How to Do a Single-Leg Squat: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Deep squat on one leg

 

Nastasic/Getty Images 

Targets: Quadriceps, hamstrings

Level: Intermediate

Adding single-leg squats to your training program is one of the best ways to develop strength, balance, and coordination, and reduce the pain of runner's knee, or patellofemoral pain syndrome. This exercise develops stability and core strength, as well as prevents injury and improves performance.

If possible, perform this exercise in front of a mirror in order to maintain good form. Over time, you will be able to leave the mirror behind.

Add the single-leg squat to your lower or full-body strength training routines, or as part of a balance training program. It's also a fantastic exercise to do on off-days from more intense training.

How to Do a Single-Leg Squat

To do a single-leg squat, you will stand on one leg with your foot pointing straight ahead, and the knee of the other leg slightly bent. You can have your arms extended for balance or kept at your sides. Here's how to do a single-leg squat.

  1. Roll your shoulder blades back and keep your back straight.
  2. Keep your weight centered over the ball of your foot, your upper body erect, and your head facing forward.
  3. Raise the non-supporting foot from the floor slightly.
  4. Lower slowly to a squat position by hinging your hips back, keeping the knee of the supporting leg centered over the ball of the foot. Your gaze should be in front of you with your neck and spine in a neutral position.
  5. Start with shallow squats and work your way closer to the ground.
  6. Release by returning both legs to standing and re-adjusting your stance, shoulders back and down, before repeating on the other side.

Benefits of Single-Leg Squats

Doing the single-leg squat, or any squat for that matter, is an effective way to tone the legs and glutes, strengthen the core muscles, and increase flexibility. This move is an ideal exercise for athletes of all sports and skill levels, but it's especially beneficial for runners.

The single-leg squat works the same muscles used for running—the hips, hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteus maximus, and calves. Although the single-leg squat seems like a basic exercise, but it isn't easy to do.

Overall, it delivers multiple results and works the entire body using just bodyweight alone. No equipment is necessary, making it the kind of exercise you can do anytime, anywhere. Incorporating squats into your exercise routine will keep your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes strong. It's also a really effective core workout because it demands so much in terms of posture and support.

Other Variations of Single-Leg Squats

The single-leg squat is the kind of exercise that you need to start slowly. As you develop more strength and stability you can do it in ways that challenge you further. It also can be adjusted to meet your skill level and goals.

Single-Leg Balance

Most people struggle with the single-leg squat in the beginning. You may find that you cannot control your body, your ankle starts to wobble, your knee rotates and your upper body sways. Try a simple single-leg balance to build your stabilizing muscles.

  1. Lift the foot on one leg and hold.
  2. Continue practicing until you can stand on one leg for 30 seconds.

Single-Leg Wall Squat

You can modify the single-leg squat using the wall and an exercise ball to make it easier. Here's how to try this move.

  1. Position an exercise ball against a wall and press your upper and mid-back into it.
  2. Stand on one leg with your foot pointing straight ahead with the knee of the other leg slightly bent.
  3. Roll your shoulder blades back, keeping your back straight.
  4. Center your weight over the ball of your foot, your upper body upright, and your gaze forward.
  5. Press your back into the ball as you slowly lower into a squat with one leg.
  6. Lower as far as comfortable while maintaining a straight back.
  7. Raise back up to standing.

Single-Leg Box Squat

Another easier variation is the one-leg box squat. Here's how to perform this variation.

  1. Place a box or low chair behind you.
  2. Stand on one leg with your foot pointing straight ahead with the knee of the other leg slightly bent.
  3. Perform the one-leg squat by hinging your hips back until your buttocks touch the box.
  4. Push back up with your supporting leg to return to starting.

Single-Leg Goblet Squat

Once you develop your strength, coordination, and balance you can make this exercise more difficult. Perform a single-leg goblet squat by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in your hands while doing it. Or, hold a dumbbell in each hand.

  1. Stand with a dumbbell or kettlebell at chest height.
  2. Life one leg with your foot pointing straight ahead with the knee of the other leg slightly bent.
  3. Roll your shoulder blades back, keeping your back straight.
  4. Center your weight over the ball of your foot, your upper body upright, and your gaze forward.
  5. Hinge your hips slowly to squat down as far as comfortable while maintaining your balance.
  6. Press through your standing leg to return to the starting position.

Common Mistakes

It is important to use proper form when doing the single-leg squat in order to prevent injury and get the most from the move. Here are the errors you want to avoid in order to get the most out of this exercise.

Knee too far Forward

Your knee should not extend beyond your toes. Think of sending your hips back rather than your knee forward as you squat. Your knee should be aligned with your toes rather than shifted inward or outward.

Rounded Shoulders and Back

Your shoulders should be kept back, with your chest open. Your back should be straight, and your head and neck should be in a neutral position (aligned with your spine) throughout the squat.

Safety and Precautions

Talk to a healthcare provider or physical therapist if you have had an injury or condition involving your ankles, knees, legs, hips, or back to see if this exercise is appropriate for you. You will feel your muscles and core working during this exercise, but stop if you feel any pain.

While this exercise should be safe for pregnant women, be cautious when it comes to your balance. In later stages of pregnancy, you may need to avoid exercises performed unilaterally if you have pelvic pain or trouble maintaining balance.

Aim for three sets of 10 to 12 single-leg squats. You may need to start with fewer sets and reps to build the strength and coordination required.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Selkowitz D, Beneck G, and Powers C. Which exercises target the gluteal muscles while minimizing tensor fascia lata. Electromyographic assessment using fine-wire electrodesJ Phys Ther Sci. 2013 Feb; 43 (2) 54-64. doi:10.2519/jospt.2013.4116

  3. Monaghan B, Grant T, Hing W, Cusack T. Functional exercise after total hip replacement (FEATHER): a randomised control trialBMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2012;13:237. doi:10.1186/1471-2474-13-237

  4. Parr M, Price PD, Cleather DJ. Effect of a gluteal activation warm-up on explosive exercise performanceBMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2017;3(1):e000245. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2017-000245

By Elizabeth Quinn
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.