I’d like to start with a quote that I’ve heard muttered around the gym scene for years in regard to leg training:
“I don’t do much leg work because my lower back/knees/hips hurt.”
Either your form is incorrect, you have a prior injury, or you have a muscle imbalance somewhere. Let’s assume your form is great and you are injury free. How do you begin to resolve the elusive muscle imbalance? Single leg training. Get off the machines for a moment and read on.
Here’s another: “I don’t do leg workouts because I don’t want my legs to get any bigger.”
Unless you’re racking up the leg press like it’s your full-time job and squatting more weight than a pregnant beluga whale, you need not worry. Training your legs individually is an excellent way to develop a balanced, shapely look.
Ok, one more: “I can’t do that stuff because I have no balance!”
And that’s exactly why you SHOULD do it! Balance is important in preventing injury now but especially as you grow older.
So, what kinds of exercises do I mean? Lunges in various form, split squats with rear foot elevation (aka Bulgarian Split Squats), single leg deadlifts, step ups on a box/bench, single leg squats, and any number of other exercises that require one leg to carry the load.
These exercises are functional training at its finest. Functional training means you’re training your body for activities performed in daily life. How often do you quickly grab something off the ground (a bag, a chair, a kid) and set yourself up in perfect squat stance first? Probably never (but I hope you do when lifting heavy items.) This means that more often than not, one of your legs is doing the brunt of the work and it’s using several muscles at once. This also means that if you have a muscle imbalance in your legs and posterior chain, you’re just waiting for an injury. Who has time for that?
By doing these exercises, you’re developing a stronger, more functional set of wheels. Don’t forget – your legs make up half of your body and they are solely responsible for carrying you around every day! It’s best to train them to move as efficiently as possible.
As a final note, if you have any substantial knee or hip issues, there are some single leg exercises you should avoid. Please ask me through email if you need more information about what exercises are best for you.
Ashley Brodeur, ACSM CPT
Personal Fitness Coach