One of the key aspects left out of many athletic and sport conditioning programs is that of developing single leg strength. In nearly all sports and day to day life strength through the legs is rarely used with both feet on the ground or with even transition of force through both legs. Sports conditioning and strength training traditionally has always been trained with both legs planted on the ground through the Olympic lifts, squats, deadlifts etc.
For many years I didn’t see the value of one legged training- following simply the way it has always been done within S&C circles. At the time I was suffering from persistent ankle problems bilaterally – consistently turning my ankles over and with the perception that they were inherently weak. I saw many top class physio’s all who believed that my ankles needed strengthening and so I took on their advice with the exercise prescription but saw no improvements over a whole year of following the exercises to the letter. It wasn’t until I began incorporating one legged training into my normal leg days that my ankle stability improved to a level that I could never have dreamed of. Secondly the persistent knee pain that I was suffering with also cleared up within months. Now why was this?
If you look at the chain of joints in the body each joint predominantly requires either more stability or mobility mainly in alternating fashion; from mobility at the ankle, to stability at the knee, to mobility at the hip, stability at lumbar spine, mobility at thoracic spine and stability at cervical spine. This is a simplified system as all joints require mobility and stability however this gives an idea as to which joint requires more of one than the other. Good knee stability is essential if the ankle is to maintain its centre of balance- one legged squats and deads recruit precisely the muscles needed to maintain stability at the knee. The pelvis also however must be able to be stabilised by the lateral sub system (gluteus medius, adductors and Q.L’s) – if the pelvis cannot be stabilised by an inherent weakness in these muscles balance cannot be maintained, causing the chain from the hip to knee to ankle to topple like a tower finally causing inversion at the ankle and the ankle to turn under the the body causing injury.
If you can’t recruit strength through one leg whilst stabilising the pelvis in most sporting situations you will find yourself compromised. From the sprinter, to the throw in judo, even into activities like the swing in golf, one leg strength is required with stabilisation through the pelvis. Now I’m not saying toss out the double leg squat, deadlift or the Olympic lifts- I still believe that the mina body of leg strength should come from these lifts however one leg training must be included for proper dynamic strength.
It was a fluke that I’d come to one legged training mainly due to at the time I was training to pass an RKC instructors exam so had been attempting to do one leg pistols and had included the one leg deadlift into my kettlebell routine. However a couple of years on my ankles are more stable than they have ever been and no knee pain to boot. I recommend that one leg squats and one leg deadlifts are included each week and you’ll soon see the benefits. I also recommend trx or crosscore for bodyweight elevated squats- a great progression. For good advice on progressing to the one leg pistol check out the Steve Cotter interview in this blog as he’s good some great advice there to get you going deep! steve cotter interview