Single leg strength is an often neglected component in many people’s training programs. Single leg exercises can help improve your strength on bilateral movements but also improve your mobility and stability in your ankles, knees, and hips. Most single exercises can be used as a regression or progression for bilateral movements and they can benefit all trainees from novice to advanced.
Here are my top single leg strength exercises…
The Lateral Lunge
The lateral lunge is definitely a forgotten and neglected movement pattern for many people. It provides extra benefit by strengthening the quads and glutei while working in the frontal plane of motion (lateral -> side to side movement) which most people are lacking in their movement diet.
The lateral lunge should be performed by starting with the feet together, from the starting position step on leg out as wide as you while bending the knee, keeping your chest up, and pushing your hips back. Be sure to keep your non-moving leg straight as you step out (you don’t want your knee to bend.) From here, press your foot on the working leg into the ground and extend the knee and hip so you can step back in to the starting position. Complete 10-15 reps on one leg, and then do the other leg.
The Split Squat
The split squat is one of my “GO TO” exercises for novice trainees, especially those that struggle with the traditional squat. It can help to ingrain proper movement patterning for bilateral movements and it provides a great stretch through hip for those that are overly tight.
To do the split squat, get into a long and wide stance. Think of your stance as wanting to be standing on train tracks versus standing on a tight rope. From here, while keeping the torso upright, push the knee forward and down as far as you can on the front leg while bending the rear leg to accommodate this movement. Do not rest or kneel on the floor at the bottom position, from the bottom press your toes and heels from the front leg into the ground as hard as you can and return to the starting position. Perform 8-12 repetitions of this exercises. Start by doing the movement unloaded and then progressing to loading it with cables, dumbbells, and barbells over time.
The Reverse Lunge
The reverse lunge is one of my favourite exercises for developing the glutes, it is even more beneficial if you perform it with a deficit starting position. To perform the reverse lunge, start by standing with your feet together. From the starting position, step one foot back while bending the front knee. Lower yourself so you stop just shy of the floor. Exhale and return to the starting position. You can feel free to alternate your legs, or perform as all the reps on one leg and then on the other for each set. Perform the reverse lunge for 8-12 reps per leg. Add additional loads as you see fit – but don’t be too eager to make this exercise too heavy.
The Cossack Squat
The Cossack squat is one of my favourite movements for developing hip mobility and stability. It does require a good foundation of mobility in order to perform with a full range of motion, but partial ranges can be beneficial as well. I usually do not recommend performing Cossack squats with external load, but you can use your discretion when deciding if you like to add additional weight.
Set up for the Cossack squat by getting into a very stance with the knees extending and toes turned out. Lower yourself down into a squat position on one side making sure to keeping the knee inline with your middle toe. Once you’ve hit your bottom depth, your torso should be relatively upright. Press the foot of the bent knee into the ground while also using the stretched/straight leg to pull yourself back to your starting position. Alternate legs on each repetition. Perform for 8-12 reps or as you see fit.
By placing the arms in front of you while doing the Cossack squat you create a counter balance, which can be helpful in regard to staying more upright during the movement.
Now that you have at least four exercise to add into your single leg strength work, you’re well on your way to getting stronger and having more stable ankles, knees, and hips. They key is to use them at the right time for the right purpose 🙂
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