Unilateral vs Bilateral Squats: Which Should You Program?

One of the biggest online debates within the strength and conditioning community is bilateral squats versus unilateral squats. Some coaches believe that performing traditional squats while standing on two feet (bilateral) is without a doubt the best way to squat. Other coaches counter that single-leg squatting movements reign supreme, citing that they are more applicable to sport performance and they only program them for their athletes.

Whenever I get the question “Should I do bilateral or unilateral squats?”, my answer is always “Yes”. There are advantages to doing each, so why not do both?

The primary advantage of bilateral squats is simply that you can use a heavier load. That results in a greater training stimulus, especially for the core muscles and those that stabilize the spine. Training both sides at once can also save some time rather than training each leg separately. Balance is also usually not an issue.

With unilateral squatting though, I agree with the argument that it is more specific for sports. Athletes usually have only one foot on the ground at a time, so it makes sense to train that way. Training each side separately guarantees that each side is worked equally. And because balance is more difficult on one leg, training that balance at the same time is an added benefit.

There are lots of options for unilateral squats, but my personal favorite is the Rear Foot Elevated (RFE) Split Squat also referred to as the Bulgarian Split Squat. We used to just use benches to rest the rear foot on, but it’s not a very comfortable or natural feeling because of the foot placement and ankle action when performing the movement.

The MonoSquat Squat Stand

f 74447 monosquat 1

The Gopher Performance MonoSquat completely solves that issue. The roller pad on top allows the foot and ankle to stay in a more natural and neutral position while the rear leg simply rotates over the pad while descending and ascending through the exercise. And because it’s portable, you can easily move it and use it anywhere. Its use is much more flexible and versatile than using something that is permanently mounted in one place.

There are multiple variations and different means of loading, but the motion while performing a RFE Split Squat is essentially the same of all types. Here are the key points to keep in mind when doing this exercise:

  • Step out with the front foot into a medium distance from the Mono Squat. Don’t place the foot too close or too far forcing the back leg to reach. The front foot should point straight ahead.
  • Place the other leg back behind and up on the roller pad of the Mono Squat. The pad should be right at the front of the ankle joint, in that corner angle between the shin and the top of the foot.
  • Keep the torso upright with your chest up and head facing straight ahead.
  • Lower straight down as far as possible. You will feel a stretch in the quadricep and hip flexor of the back leg. The front foot should be below the knee and still pointed straight ahead. The torso is still held in a vertical position. Don’t bend forward.
  • Press back up using the front leg.

Variations of RFE Split Squats

Below are the different variations of loads that we use when we first start doing RFE Split Squats. More advanced options, like overhead bars or single arm holds, can be added once the athletes feel comfortable with the basics and have these mastered.

Back Rack

Front Rack

Safety Squat Bar

Hand-Supported Safety Squat Bar


2 Dumbbells/Kettlebells

Dumbbell/Kettlebell Goblet

Add the MonoSquat Squat Stand to Your Weight Room

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