Single Leg Exercises for Runners: The Fix for Imbalances
I consider myself a lucky runner: while I was injury prone I made a difference and I don't have to worry about running injuries anymore today. Since I started running in 1998, I have suffered from almost all running injury that you can imagine: And probably a few that I intentionally forgot ... As my […]

I consider myself a lucky runner: while I was injury prone I made a difference and I don't have to worry about running injuries anymore today.

Prevention of leg injuries

Since I started running in 1998, I have suffered from almost all running injury that you can imagine:

And probably a few that I intentionally forgot ...

As my mileage increased from about 30 per week as a high school student to over 85 as a post-graduate runner, my injuries became more frequent (and took longer to heal).

These overuse injuries have kept me from running, participating in training sessions with my team, and enjoying the sport I love.

But after spending six months with ITBS unable to complete a step, I knew something had to change.

My training evolved and I added strength exercises to my program. But not only all strength exercise I focused on those that were specific to the runner. In other words, these exercises especially useful for endurance runners.

Now, racing injuries are technically repetitive stress injuries. And if we can better deal with the negative effects of repetitive stress, we will suffer much less injury.

Strength training achieves this goal by:

  • Strengthen muscles, allowing them to absorb repetitive impact forces
  • Tension connective tissues, making them more resistant to wear and tear
  • Improved running economy, allowing you to run more efficiently with less wasted movement

But what happens when you're not as strong on one side as you are on the other?

How to correct muscle imbalances? What if one leg was clearly stronger and better coordinated than the other?

Let's start by determining if you need to worry ...

Are muscle imbalances normal?

For many athletes, the words “muscle imbalance” lead to existential fear. Any imbalance will obviously make you slower and more likely to injure yourself.

But all is not lost! In reality, no runner is symmetrical. same Usain Bolt, the fastest runner the world has ever seen, doesn't have a perfectly balanced stride. And about 90% of runners have an acceptable level of asymmetry.

I've discussed this phenomenon, and why you should take your smartwatch's 'ground contact time' metric with a grain of salt, in this video:

Ultimately, we have to recognize that none of us are symmetrical. Irregular and unbalanced operation is perfectly normal.

The real question becomes, what asymmetry is normal?

Two tests now become important:

  • Ground contact time: if your GPS watch measures this metric, make sure that you get less than 2% reduction from baseline of 50%. In other words, you shouldn't be spending more than 52% of the time on one leg.
  • Exercises on one leg: if you are trying any of the exercises below on both legs and have noticeable and substantial (in your opinion) differences between your legs, then your asymmetry needs to be corrected.

Even if you don't have these issues, single-leg exercises for runners are an important part of the injury prevention puzzle.

One-leg exercises for runners 101

Single-leg exercises are also called “one-sided training” (single-leg training). The opposite is “bilateral training” (exercises that require both legs).

Single-sided exercises on one leg add variety to your strength training and help you progress faster with bilateral exercises. After all, if your right leg is stronger than your left, it will "take over" in a squat or deadlift.

This imbalance is then compounded, greatly increasing your risk of running injury.

Single-leg exercises are the answer. By forcing yourself to work on one leg, you will develop an equal skill in both legs. In effect, you refuse your dominant and stronger leg to compensate for your weaker leg.

But single-leg exercises for runners aren't just about building even strength. They also improve:

  • Balance (how stable you are on one leg)
  • Proprioception (your sense of how your body moves in space)
  • Coordination (how efficiently you move)

A good example is the Pistol Squat - a one-legged squat that you can see demonstrated in the ITB rehabilitation routine. Many runners struggle with this movement not only because of their weakness, but also because of a lack of coordination and balance.

This makes single-leg exercises a powerful way to build even strength, improve coordination and balance, and reduce (or remedy) muscle imbalances.

What's not to love?!?

One-leg exercises have their drawbacks

Jason running

Ok, I spoke too soon. One-sided exercises are not a panacea and they have a major drawback.

More importantly, single-leg exercises don't help you build more strength. Producing more force against the ground is one of the two ways to run faster (the other is to run with a cadence). So, very importantly, single-leg exercises don't directly make you a faster runner.

These workouts are more about correcting imbalances, increasing coordination and prioritizing injury prevention. They empower you to do the workout that makes you a faster runner.

To really focus on strength and power, we need to lift with our whole body and focus on producing strength (that's what High performance lifting is all about).

While one-sided exercises play an important role in any runner's strength training, they are not the end goal, and they are definitely not the main part of how runners should become strong.

But if you are injured (or prone to injury), this is a crucial ingredient.

The Mass Routine: One-Leg Exercises For Runners

To make sure you're doing enough one-sided weight training, I've created a new routine that includes 8 single-leg exercises for runners.

We'll just start in the field, but move on to standing exercises, weighted exercises, and complex movements (like pistols).

Watch the One-Leg Mace Routine below:

1. Walking bridge

Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips so that there is a straight line between your shoulders and your knees. Extend one leg straight out, hold for several seconds, then put it back on the floor and repeat. Make sure your hips don't dip and keep the shape of your butt sagging on the floor.

Perform 10 to 15 repetitions per leg.

2. Hip thrust

Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips so that there is a straight line between your shoulders and your knees. Lift one leg so that your weight is on one leg and your back. Lower your butt almost to the floor and push up, activating your glutes and sinking your heel into the floor.

Perform 20 to 30 repetitions per leg.

3. Hip hike

Stand on your right foot. With your pelvis in a neutral position, drop the left side down so that it is several inches below the right side of your pelvic bone. Activate your right hip muscle and bring your left side back to its neutral position. A useful signal is to imagine that your pelvis is a bowl and that you are tilting one side down.

Perform 20 to 30 repetitions per leg.

4. Before Step Up with Knee Drive

Stand several inches in front of a raised platform. Step up with your right foot and push your heel into the platform to step onto the platform. Bring your opposite knee into the “man running” position. Maintain a high posture and step down with the left foot.

Perform 10 to 20 repetitions per leg.

5. Side Step Up with Knee Drive

Stand a few inches in front of a raised platform but facing the platform to the side. Step up with your right foot and push your heel into the platform to step onto the platform. Bring your opposite knee into the “man running” position. Maintain a high posture and step down with the left foot.

Perform 10 to 20 repetitions per leg.

6. Pistol squat

Pistols are one-legged squats. The key to a successful pistol squat is not to lean too far forward, keep the movement slow and controlled, and make sure your knee doesn't slump inward. Try to descend until your thigh is roughly parallel to the floor.

Perform 5-10 repetitions per leg.

7. One-legged deadlift

Lean forward from the hip (not the spine or the waist) while standing on your left leg and extending your right leg behind you to maintain balance. Grasp a weighted tool in the right hand. Keep your knee generally straight (a little bend is enough). Return to an upright position by activating the glutes.

Perform 8 to 12 repetitions per leg.

8. Hot salsa

Hold a weighted tool over your head and step forward with your right leg, moving the tool in front of your right knee. Shift your weight to your right foot and lift your body to the "runner position" while lifting the medicine ball to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side in one controlled motion. Make sure you maintain a straight back.

Perform 10 to 20 repetitions in total.

Compose your injury prevention

Basic training for endurance runners

Many runners lack balance, coordination, and strength on one leg to maintain good health. Without this strength it becomes too difficult to perform workouts and long runs which are the most important parts of training for endurance runners.

A healthy dose of single-leg exercise during the week is a great option.

But of course, this is not the complete picture. Your operation (not the lack of strength training) is what makes you most vulnerable to running injuries.

Ask yourself:

  • Are my training sessions adapted to my level of fitness, my goals and my level during the season?
  • Does my long-term progress make sense?
  • Am I starting my training cycle at an appropriate level of fitness?
  • Is prevention directly integrated into my training plan (so I don't have to worry about it constantly)?
  • Am I smartly building mileage?

The answers to these questions best predict your risk of injury.

And if you want to get my best injury prevention tips, I've put together a series of free emails to help you stay healthy for the long haul.

register here and you'll get even more workouts, exercises, training tips, case studies, pitfalls to avoid, and more.

I will also send you a copy of our free eBook The Little Black Book of Prevention and Recovery. It includes advice from 9 professional runners including Dathan Ritzenhein, Amelia Boone, David Roche, etc.

Start here and let's prevent your next big injury in the race!

If you’ve never run before or you’ve had a long break from running, it can feel intimidating to get out there and hit the pavement. But if you get familiar with some basic information about running and follow a beginner’s schedule, you’ll be well on your way to starting a new course habit.

At your visit, share your running plan and goals with your doctor and have him/her assess your plan and any potential health issues. If you have had any previous injuries or issues, make sure your doctor is aware of them, and ask if he or she has any suggestions on how to prevent a recurrence.

Visit a specialty running store to get expert advice on buying the right course shoes. An spécialiste at the store will look at your feet, watch you run, and make recommendations based on your foot type and course style. If you already have running shoes that you like, but you’ve had them for a while, you may still need to get new ones. Running in worn-out course shoes can also lead to injury. You should replace them every 300 to 400 miles.

Beyond running shoes, you don’t need much more than some comfortable exercise clothes to get started. If you’re course outdoors, make sure you follow some basic tips for how to dress for hot weather running and cold weather running, so you stay safe and comfortable.

As your résistance improves and you start course longer, you may want to invest in some technical fabric running clothes and other basic running gear, such as a course belt, good course socks, and a course hat. Some runners also like to have a running watch to track their times and kilomètres.

Before you get started with running, get familiar with how to do the run/walk method. Most beginner runners start out using a run/walk technique because they don’t have the résistance or sport to run for extended periods of time. The run/walk method involves course for a bermuda territoire and then taking a walk break. As you continue with a run/walk program, the goal is to extend the amount of time you’re course and reduce your walking time. Of course, some runners find walk breaks to be so beneficial that they continue taking them even as their endurance and fitness improves.

Before you start any running workout, though, you need to make sure you warm up properly. A good warm-up signals to your body that it will have to start sérieux soon. By slowly raising your heart rate, the warm-up also helps minimize stress on your heart when you start your run. Start your runs with a brisk walk, followed by very easy jogging for a few minutes. You can also do some warm-up exercises. Always end your workout with a slow five-minute jog or walk to cool down. The cool-down allows your heart rate and blood pressure to fall gradually.

Use your breathing as your guide when course. You should be able to carry on a conversation while course, and your breathing shouldn’t be heavy. Don’t worry about your pace per mile—if you can pass the ' talk test ' and speak in complete sentences without gasping for air, then you’re moving at the right speed.

Make sure you’re breathing in through your nose and mouth, and breathing out through your mouth. Proper breathing and taking deep belly breaths will help you avoid annoying side stitches, or cramps in the abdomen area.

Drink water at the end of your workouts to rehydrate. If it’s hot and humid, you should also drink some water ( about four to six ounces ) halfway through your workouts. ​

Post-run is a great time to stretch and work on improving your flexibility because your groupes de muscles will be warmed up. It’s also a relaxing way to end a workout. Try some of these stretches that target particular areas that frequently get tight during and after course.


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