What Do We Mean – Single Leg?
A question that often comes up both with clients and with trainers themselves, is the need for single leg work. Years ago, it was thought that squats and deadlifts were all there were needed to keep the body strong and for the athletic community, all that were
needed to build strength and power. Strength training has primarily been on two limbs and in the sagittal plane (moving front
to back). With the increased knowledge in the area of functional anatomy over the last 10 years, training methods have also changed.
It is now known that single leg training involves working more muscles resulting is greater strength and stability.
Very little in life or sport happens with two feet on the ground. With all movements, there is always one foot on the ground and one
in motion. Simple walking is a case of single leg movement.
What Muscles are we Training with Single Leg Exercises?
When performing double leg exercises, we are using the prime movers mainly (quads, gluteus maxiumus, hamstrings). With single leg
squats, the stabilizing muscles (glutes medius, adductors or inner thigh) and spinal stabilizers must all come into play to maintain a
stable pelvis. Some examples of single leg exercises are: step ups, lunges, split squats, bulgarians (ugh!) and one leg squats.
With all of these single leg exercises, all but one have the non working foot supported. With lunges, the non working foot is still
on the ground. With bulgarians, the non working or rear leg is supported on a block. The only unsupported single leg exercise is
the single leg squat. With this squat, the non working foot is not allowed to touch the ground.
With the supported single leg exercises, some of the stabilizing muscles aren't working as hard as they could be. With an unsupported single leg squat, the stabilizing muscles of the hip and pelvis must actively work. More muscles will work in an
unsupported single leg squat, resulting in greater strength and stability. And, from a pure caloric point, more muscles working
means more calories being burned = greater fat burning.
Not All Single Leg Work Requires Squats or Lunges?
Another group of exercises done as a single leg is the deadlift. The single leg deadlift is done in the sagittal plane and is
primarily a hip hinge movement. But, the spinal erector muscles as well as the lower trapezius and rhomboid muscles of the back must
work to stabilize the spine and shoulder. The glute (or hip rotators) and pevlic muscles must work to stabilize the pelvis and
keep it in the sagittal plane. This is one exercise that gives you a big bang for your buck. Not only is it working a huge amount of
muscles, but there is less stress on the lower back than with a two foot traditional deadlift.
So, even though single leg work can be demanding and even a little frustrating at times, it is vital to our overall health and well
being. Single leg squats and deadlifts are excellent examples of strength training exercises that will be as much or more benefit to
you outside the gym as in.