Changing Stance in Lower Body Workouts for Gain

By Diane Vives, M.S., C.S.C.S., *D, N.S.C.A.-C.P.T. – August 1, 2014
Photo by Brian Fitzsimmons

The biggest opportunities to build functional strength are sometimes hidden in progressions that many people skip. The most common and key way to increase or decrease a movement’s intensity is to change the base of support. This can be used, for example, when the exercise incorporates a one-, two-, or four-point (hands are included on the ground) stance. To increase the intensity of a lower body movement, reduce the base of support or the amount of ground contact by going from a two-point, parallel stance to the more difficult progression of a single-point (one-footed) stance. This big jump in progression can, however, result in compensation strategies, such as limiting the range of motion in the exercise or reducing the quality to the point where bad movement patterns are encouraged.  For this reason, it’s important to take a look at examples of strategies for transitional movements aimed at improving multidirectional speed and agility that bridge the gap in stance progression and reinforce key movements.

  • Changing the base of support is a great way to change the intensity of a functional movement—but it’s necessary to incorporate smart strategies in the progression toward committing to a single-foot stance.
  • Utilize a staggered stance, emphasizing the load on the forward foot, to narrow the base of support while maintaining a two-footed stance.
  • Incorporate a rear-elevated foot stance to allow contact for balance and assistance while applying about 70 percent of the weight and force production on the forward foot.
  • Take a multidirectional step to narrow the base and reinforce a functional step, and then re-establish recovery into the two-footed stance.


Staggered Dead Lift with Ultimate Sandbag

(created by Josh Henkin)

Purpose: The dead lift is a core hip-hinging movement that strengthens the powerful movement of the hips. Staggering the stance allows more force to be applied through the forward foot while using the back foot to maintain two points of contact. The Ultimate Sandbag is different from other exercise sandbags in that it has handles to provide a neutral grip and creates variable resistance by challenging the athlete as the sand within the bag shifts.


  1. Start with the feet staggered about 6–12 inches apart and about 4–6 inches wide, just inside hip-width. Push your rear end behind you as much as possible while maintaining a neutral spine and vertical shin in the forward leg to hinge the hips.
  2. Place the sandbag directly in front of the forward foot, and grab the neutral grips.
  3. Create tension by just slightly pulling upward on the sandbag. Establish a strong connection between the arms and trunk by really engaging the lats for stability.
  4. Press the heel of the forward foot through the floor, and fully extend at the hips to stand as tall as possible and reach the top of your head toward the ceiling. Keep the sandbag close to the body at all times.
  5. Return to start by reaching back with the butt and returning the sandbag to the ground.
  6. After the desired number of repetitions, switch the lead foot in the staggered stance and repeat. 


Rear-elevated, Split Squat with Sandbag

Purpose: This movement puts the majority of weight and force production on the forward foot while using a front carry position to counterbalance the motion of the squat and encourage a full range of motion.    


  1. Start with the forward foot flat on the ground, toes forward and the rear foot elevated on a stable step or bench at or below knee-level of the forward leg. With the feet hip-width apart, stand tall and hold the sandbag tight to the chest and front of shoulders.
  2. Actively pull down into a split squat while focusing the weight on the forward foot. Squat until the crease of the hip is parallel to or just below the knee on the forward leg.
  3. Be sure to maintain a long, neutral spine throughout the movement. Do not let the front load of the sandbag to pull you forward or round the back.   The movement should be a vertical descent of the hips.
  4. Return to start by pushing the ground away from the heel of the forward foot and extending the forward leg until you are standing as tall as possible and hips are fully extended.

Watch the Workout Video

Crossover Lunge with Sandbag

Purpose: Use a multidirectional step often seen in sports movements to create a narrow base of support while lowering the center of mass and recovering into a parallel stance. This demands good hip mobility and motor control in the crossover lunge, and using a bear-hug carry for the sandbag is a great method for loading the movement. 


  1. Start in a tall posture in a parallel stance, with the sandbag hugged close to the body.
  2. Lunge back and across the midline of the body. Finish with the rear foot on or just past the midline; the forward shin should be vertical so that the knee does not collapse.
  3. Maintain a long and neutral spine throughout the descending and ascending movements of the lunge. Do not let the sandbag move or pull you into forward flexion.
  4. Press through the forward heel to return to a tall standing, parallel stance. 

These movements add great options for exercises that will effectively build strength while progressing from a two-foot to a single-foot base of support. So much of human movement involves transitioning between stances, producing force in various stances, and recovering between transitions. These movements can definitely add value to an overall exercise program while introducing great loading tools that use variable resistance. Kick things up by adding lower body movements to your circuits; just remember to maintain focus on technique and finish sets before fatigue causes technical failure. It’s always great to leave one or two reps in reserve to make sure that good movements aren’t breaking down and reinforcing compensatory mechanics. 


BONUS Movement: 

Halo in Half-Kneeling Stance with Sandbag

Purpose:  Establish and maintain good hip static motor control in the half-kneeling posture and then challenge maintaining that posture with upper body dynamic, multi-planar load of the halo movement.  This is a great core strengthening movement that reinforces lower body stability.

  1. Establish a half-kneeling stance with a vertical straight line created by the back knee, hip, and shoulder.
  2. Grip the handles of the Ultimate Sandbag and place it just in front of the upper torso.
  3. While maintaining a stable lower body with no movement or shift in position, move the sandbag close to the body and circle the head and shoulders.
  4. Complete the rotations in one direction and then reverse the motion to complete rotations in the opposite direction.
  5. Never lose upright torso position and use a slow, controlled motion.

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