The Single-Leg Squat is an all-purpose exercise for strength, balance, power and lowering risk of injury. According to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, it can't be beat for stabilizing the hip and knee, and it does a great job engaging the glutes when you produce significant force.
There's only one problem: Few young athletes can do the exercise properly on both their left and right legs. They attempt the exercise with sub-standard technique, which could set them up for injury before they even reach the field or court. Studies of power lifters, jumpers and elite youth soccer players all reveal strength and power asymmetries between left and right legs during bilateral resistance training exercises.
Follow the tips below and properly perform a Single-Leg Squat.
Get Up To Get Down
Perform the Single-Leg Squat standing on a bench to reduce the amount of load on the working leg at the lowest and weakest point of the range of motion. This also decreases the pull of the hip flexors on the spine and reduces the chance of a strain.
Tall athletes and those with longer legs benefit most. By keeping a straight leg and lightly touching the ball of your foot on the floor at the bottom of the movement, you will get a sense for how deep you can go without losing form.
Touch the same spot each time until you master it, then reach 1 or 2 inches farther. This is a similar concept to the Star Excursion Test, used to assess balance.
Lend Your Legs a Hand
Vary your hand pressure as you go deeper. Place the bench on which you stand close enough to a post or squat cage so you can hold on to it with both hands throughout the range of motion while keeping your back straight and chest up. As you descend into the Squat, move your fingertips down the post, using them only for balance. As you get deeper, use your hands to increase the assistance only as much as you need to keep form. Work toward using your fingertips for balance from top to bottom, and eventually you won't need them at all.
Work a range of motion that allows you to stick your butt out and maintain a neutral spine the entire way up and down. To distribute force properly and get your ankle joint used to moving, load the foot evenly. This will help later when you perform the Single-Leg Squat on the floor with no assistance.
Take Your Time
Whenever an exercise is new and uncomfortable, athletes rush through it like they have someplace else to be. There is a balance component here.
Slow Down on the Way Down
Slowing during the descent creates significant micro-tears in your muscles, which stimulate growth and help with neuro-muscular control and stability. It appears that strength and hypertrophy are optimized at moderate (1-3 seconds each for concentric and eccentric) and fast (1 second each) speeds. On heavier loads (e.g., 4-6 reps), do a 2-3-second cadence to avoid injury. While training with lighter loads (e.g., <50% 1RM), 1-second cadences are OK.
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