The single-leg squat is an advanced exercise that requires strength, balance and flexibility. It works the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings. This is not an exercise you just do with no preparation. You have to work up to the movement, gradually increasing your strength and balance. Before attempting a progression to the single-leg squat, you should be able to properly perform a two-legged standard squat and a basic forward lunge for 15 to 20 repetitions with good form.
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This is a variation of the standard stepup exercise with one small adjustment. When you do a standard stepup, it is almost impossible to keep your back leg from assisting you. You instinctively push through the back foot to help yourself onto the step. To eliminate this assistance, dorsiflex -- pull your toes toward your shin -- your ankle. This places the calf muscles in a stretched position, rendering them unable to assist in the stepup and forcing the other leg to do all of the work. Start with a low step, 12 to 18 inches, and gradually increase the height once you are able to complete 15 repetitions on each leg.
Assisted Single-Leg Squat
For this single-leg squat variation, hold onto any secure object, such as a doorway, railing or suspension strap, to assist you during the exercise. The object provides a balancing tool and offers leverage to help you stand up out of the squat. Focus on using the strength of your working leg as much as possible to stand up. As you become stronger, change your grip to reduce your ability to use your arms for assistance. Instead of gripping the object, simply place your hands on the surface to provide balance without offering assistance in standing up.
Range of Motion Single-Leg Squat
At this point, you will actually perform a single-leg squat, but you will limit the range of motion to make the exercise easier. Stand in front of a stool, bench or step. Start with a bench about knee height or slightly taller. Perform a single-leg squat, descending until your buttocks touch the bench. Once you can complete 10 to 12 repetitions with each leg, use a slightly lower bench. Continue to lower the bench as you become more adept at the exercise.
The last progression is the single-leg squat itself. Stand with your arms extended out in front of your body. This helps counterbalance your weight as you squat. Lift your left foot off the floor. Squat as far as you can, holding your left leg extended in front of you, not allowing your foot to touch the floor. Press back up into a standing position. Although holding weights typically makes an exercise more challenging, holding light dumbbells with your arms extended provides counterbalance, making the movement easier for those who struggle to balance themselves.
You can incorporate single-leg squat training into your regular workout routine. On leg days, complete three to four sets of a single-leg squat progression exercise at the end of your workout. Flexibility in your hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles is key to properly performing the single-leg squat exercise. Stretch these muscles regularly at the end of your leg workouts. Stretch each muscle three to four times, 10 to 30 seconds per stretch.