That is flat out wrong. The legs and hip must be trained as part of the whole kinetic chain. Our lower extremity functions the way it does because of the interaction of gravity and ground reaction forces. Gravity loads us and we must learn to use the ground effectively to move. The gait cycle is the cornerstone of function, when we move, work and play we move off of one leg onto the other leg. This should tell us much about how we should train. The biggest deficiency I have consistently seen in athletes in my 41 years of coaching has been the inability to coordinate ankle/knee/hip to reduce and produce force effectively based on the demands of the sport. It is not a matter of glute activation; it is a matter of proper exercise selection that is suited to the needs of the athletes and the demands of their sport. If you are standing upright against gravity the glues are activated. The glutes are big for a reason.

Lying in supine positions to work on isolated glute activation is time ill spent. Ok for a stroke patient, not for an athlete. Start with a single squat and build from there. Stress coordination of ankle/knee/hip and the quality of the linkage, don’t focus on the links, focus on the linkages, how they work together.

I start each workout with balance single squat held for ten seconds in all three planes of motion as part of warm-up. This also serves as my daily evaluation of their progress in terms of linkage and coordination (Training=Testing and Testing =Training) On my lower extremity strengthening days we start with elevated pistol single leg squat or a seated pistol single squat. Then we squat. I invest a tremendous of time in building a foundation with body weight squats done through a full range at one rep per second (Based on concept articulated by Curwin and Stanish in their landmark book- Tendonitis its Etiology and Treatment) I believe in the traditional squat and all the variations. The variations are based on the needs of the athlete, not some arbitrary selection based on variety. I determine the athlete’s needs through a comprehensive Physical Competency Assessment (PCA) and daily observation of their quality of movement. I also include a significant amount of lunging in all three planes with appropriate load. In addition I use step-up both low box alternating and high box single leg. Based on the sport, training age and level of development of the athlete, injury history I systematically vary the selection of the exercises and the mode of resistance.

When training the lower extremity think about what you are trying to accomplish. Don’t buy into fads and gimmicks. Look at the science. Read the studies of Escamilla and his colleagues; don’t take my word for it. To effectively build the athlete train standing, using bilateral, unilateral, and reciprocal movements. That is functional training for the lower extremity.

Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
RT @GreatestQuotes: Your aspirations are your possibilities. - Samuel Johnson - 4 years ago
Vern Gambetta

Latest posts by Vern Gambetta (see all)