Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington swears by them: Single Leg Squats!
The Single Leg Squat is a very effective strength exercise to work on some key muscles which we need both in sport and in everyday life. For the main sports I coach (running and triathlon) having a strong core and being able to use the strength from our gluteus, quads and hips is a vital ingredient for doing the sport more efficiently.
The single leg squat, like the squat itself, targets the gluteus medius, gluteus maximus and the quad muscles but as it is done one leg at a time the individual muscles are being targeted more effectively. That said, this only applies if the single leg squat is performed with good technique. Engaging the core becomes much more important as this helps keep good technique and you will be able to hold your balance better.
Being able to do a single leg squat properly will take time and patience. For many there will be a period of practicing the double leg squat first.
The key things to keep in mind when performing a squat are:
– Keep your upper body in neutral (shoulders back, chest out and a straight back)
– The tip of your knees should stay behind the tip of your toes when performing the squat
– The knees should move in a vertical plane only
– Keep your feet firmly planted on the floor
– Perform the squat as if you are sitting down on an imaginary chair
– Keep the movement slow and controlled
– Only perform the squat movement as far as you can keep good form
The above principles remain the same for a single leg squat. When starting out doing a single leg squat I would only squat down a short way so that the body gets used to the movement and you are able to keep good form. One way to help do a single leg squat in the early stages is to hold onto the wall or a piece of gym equipment as this will help you with balance.
It is worthwhile having someone guide you through the squat initially to make sure that your knee is well aligned, your upper body stays in a neutral position and to cue you when to start returning to the starting position. Only when you are very comfortable in squatting and even more so in doing the single leg squat would I introduce weights to this exercise. The single leg squat can be hugely effective with just using bodyweight.
Keeping a regular routine of single leg squat exercises together with a small number of other body weight leg strengthening exercises such as calf raises and lunges will help in using the bigger muscle groups over smaller muscles in particular when running. This therefore takes pressure off some of the smaller muscles and reduces the risk of injury.
Using the right muscle groups is one key part in running better along with amongst other things the right technique and correct footwear. If we can stay injury free we can train more consistently and consistency leads to better results.