Why Single Leg Exercises Are So Good!
Out of all the exercises we use on a daily basis with all clients the single leg exercises would be our most used exercise, the hardest to teach and come with the most mistakes. It is very rare for us to find someone who is excellent at these exercises, even the elite athletes can struggle with this. As mentioned in the intro spending time learning how to become not just good at these exercises, but GREAT at them, is pivotal to success in health and fitness as much as sports and preventing many of the unwanted chronic injuries we see today.
There is just so many things happening when we stand and then move on one leg and it all happens in a split second on an automatic program. The brain will not question if it is right or wrong it will just the use the program it knows the most! Some muscles will contract, others will stretch and elongate while some muscles provide stability and stiffness, and all of this is done within a split second without you having to think about it! This is known as a motor program. You can begin to see how easily something can go wrong here if the body is exposed to an injury at a joint, or a set of muscles are repeatedly tightened up from sitting too long or wearing high heel shoes. The body will be forced to compensate due to either a mobility restriction or a stability and strength deficit, and this compensation will create a faulty program that will eventually lead to………………… pain!
“It is your job to teach the body how to move efficiently”
But where do you start?
Use The Single Leg Squat As A Test
Even if you are 80 years old, if you can walk you should be able to do a single leg squat.
- Begin the movement by flexing at the hip and continue bending the knee and ankle until your thigh is as close to parallel to the ground as you can get it.
- Keep hands in front of the body.
- Keep trunk as neutral as possible, preferably neck above toes, avoiding excessive lumbar and thoracic curvature.
- Heel must stay in contact with the ground at all times.
- And MOST IMPORTANTLY make sure you ankle, knee and hip all line up in a perfect straight line.
There are a quite few things that contribute to poor single-leg squatting so here is a table highlighting what to look for.
Now that you have completed your test you can narrow down where to address of weakness or stiffness. We find that the best method for doing this is by applying a process known as the success formula.
STEP 1 – FLEXIBILITY & MOBILITY
This process works by addressing any flexibility and mobility problems FIRST!
For example if on the test you found your ankle was very restricted then you would start with using a series of ankle stretches and mobility drills.
If however you found you were really tight in the hips, you would use a series of hip stretches and mobility drills to address this.
STEP 2 – STABILITY
Once you have addressed this you move to the next phase which is Stability. Now standing on one leg already works this in a big way and for some people this can be very hard. An easy exercise to improve with this is by standing on one leg with your eyes shut and trying to stay still for 30 seconds!
STEP 3 – STRENGTH
Once you begin to get the stability corrected it is time to build strength. But make sure you don’t rush through this stage. Go back and retest yourself again to make sure you are as close to perfect before trying to use strength exercises. There is many ways to do this, the obvious one being to add some load to the single leg squat. But I like to use some simple hip extension exercises first, adding some complex skills to the mix such as BOSU or even arm exercises before eventually adding load.
STEP 4 – POWER
Now many of you might think you don’t need power, this is just for someone who plays sports. Think again. We all need this, for the movement of walking up stairs requires a fast movement. If you walk up stairs slowly you need a lot more strength for the timing is out and where momentum created from a faster speed would allow you to “cheat” through needing strength to go upstairs, a slower speed now forces the muscles to work really hard. Research has found that older adults lose speed and power before they lose strength!
I hope you have enjoyed this article and can see just why we love single leg exercises so much. Becoming great at these exercises can change so many things for you can change skills like balance, mobility and strength all at once, not to mention the affect on the brain and coordination. We rely on our ability to walk around and move efficiently so much and take it for granted it will always be there for us. But like anything if you don’t work on it and look after it you will lose it and develop bad habits and problems that could have been avoided with some simple exercises.