Single-Leg Exercises for Runners

Strength & Cross Training Advice,Videos: Leg Strengthening
Single-Leg Exercises for Runners

What are single-leg exercises?

Single leg exercises are where only one leg touches the ground and the other leg is held off the ground, for example: 

  • Single leg deadlift
  • Single leg squat
  • Bulgarian squat (rear foot elevated split squat)

Some popular exercises are partly performed on one leg – for example, lunges – but in single leg exercises one foot should be held off the ground the entire time of performing the movement.

Single-Leg BenefitsSingle-Leg WorkoutSingle-Leg Squats

Benefits of single-leg exercises for runners

It’s true – if you want to be a better runner you should think about implementing cross training into your routine. Lots of us do strength training and core strengthening exercises by incorporating cycling or swimming … but do we train our legs separately?

Have you noticed that we don’t run with both legs at the same time? Yet when we train in the gym, we do mainly bilateral exercises. There are a few good reasons why you should implement single leg exercises into your training programme.

  • Forcing your non-dominant leg to work as hard as your dominant leg
  • Improving your balance
  • Strengthening core muscles
  • Reducing asymmetry of your lower limbs
  • Speeding up the rehabilitation process after injury
  • Reducing risk of ankle sprains

This is just to name a few! Are you convinced?

Are single-leg exercises good for runners?

Single leg exercises have an amazing impact on running performance. Some coaches note that running is actually a unilateral movement – during the run, you never have both feet on the ground at the same time. If you want to ‘play as you train and train as you play’, it makes sense to include single-leg exercises in your workout routine.

Hard surfaces – as well as uneven terrain when running off-road – make running quite a challenge for our lower limbs. Our muscles and joints need to deal with a tremendous amount of impact each time we land on the ground. Research shows that a Bulgarian squat supports 85% of the front leg load – greater than a split squat and lunge (only 75%). Also, the benefits of a Bulgarian squat include prevention of lower-extremity injury, improved gait and sport performance, and increased muscle size and strength. Are you convinced yet?

Single-Leg Workout for Runners

Continue practising (if you are doing so) traditional, bilateral exercises – back squats, deadlift, bench presses, etc. but try swapping around 30% into the unilateral version. You’ll notice how it challenges your posture (especially if performed barefoot) and how your right and left leg react differently to the same exercise.

Remember to progress sensibly, especially if you are a beginner in strength training. Start with your bodyweight, then add an extra weight of dumbbells or kettle bells. If you are switching from bilateral exercise to unilateral exercise, remember to reduce the load of the weights! You will lift much less squatting on one leg than two.

Single-Leg Squats for Runners

The single leg squat is an amazing exercise, which is proven to build the most strength in both the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus at the same time. You will also activate the quadriceps, and basically all muscles of the lower limb! 

But the single leg squat is not just another fantastic workout for your legs (although it is). It's a great screening test for your body! Don't be shy, go ahead and stand in front of the mirror, or ask your running buddy to record you and see what's happening with your body when you increase the depth of a single leg squat. Any trunk or knee rotation, maybe hip hikes or drops, losing your balance – all of these are telling you about weaker points in your body. Also, checking the progress of your strength training by recording your single leg squat every week or two is a great way to make faster improvements and keep motivated. 

If you have never tried single leg exercises, don't wait any longer: enjoy and discover a new world of unilateral movement. Good luck!

These are exercises that we've found very useful and want to share with our customers. But we're not certified instructors. Always consult your specialist before beginning any exercise programme. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.

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