Working towards Single Leg Squats

Once you’ve got the basic squats and lunges down, a lot of people work on increasing their leg strength by adding more weight. But another route is instead to work towards single leg squats. One advantage of that is that you don’t really need any equipment, and you can use pretty much anything to assist you (blocks, bands, rings, random pieces of furniture…).

These are much, much harder than two legged squats. In addition to strength, you also need to learn to balance and sometimes improve your flexibility. Getting from 0 to 1 can take a long time, so it’s helpful to measure and track progress more incrementally. Check how deep you can currently go, then try it again after a few weeks of training. You should be able to slowly increase depth with time.

Starting off with squat variations that lean more heavily on one leg, but still use the other for support:

Bulgarian/elevated split squat

Set your foot on a bench, chair or some other object of similar height behind you. When squatting, work towards getting the back knee near the floor. Try to keep your body upright instead of leaning forwards too much. You can add weight if you want to make it harder.

Cossack squat

For this one, stand with your feet wide apart, slightly turned out. Then squat towards one side, trying to keep that foot on the floor. You can keep the other foot wholly on the floor, or just the heel.

This one requires a fair bit of flexibility if you go all the way down. I find it difficult to even balance for a long time in the bottom position without tipping backwards, so I usually start by practicing just that. If you’re struggling with balance, do it near an object you can hold on to as you move up and down.

And now on to variations where you only stand on only one leg, and the other is raised in some way:

Shrimp squat

To me, shrimp squat is similar to a split squat, but the difference is now you’re holding up the leg behind you, instead of putting it down on an object behind you. Grab the foot while standing up, then squat and aim to get the knee to the floor.

If you can’t go all the way to the floor, that’s very normal. Put a block or equivalent under your knee as a target, and when that becomes comfortable, find something smaller. If balance is the problem, do them near a wall or something else you can touch if necessary (or simply don’t go so deep that it becomes a problem).

You can advance this movement by not using your hand, or standing with your foot on an elevated surface, so that your knee has to go even lower as you come down.

Pistol squat

This is harder and requires a bit more flexibility because of the extra element of keeping your leg raised straight in front of you. If that is a problem, you can practice them standing on a bench or other elevated surface, so that the raised leg can go lower if needed.

To modify, you can hold on to something for balance (ideally using it as little as possible). When starting out, you can also practice it on a chair – basically sit down with one leg right in front you, then get up again. Keep lowering your support as you get stronger. I’d also recommend practicing holding the bottom position here.

Dragon pistol squat

Similar principle to pistol squat, but to make it harder, instead of the raised leg going straight in front of you, you twist and move it behind your standing shin.

Bonus: Sissy squat

This isn’t really single leg-related, but it is a fun and very challenging squat variation that you can do without any equipment. Stand on your tip toes, lean your torso back, and try to lower your knees towards the floor while keeping the rest of your body fairly straight (not bending at the hips). Go as deep as you can, and use your hands for balance if necessary.

I hope this post gave you some ideas of leg exercises to do at home. It’s something I neglected before and have been doing a lot more while in quarantine – at least that’s good for something…

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