8 Single-Leg Exercises for Strength & Balance

 

8 Single-Leg Exercises for Strength & Balance

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After experiencing both a (left) foot and (right) leg injury last year, I struggled a lot with one side of my body being much stronger than the other.


The overcompensation of the strong side not only kept the weaker side weak, but put me at risk for injury to the “good” side. As I returned to running, I realized that my strength training needed to be revamped to address these imbalances.

Exercises using both my legs were often counterproductive as I would use my stronger side instead of both sides. Thus, I sought out single-legged exercises to isolate and improve weak spots.

These eight are the ones I now incorporate into my regular routine. Do 8-15 repetitions per leg and add weights only if you can perform the exercise easily with body weight.

1) Split squat

  • Find a chair or a bench with a seat approximately at knee height and stand in front of it.
  • Place one foot with toes facing down behind you atop the chair or bench with a slight split in your legs.
  • Use the leg planted on the floor to go into a lunge position, keeping your back straight.
  • Use your heel to push back up.

For the weighted version, hold a set of dumbbells with your arms down as you perform the exercise.

2) Captain Morgan

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  • Bring one knee up to a 90° angle, or as much as your flexibility allows.
  • Extend your arms out on other side of you and act as though you are passing something from hand-to-hand in front of your chest.

For the weight version, use a single weight to pass between your hands when performing the motion.

3) Pistol squat

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Bring one knee up to a 90° angle, or as much as your flexibility allows.
  • Hold onto a wall or something else for extra stability.
  • Keeping your back straight, lower the planted foot into a squat, with as much range of motion as your body allows.
  • Use your heel to push back up.

For the weighted version, hold a set of dumbbells with your arms down as you perform the exercise.

4) Bend & reach

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. You can either use a real object or weight, or just imagine an item 2-3 feet front of you on the floor.
  • Slowly bend over, kicking one leg behind you and reach for the object on the ground in a controlled motion.
  • Use your planted foot, rather than momentum to swing back upright.

For the weighted version, pick up and lower a weight with each repetition.

5) Step-ups

  • Standing tall and parallel to a step, step onto the step using the closest leg.
  • Bring the opposite leg up into a 90° angle and then lower back down.
  • Try holding the motion for a few additional seconds on each leg as you gain strength.

For the weighted version, hold a set of dumbbells with your arms down as you perform the exercise.

6) Forward lunge

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. ‘
  • Place one leg in front of you and lower your opposite knee as close to the ground as your flexibility will allow.
  • Push up from the heel with the extended leg.

This exercise can be performed either with the same leg repeatedly or alternating legs throughout the set. For the weighted version, hold a set of dumbbells with your arms down as you perform the exercise.

7) Backwards lunge

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  • Place one leg behind you and lower that knee as close to the ground as your flexibility will allow.
  • Push up from the heel with the planted leg.

This exercise can be performed either with the same leg repeatedly or alternating legs throughout the set. For the weighted version, hold a set of dumbbells with your arms down as you perform the exercise.

8) Curtsy lunge

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  • Place one leg behind the other leg (like in a curtsy) and lower that knee as close to the ground as your flexibility will allow.
  • Push up from the heel with the planted leg.

This exercise can be performed either with the same leg repeatedly or alternating legs throughout the set. For the weighted version, hold a set of dumbbells with your arms down as you perform the exercise.


Carissa Liebowitz has run the New York and Boston Marathons as well as dozens of marathons and half marathons. You can follow her running adventures on StravaInstagram and her blog.

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