4 Hidden Benefits of Single-Leg Training
Single-leg exercises have many advantages over bilateral (two-legged) exercises and minimal drawbacks. Due to balance demands, single-leg exercises increase proprioception and reduce body and muscle imbalances. Single-leg exercises are additionally safer for the hips and lower back as they mimic our natural gait and athletic movements.
Balance demands increase with single-leg exercise, which activates stabilizing muscles including the glutes and core. Stabilizing muscles protect the joints during lower body exercises, but are notoriously weak since they are triggered reactively - stabilizing muscles only fire when your body feels its center of gravity is shifting and falling over. During a two-legged exercise, a balance demand is not triggered, and the important stabilizers stay dormant and leave joints unprotected.
Single-leg exercises may reduce imbalances because often, we have one leg that is stronger than the other, either due to previous injury or just having a stronger side. Always performing bilateral exercises furthers this imbalance, since the stronger leg will always do more work than the other. Single-leg exercises promote strength and balance on both sides because they isolate the right and left side muscles. Having an imbalance in the strength of your limbs forces your body to compensate for one side's weaknesses. This is one of the major contributors to alignment issues.
Thirdly, single-leg exercises may reduce injuries because they are safer for the lower back and hips. These movements, unlike bilateral exercises, do not lock the pelvis, which is built to have some reciprocal movement in order to protect your back. If the pelvis is locked, the lower back must compensate for it, putting pressure on the lumbar vertebras and lower back muscles. This compensation is especially detrimental for older adults, who tend to have increased stiffness and reduced mobility.
Lastly, most of all our daily movements outside of training are single-legged and it's important to have a strong base to perform our daily activities. We run, walk, jump, and hike, almost always off of one leg, and it's important for exercise and training to reflect that!
Some examples of single-leg exercises are step-ups, single-leg deadlifts, single-leg squats, and lunges.