Runners require strong leg muscles to power themselves forward as well as to absorb and utilize energy during each stride. Since running involves only one leg on the ground at a time, runners also need to be able to balance the body from left to right. Having appropriate body control when running means better alignment and a more efficient use of strength and energy which translates to a lower risk for injury and better running economy.
To ensure strong global muscles and better body control when running, runners should focus on single-leg squat variations in their strength training programs rather than bilateral squats or machine leg presses. Being able to control your body weight with one foot on the ground will develop strength and stability that will better transfer to your running.
Here are 3 single-leg squat variations that you can do to strengthen your legs specifically for running.
Variation #1: Reverse Slide Single-leg Lunge Squat
• Stand with your feet hip width apart. Place a furniture slider or hand towel beneath your right foot.
• Place all your weight on your left leg and slide your right foot back as you descend into a lunge. Reach your right leg back while squatting deeper and deeper on your left leg. Lean forward slightly and keep your front foot flat on the ground.
• Once the top of your left thigh becomes parallel to the floor, press your left foot into the ground to return to standing. Your right leg will not be able to help you up as it’s on a slippery surface.
3 sets of 12 reps/leg
Tip: Make sure your front knee does not cave in and keep your hips level throughout the exercise.
Variation #2: Single-Leg Bench Squat
• Stand in front of an exercise bench or something around 20” high. Depending on your strength and ability, you might require a higher bench. If you find the 20” height too easy, you can work your way down to a 12” height.
• Lift and hold your left leg in front of you and place your arms out at your sides or in front of you like a zombie.
• Slowly squat down on your right leg as you sit toward the bench. Sit very softly and pause on the bench for 1-second.
• Press your right leg down to stand up from the bench.
3 sets of 8 reps/leg
Tips: Don’t let your stance leg knee turn inward and keep your hips level throughout the squat. Don’t plop down on the bench. It’s better to sit as controlled as possible.
Variation #3: Band Assisted Airborne Single-leg Lunge Squat
• Anchor a band above your head and grab one end. Back up from the anchor point to create tension in the band.
• Stand on your right foot and bend your left knee. Squat down and reach your left knee toward the ground. Use the bands for assistance.
• Gently touch your left knee on the ground, then press your right foot into the ground to return to standing. Use the bands to give you some assistance but don’t overly rely on them.
3 sets of 12 reps/leg
Tips: Keep your stance leg foot flat on the floor and make sure you lean forward to keep your front to back balance. Don’t let your stance leg knee cave in and keep your hips level throughout the exercise.
Jon-Erik Kawamoto, MSc, CSCS, CEP is a Strength & Conditioning Coach with 15 years of experience. He’s a co-owner of JKConditioning, a health and fitness business in St. John’s, NL, Canada, a retired competitive runner and a long time contributor to PodiumRunner.