Single Leg Balance Drills for the Runner
by Lauren Freitas, DPT
For balanced running, single leg drills are exercises every runner should add to their training program. Running is the ultimate test of single leg balance - there is never a moment during running when both of your feet are on the ground at the same time. If you aren’t training BOTH legs independently to handle the forces of running, you could be setting yourself up for injury by reinforcing muscle imbalances. Typically, when you’re doing a double leg exercise (ie. squat), the muscles on your stronger side will compensate, creating more imbalances and increasing your risk of injury. Single leg activities eliminate the chances of your dominant side taking over and allow you to isolate the targeted muscles.
In addition to correcting muscle imbalance, single leg exercises closely mimic the work required in running. Unilateral exercises, especially those performed in standing, are very similar to the motor patterns of running, including sagittal plane hip motions, translating to runner-specific strength. By strengthening your muscles in the position that you run in, you begin training movements and positions as opposed to just isolating muscles. Research shows that exercises are most effective when they mirror the demands of the athlete’s sport.
Finally, single leg exercises require more strength and stability and get your core firing! When your balance is challenged, you are forced to recruit more muscles in your lower back and abdominals (ie. core strengthening.) Your core keeps you upright as you run. These muscles become increasingly important in longer runs to maintain proper form as you fatigue. A strong core allows you to run faster, longer and more efficiently. Try the following exercises to improve your single leg stability and core strength.
Single Leg Deadlift (3 sets x 10 reps each leg)
Holding weight in the opposite arm as the leg on the ground and keeping the pelvis level, bring the trunk parallel to ground creating a T with body. Don't let the lifted hip rotate out. Squeeze through glutes as you come back to standing.
Single Leg Squat (3 sets x 10 reps each leg)
Holding weight at chest, start in a seated position with hips at about 90 degrees. Keeping opposite leg elevated, come to standing. Return to seated position.
Standing Fire Hydrant w/ Press Out (3 sets x 30 sec hold each leg)
Place resistance band around knees. Come into single leg squat on one leg while you bring the other leg out to side and slightly back. Maintain that fire hydrant position as you press weight straight out from chest and then bring it back in. Repeat this motion while holding the squat.
Single Leg Curtsy Squat (3 sets x 10 reps each leg)
Stand on one leg with weight at chest. Reach the opposite leg behind and at a diagonal into a curtsy lunge. Try not to touch down with the opposite leg. Return to standing.
Single Leg Rotational Squat (3 sets x 10 reps each leg)
Stand on left leg with weight lifted up over right shoulder. As you come into a single leg squat on the left, try to touch the weight down to the outside of the left foot. Return to standing.
Try these exercises out and if you notice any restrictions or imbalance, reach out for an appointment with a physical therapist to help improve.