How to Do a Single-Leg Squat

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Deep squat on one leg
 

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 will develop stability and core strength, as well as prevent injury and improve 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.

Benefits

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 is an ideal exercise for athletes of all sports and skill levels, but it's especially useful for runners. The single-leg squat works the same muscles used for running: the hips, hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteus maximus, and calves.

The single-leg squat seems like a basic exercise, but it isn't easy to do. It delivers multiple results and works the entire body using just body weight 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.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. 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. Roll your shoulder blades back and keep your back straight. Keep your weight centered over the ball of your foot, your upper body erect, and your head facing forward.
  2. Raise the non-supporting foot from the floor slightly.
  3. Lower to a squat position, keeping the knee of the supporting leg centered over the ball of the foot. Start with shallow squats and work your way closer to the ground.
  4. Repeat for 10 squats on each leg. Aim for three sets.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you 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. As well, you 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 is straight and your head and neck are in neutral position (aligned with your spine) throughout the squat.

Modifications and Variations

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.

Need a Modification?

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. If this is the case, start by balancing on one leg until you can stand on one leg for 30 seconds. By starting with this exercise, you will start to develop the smaller stabilizing muscles. You will find your balance improves tremendously over time. At the same time, do basic bodyweight two-legged squats to build your lower body strength.

You can modify the single-leg squat in a couple of ways to make it easier. First, do it against a wall with an exercise ball between your back and the wall. This will allow you to have a stability aid while you perfect the squat.

Another easier variation is the one-leg box squat. Place a box or low chair behind you. Perform the one-leg squat until your buttocks touch the box, then push back up with your supporting leg.

Up for a Challenge?

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.

The pistol squat is a more difficult variation in which you extend your leg in front of you rather than simply raising your foot from the ground. This can be quite a challenge. One way to get used to it is to hold onto an anchored resistance band.

Woman doing single leg squat on a half wall
Zocha_K/Getty Images 

Over time, consider doing the squat on an unstable or smaller surface such as a mini trampoline or balance beam.

Safety and Precautions

Talk to your doctor 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.

Try It Out

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

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