Stop Skipping "Single Leg" Work

Stop Skipping "Single Leg" Work

It amazes me how many times in the gym I see individuals doing barbell squats or deadlifts and as their rep proceeds, inevitably I notice they get "bambi" legs..

What is "bambi" legs you ask?.. Well, it is when it looks like your legs are going to buckle underneath you but somehow you muscle the weight up (or fail) in a squat. Futhermore, it can look like your knees caving in or excessively bowing out to overcompensate as you try and stand up with a load perhaps way too heavy for you currently.

Now, there are numerous variables that can come in to play when these patterns are observed. The person could be a novice and new to lifting, therefore lacking the proper technique to execute the movement efficiently.. or the person could be lacking adequate mobility and as a result stability is compromised and the lift just looks sloppy because they are forcing themsleves into what their body is identifying as a "dangerous" position.

However for the today's purpose.. the focus will be on single leg strength because it solves a handful a problems and can be progressed and regressed as needed for the user. 

To start things off lets look at the anatomy of the Lower Body/Upper Body that will be referenced throughout this blog.  

The Muscles of particular concern here will be the Glute Medius (Side Booty), QL (Quadratus Lumborum), Adductor Magnus, and Glute Maximus (Bubble Booty)

Posterior View of Anatomy

 

Quadratus Lumborum Muscle:

QL Muscle of the lowback

 

Glute Medius

Acts on the hip joint producing two movements; the anterior part internally rotates the thigh,  during the contraction of the whole muscle the glute medius abducts the thigh. Additionally, the gluteus medius muscle stabilizes the pelvis during standing or walking. 

Quadratus Lumborum 

¬†The QL works to stabilize and create movement of the spine. This muscle allows for lateral flexion of the spine and extension of the lumbar vertebral column. It plays a role in stabilizing the pelvis, lumbar spine, and lumbosacral junction; while also contributing to elevation of the pelvis (‚Äúhip hiking‚ÄĚ).

Adductor Magnus

This muscle has a dual role in being a dynamic stabilizer of the pelvis and femur as well as a prime mover of the femur into adduction. The adductor magnus is similar to the deltoid muscle in the shoulder because: One portion flexes the thigh and works as a medial rotator. Another extends the thigh and is essentially a lateral rotator.

Glute Maximus

The Glute Max works with the semitendinosus and semimembranosus muscles (2/3 Muscles of Hamstring) to extend the hip. Glute max also works in conjunction with the iliopsoas, piriformis, and obturator muscles to externally rotate the hip

As you notice every muscle has some interaction with the pelvis and the consequent stabilization of it.

And thats the MAIN PURPOSE HERE.. if you find yourself struggling to feel stable in a squat, deadlift, walking and even running.. 9/10 you should be looking at the function or perhaps dysfunction of the pelvic stabilizers. 

So, point number one is that single leg training will highlight where the imbalances are.

When you identify this problem you can now manufacture the appropriate protocol to address this issue. For example, when training single leg the adductors muscle group must counter balance the abduction (moving away) and external rotation component of the glute max.

The adductor magnus in particular works as a synergist and stabilizer for glute max in hip extension. And when doing a nice deep squat, the adductors play a key role in helping you get out of the "hole". 

Balancing on one foot, or loading unilaterally requires a high amount of activity from the QL muscle. Why does that muscle matter? Well, if you've ever dealt with low-back pain.. the culprit could be the QL being weak or under-active due to todays population doing ungodly amounts of sitting. So strengthening the muscle, could alleviate some lifestyle pains you may have right now.

Training the glute medius is  important especially for runners or avid walkers because this muscle will help prevent the opposite side of the pelvis from dropping during walking, running and single leg weight-bearing. You can see this most noticeably when watching a person run from behind and they have "hip drop" 

Hip Drop From behind

But even in a squat, if there is excessive knee valgus (caving) this could be a sign of an underdeveloped glute medius. 

Before you go and do a shit ton of lunges and bulgarian split squats you should perform a checklist of progressions to mitigate injury risk and causing further dysfunction. 

Classifications of Single Leg Exercise

  • Static Supported Exercises: One leg exercise done with some support from the remaining leg.¬†Split Squat¬†Single Leg, static (non-moving) supported exercise. Excellent for flexibility.¬†¬†

  • Static Unsupported Exercises: Truly only accomplished through single leg squats. Essentially triplanar because although the movement may be sagittal, but the stabilizers prevent motion in frontal and transverse planes.

I cannot stress this enough, Go to a range of motion that is tolerable until you can go further with better control. Begin unweighted to gain coordination then lightly load as your confidence grows. 

Split Squats should be the starting point, followed by front foot or rear foot elevated squats, and finally lunges. Whether you've done lunges, split squats, or deep bilateral squats (on two legs) right or wrong in the past.. I guarantee you noticed excessive soreness in the inside of your leg..  

Reason being.. most people wont activate the adductor magnus as a hip extensor until they perform one or two of these exercises to appropriate depth. Too much unaccustomed knee and hip flexion stresses the anti-rotator and extensor capabilities of this muscle group when performing exercies such as deep squats.

 

Takeaway

Single Leg Strength is important in all areas of life not just the gym. Humans are bipeds and when we move we rarely ever have both legs on the ground at a time. Single leg strength will lead to increased function in day to day living.. as well as increased performance and decreased injury risk in the gym because the body will be come stable and "functional".  

 

Ready to Reign.

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