How to Master the Single-Leg Squat

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Single-leg squats are difficult. So difficult that many of you can’t even do a single rep, nevertheless add weight to the exercise.

And who wants to do something you’re not good at? It’s far more satisfying to Back Squat hundreds of pounds than to struggle with a Single-Leg Squat that feels awkward and unstable.

But when it comes to training, if you’re not good at something then that means you probably need to do that exercise. The Single-Leg Squat is certainly no exception.

Mike Boyle, strength coach and co-founder of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, explains that Single-Leg Squats are critical for eliminating strength imbalances between the left and right leg, improving knee stability and most importantly, reducing the risk of injuries.

“It’s that important of an exercise for us that we’re going to spend a lot of time and a lot of energy trying to perfect it,” he says.

Single-Leg Squats are not a primary lower-body strength exercise such as a Front Squat, Trap Bar Deadlift or Bulgarian Split Squat, but should be included in your workouts at least once or twice a to benefit from the move. Not only will you be more resilient to injury, but you will have more strength and stability when doing any skill off of one leg, which is a vast majority of how you spend your time playing sports.

If you’re new to Single-Leg Squats or have avoided them after unsuccessful attempts, odds are you will lose your balance, your knee will wobble around, you will hunch forward and it will be next to impossible to squat to parallel when you first try the exercise. But that’s OK. Practice makes perfect.

Here’s how to do the exercise with tips from Boyle to fix common mistakes. For a demo of the move, check out the video player at the top of the article.

Single-Leg Squat How To

Step 1: Position a knee-high box behind you. Stand on your right leg and hold a 5-pound plate in each hand at your sides with your palms facing in.

Step 2: Sit your hips back and bend your knee to lower into the squat and simultaneously raise your arms up to counterbalance your body. Keep your back flat, chest up and your knee aligned over your ankle.

Step 3: Continue lowering until your butt touches the box or your thigh is parallel to the ground. At this point, your arms should be in front of your shoulders and parallel to the ground. Do not rest on the box.

Step 4: Drive through your foot and straighten your knee and hips to stand up to the starting position. Repeat with your opposite leg.

Single-Leg Squat Mistakes

Mistake 1: Your back rounds and you hunch forward as you lower into the squat

Most times this is caused by poor ankle mobility. To fix this, simply place a 2.5- or 5-pound plate under your heel. However, you need to prioritize ankle mobility training to permanently correct the problem.

Mistake 2: Your knee caves inward

Technically called valgus collapse, this puts stress on your knee and is an indicator that you’re at risk for an ACL injury. It’s usually caused by a lack of glute strength or activation—especially the gluteus medius—which makes it difficult for the hip to control the upper leg and stabilize the knee.

Boyle uses a technique called Reactive Neuromuscular Training to correct valgus collapse. To use RNT, wrap a resistance band around your knee and have a partner or coach lightly pull your knee toward your midline or into valgus collapse. Your body will naturally try to resist this movement, which places your knee in the proper position and teaches your glutes to fire.

Mistake 3: You can’t squat through a full range of motion

When you first try Single-Leg Squats, you may feel solid part of the way down and then your form might suddenly go awry. This isn’t as much of a mistake as it is a strength and technique limitation.

To make it easier, simply increase the height of the box by adding pads or plates, or simply using a taller box. You can get strong in the range of motion you’re comfortable in and gradually decrease the box height as you get more comfortable with the exercise. Eventually, you will be doing Single-Leg Squats to parallel with any problems.

  • How to Do Back Squats the Right Way
  • Quarter Squats Are Your Secret Weapon to Sprinting Faster
  • Improve Your Conditioning With Tabata Squat Jumps

Why Mastering the Pistol Squat Should Be Your Next Fitness Goal

Squats get all the fame and glory-and for good reason, since they’re one of the best functional strength moves out there. But they’re all too often limited to the two-footed variety.

That’s right: You can do a pistol squat (aka a single-leg squat, demonstrated here by NYC-based trainer Rachel Mariotti) and it’s just as hard as you’re imagining. It’s an elite strength move that requires balance, mobility, and crazy coordination-but the satisfaction and feeling of all-around badassery when you finally nail it? Totally worth the hours.

Pistol Squat Variations and Benefits

What makes the pistol squat (or single-leg squat) so impressive is that it’s not about pure strength. (If that’s what you’re after, you can load up a barbell and go at some back squats.) “This move requires a ton of hip, knee, and ankle mobility,” says Mariotti. It demands core stability and balance while “building unilateral strength in the hips, glutes, quads, and hamstrings, which makes it more acrobatic than any other standard single-leg exercise.”

Plus, it’ll be a wake-up call for any strength or mobility asymmetries you have, says Mariotti. Give them a whirl, and you’ll probably realize one leg is way stronger than the other. You’ll probably also realize that single-leg squats are freaking hard. (After all, that’s how it made Jen Widerstrom’s list of essential bodyweight strength moves women should master.)

The good news is that there are tons of exercises you can do to progress safely into a single-leg squat. You can perform them while holding onto TRX straps or a pole for support. You can squat down onto a bench or box. Or you can actually add weight to make it easier (hold a dumbbell horizontally at chest height with arms extended and it’ll help counterbalance the weight of your torso). Before you try any of these, also work on your forward lunges, reverse lunges, and side lunges to build up strength and stability in each leg individually.

Single-leg squat too easy? Don’t worry-there’s another challenge for you. Try the shrimp squat next.

How to Do a Pistol Squat

A. Stand on left leg with the entire foot rooted firmly into the floor, right leg lifted slightly forward to start.

B. Bend the left knee and send hips backward, reaching arms forward while extending the right leg forward, lowering body until hips are below parallel.

C. Squeeze the glutes and hamstring to stop the descent, then imagine pushing the standing leg through the floor to press back up to standing.

Try 5 on each side.

Pistol Squat Form Tips

  • Try not to let the front leg touch the ground.
  • Keep the spine long and back flat (don’t round forward or arch back).
  • Keep core engaged throughout the movement.
  • Sit hips back versus pushing the knee forward.
  • By Lauren Mazzo @lauren_mazzo

Step 1

Starting Position: Stand with your feet hip width apart, with the right foot slightly forward (the heel of the right foot should be parallel to the toes of the left foot), your body weight should be over the right foot, only the toes of the left foot should be touching the floor to help with balance and stabilization during the entire range-of-motion of the exercise. Gently contract your abdominal / core muscles (“bracing”) to stiffen your torso and stabilize your spine, and depress and retract your scapulae (pull your shoulders down and back) without arching your low back and maintain this shoulder position throughout the exercise.

Step 2

Downward Movement: Inhale and press the right foot into the ground so your weight is balanced between the ball, heel and outside edge of the foot (keep the toes of the left foot on the floor for support during the entire range-of-motion of the exercise). Slowly begin to bend forward at the hips while maintaining the abdominal bracing to avoid shifting or rotation of your torso. Maintain a flat back and head alignment with your spine (or head extended slightly upwards).

Step 3

Maintain a tall spine with the abdominals braced, push your weight back into your right hip while allowing the right knee to hinge, you can either hold your arms by your side (as pictured) or hold them out front as a counter-balance. As you are lowering yourself, maintain your weight through the ball of the foot and heel of the stance (supporting) foot, keep the pelvis level and the hips aligned during the full range-of-motion of the exercise.

Step 4

Upward Movement: keep your bodyweight in your right leg and foot, exhale and slowly push the right foot into the ground to start moving upwards (by extending your hip and knee) to return to the initial standing position, maintain the core bracing through the entire movement to help keep the hips level and control balance.

Step 5

Switch the stance (supporting) leg, and complete another set of repetitions on the other leg.

Step 6

Exercise Variation: As this technique is mastered, the exercise intensity can be progressed by (1) lifting the supporting leg off of the floor. This increases the need for balance and stabilization within the body; (2) adding external resistance by holding a dumbbell in one hand or a medicine ball in both hands; (3) bending over and / or lower the hips closer to the ground increasing your knee bend; and (4) standing on unstable surfaces (e.g., Airex pad).

Keep the stance foot flat on the floor during the entire range-of-motion of the movement; to emphasize the glutes, push your weight back into your hip during the lowering phase.

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How To Master The Single-Leg Squat

The squat is one of the finest exercises on the planet. It stimulates all the major muscles in the legs – the quads, hamstrings and glutes. Once you’ve mastered squatting with both legs (no easy feat), the split squat and the Bulgarian split squat, then the single-leg squat is a way to progress even further.

Adopting a single-leg stance can spark new muscle growth in the targeted leg, in addition to aiding your mobility, co-ordination and core stability. It also helps program your body to keep a straight back (neutral spine to those in the know), which will carry great benefits into other exercises.

Working on one leg is also something that all sportspeople should include in their cross-training. Whether you’re a runner, footballer, hiker or lacrosse player, the chances are you spend more time on one leg than two – unless you’re a particularly lazy player or like to bunny-hop your way around the pitch. The single-leg squat is a particularly good one-leg exercise for athletes, because you mimic the movement of running while strengthening your leg muscles, making you faster and more resistant to injuries.

How To Do A Single-Leg Squat

Stand on one foot with your other leg bent at the knee. You can extend the raised leg straight out in front of you and do a pistol squat, which is a common (and very difficult) type of single-leg squat, but it is simpler to just bend your knee to raise your leg when you’re first attempting the exercise. You can also make it easier by holding both arms out in front of you during the exercise to aid your balance.

Once you’re balanced on one leg, squat down as low as you can without losing your form (or toppling over). Don’t let your knee go past the front of your toes while you squat. Pause at the bottom of the squat for a second, then push back up through your heel, squeezing your glutes as you go.

Single-Leg Squat Variations

One-leg box squat

If you are finding single-leg squats tough and getting nowhere near ten reps on each leg without stopping, then go back and master the one-leg box squat first. Get a box or a chair – the lower it is, the harder the box squat will be – and stand on one leg facing away from it. Squat down until you are sitting on the box, then push back up.

Single-leg goblet squat

The easiest way to make the single-leg squat harder is to hold some weight while performing it. Grab a kettlebell, dumbbell or sandbell and hold it against your chest in both hands. This will increase the difficulty not only by adding weight but also by making it harder to keep your balance because your arms are close to you rather than extended out in front. You can also use a barbell, but if you do, rest your non-squatting leg on a bench for safety and stability purposes.

Pistol squat

Once you’ve become accomplished at single-leg squats, you can try to progress to a full pistol squat, which is a hellishly hard test of your strength, balance and mobility. Stand on one leg with the other extended out straight in front of you and drop into a deep squat. At the bottom of the movement the hamstring on your standing leg should be resting on your calf, with your other leg still stretched out ramrod straight, so you look like a pistol. When you first tackle the exercise you can hold a suspension trainer or an anchored resistance band to help you get into the pistol position.

Single Leg Squat (Pistol)

How to do One-Legged Squats

  1. Begin with arms extended out in front of your body.
  2. Balance on one leg with opposite leg extended straight in front as high as possible.
  3. Squat down as far as possible while keeping the elevated leg off the floor. Ensure your back is kept straight and the supporting knee pointed in the same direction as the supporting foot.
  4. Raise body back up to original position until supporting led is straight.
  5. Repeat for desired reps and switch leg.

One leg squat guide

Single leg squats are an excellent functional bodyweight training exercise that will develop leg strength, flexibility, improve balance and increase your vertical jump.
The pistol squat is a very impressive exercise that few can do without dedicated training. It requires huge effort from the core to keep the back straight whilst lowering into a deep squat position.

Beginning the one leg squat

When first training for the pistol squat it’s important that you first master the traditional squat to learn the correct technique, and build up the base strength before training specifically for the single leg version.

It will take time to develop the required strength but it’s a rewarding experience. Try the following techniques to gradually perform the full exercise unaided –

Partial repetitions – increasing the range of motion as you gain strength up to full range reps.

Assisted one-leg squats – a very effective technique using equipment such as resistance bands, suspension trainers, or gymnastics rings to carry some of your bodyweight and make the exercises easier to acheive (see suspended one leg squats for an example).

Advanced one leg squats

To increase the difficulty of the single leg squat you can add additional resistance to the exercise with a weighted vest, weighted bar, or dumbbells.

As always, with strength training exercises add additional resistance incrementally for safe and continuous progressions.

Exercise variations on the single leg squat

  • Standard bodyweight squat
  • Assisted squats – see suspended one leg squat
  • Weighted squats – see kettlebell squat, barbell squat, goblet squat

The two-legged squat has long basked in the glory of strength-training fame. Endurance athletes incorporate it into their regular weight routine for its ability to engage nearly every muscle and build power and durability from the core to the legs. But according to Tim DiFrancesco, physical therapist at TD Athlete’s Edge, you can do better.

“In any outdoor sport, and even walking, you’re spending more time on just one leg,” he says. When you move, you’re hardly ever standing with two feet firmly planted, so relying on two-legged squats alone won’t optimize your outdoor performance.

Instead, says DiFrancesco, athletes should turn to single-leg squats, where you generate power one leg at a time, just like you do when trail running, cross-country skiing, cycling, or climbing. According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, athletes who added single-leg squats to their regimens gained just as much strength and speed compared with athletes who added barbell back squats. But the single-leg variation also carries the benefit of mimicking real movements, so you’re training your body more directly for your sport.

Another plus: single-leg moves are also generally safer—they require less technique and mobility. They’re also better at firing up smaller lateral muscles, which may help you avoid injuries that stem from imbalances. Lastly, single-leg work is more metabolically intense, so while it’ll take you twice as long to work both sides of the body, you’re also getting a bigger, better burn.

This quick and dirty single-leg routine from DiFrancesco is tailor-made to help outdoor athletes build their base. Add the exercises to your existing workout two or three times per week.

Single-Leg Goblet Squat

What It Does: Works your stabilizing muscles. Lowering on one leg requires serious control and stability, so you’ll build lower body strength. It fires up smaller muscles to balance your body, which can help avoid injury. This series of variations allows you to slowly build up to the move and reap all its benefits.
How to Do It: Hold a 10-to-25-pound dumbbell, kettlebell, or rock, and stand facing away from a bench or chair. Raise your right foot off the ground, extending the leg out in front of you. Push your hips back, bend your knee, and keep your torso straight as you slowly lower your butt to the chair. Take about three to five seconds to lower. Once seated, return your right foot to the ground. Do eight to twelve reps on your left leg, then repeat on your right for one set. Complete three to five sets.

Bowler Squat

What It Does: Trains you to rotate and generate power from your hips while staying strong, stable, and balanced. Outdoor sports involve more than just forward and backward movement. You bound diagonally to miss a rut on a trail run, twist and reach to grab a jug, or rotate and hold an edge while carving downhill. Once you master the first variation, scale up with one of these progressions.
How to Do It: Stand on your right leg with your knee slightly bent and your left foot behind you, elevated slightly. Without changing the bend in your knee, push your hips back and lower your torso towards the floor, keeping your back straight. Lower your torso as far as you can and reach with your right hand toward the left side of your body. Reverse the move. That’s one rep. Do three to five reps, then repeat on your other leg for one set. Complete three to five sets.

​Plyometric Single-Leg Hip Thrust

What It Does: Helps with explosiveness, so you can hammer harder. Whether you’re bounding uphill or cruising along the flats when skate skiing, power and athleticism comes from your hips. Plus, strong hips mean stabler, more efficient movement, which is a good way to protect yourself from overuse injuries. Start with the most basic option and gradually work your way up.
How to Do It: Lie on the ground or on a bench with your back and feet flat and your knees bent. Lift your right foot off the ground, knee bent 90 degrees. Your weight should be on your back and left foot. Explosively raise your hips so your shoulders, hips, and knee are in line. Your left foot may raise from the ground slightly. Return to start. Do eight to twelve reps on your left leg, then switch legs to complete one set. Do three to five sets.

Filed To: ExercisesInjury Prevention Lead Photo: Jakob / Stocksy

Are Pistol Squats Bad for Your Knees?

In general, NO, the pistol squat is not bad for your knees, just like squatting isn’t bad for your knees. Rather, a poor pistol squat is bad for your knees…

In an earlier article I discussed five reasons why you, and most athletes, can benefit from pistol squats. The key to determining whether or not the pistol squat will be bad for your knees is whether or not you have any pre-existing injuries (ankle, knee, or hips), lack of mobility, weak unilateral leg strength and performance, or any muscular imbalances that should be addressed prior to going into full range of motion pistols.

Forcing the body into positions it cannot control and/or exert force in a controlled manner is always a bad idea. In this article we will lay out everything you need to know (and what not to do) if you are serious about building a healthy, safe, and knee saving pistol squat!

The Pistol Squat

The pistol squat is an advanced unilateral leg movement typically done with bodyweight or other loading modalities to increase leg strength, joint mobility and integrity, and total body control and balance.

Pistol Squat Exercise Demo

Below is a great video on how to perform some pistol squat progressions and the pistol squat. Note, that without proper joint flexibility, mobility, and structural (joint, muscle, and connective tissues) stability, all movements can create injury, not just pistols. Therefore, be sure to master bilateral and basic unilateral movements first (squatting, unilateral leg exercises, etc.) before going full pistol squat mode.

Proper Pistol Squat Progression(s)

In an earlier article I compiled the ultimate pistol squat progression guide for beginners (it is so good it is really for nearly every level)! When looking to nail a healthy, strong, and stable pistol squat, proper progressions are key, just like any exercise. Without proper mobility, joint and muscular control, coordination, and strength throughout the entire range of motion, pistol squats, just like deadlifts, squats, dips, running, swimming, and just about every other human movement can be susceptible to joint issues and injury. The above guide will help you diagnose your mobility issues, build basic leg strength and balance, establish better body control, and progress throughout the entire range of motion to build a better pistol squat from the ground up (and even from the top down).

What NOT to Do

Below is a listing of three ways you can make pistol squats very jarring, painful, and detrimental to joint, tendon, ligament, and muscular health. Generally speaking, I recommend most lifters and coaches adhere to the above progression guide when teaching and performing pistol squats, and doing their best to not commit any of these faults below for their body’s sake. That said, with proper progression, strength, mobility, and control, some of these “faults” may be less “faulty” than others.

1. Crashing into the Bottom of the Pistol Squat

We all have seen this, and many of us (myself included) are guilty. Diving into the bottom of the pistol, just like diving into a heavy back squat, is never a good idea unless you have trained the pistol using strict reps, at full range of motion, without the bounce first. By using a “bounce” in the pistol, you are placing all the loading on the tendons, ligaments, and small joints in the ankle and knee. Once you have built strength and coordination, just like a back squat, and have practiced the “bounce” with integrity, then it may be OK to use it sparingly, with the understanding that is a great amount of stress upon the connective tissues and bones in your foot, ankle, knee, and hip.

2. Lifting Heel Off Floor

Squatting on your toes is seldom a good idea, so why would a single leg squat to an even fuller range of motion be any better? Nine times out of 10, when the heels come up at the bottom the the squat or pistol it is due to lack of joint mobility in either the knee, ankle, or hip (don’t always assume ankle, so make sure to test each joint). Note, there are exceptions to this, specifically in certain yoga poses or other movements where the lifter is actively and consciously performing them this way, not by necessity but by choice. The immobility in a joint can lead to compensation patterning and excessive stress onto other joints, ligaments, and tissues. If you cannot keep the heel planted in a pistol squat, you should cut the range of motion shorter and work on end range mobility and control.

3. Using Excessive Heel Lift for Assist

In the event you have issues keeping the heel planted in a pistol squat, you may be told to use a heel assist (such as weightlifting shoes, plate under the heel, etc). While this is an effective “band-aid” for lack of mobility in the ankle, knee, or hip, it can lead to similar issues in the above fault if the underlying lack of mobility and control is not addressed. If you are to use a heel assist, be sure to not use an excessive assist (anything over 2 inches or so), and do not performing high volume pistols until you adequately establish mobility and can perform pistols without an assist (which in that case you would now not need the assist).

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Final Words

There you have it. Like squats (and nearly every exercise), proper progressions, mobility, body control, and stability/strength is needed to ensure sound joint mechanics and movement integrity. Taking short cuts or overusing “band-aids” (external tools or tricks to mask deficiencies…such as heel assists) can quickly lead to injury if not addressed. Be sure to maximize performance by using the above resources in the earlier sections of this article.

Featured Image: @diamndfitness on Instagram

If your knees have been weakened over the years by a workout-related injury, overuse through sports like running, or just plain aging, take note of these risky moves. Bodyweight moves are considered one of the safest modes of exercise since you’re working sans equipment, but certain ones can seriously damage your joints.

Here, physical therapists Chris Kolba, Ph.D, C.S.C.S., and Doug Ebner from The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center point out the worst offenders. The following seven bodyweight moves are ones that are often done incorrectly or, because of the nature of the move, flat out strain the knee and put too much stress on ligaments. For the moves that require simple tweaks, Kolba and Ebner have indicated what changes need to be made. As for the bondafide knee-busters? They’ve provided alternative exercises that will save you pain and offer optimal results.

Single-leg squat (with poor knee control)

Pistol squats require a tremendous amount of lower-body strength and balance since you’re sustaining a crouched position—on one leg. Just a few reps will tire out major muscles like your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, and smaller stabilizer muscles along your ankles and knees. Because single-leg squats are so difficult to master (considered a benchmark in the fitness world), they’re also an exercise that puts you at high risk for injury when performed without proper form. Most people have poor knee control when they try to lower down into the bottom position of the squat, for example. If you notice your knee bows or dips inward toward your other leg, stop. “By letting your knee collapse to the midline you’re subjecting the medial knee (inner side), the patella (knee cap), the meniscus, and the anterior cruciate ligament to increased stress and possible injury,” Kolba explains.

Try this instead: Elevate and support your back leg and perform Bulgarian split squats. Really focus on your form. And when you do improve your leg strength and stability, and want to give pistol squats another shot, try sitting down on a chair or box and standing up on one leg with the other one outstretched in front of you. Do 3 sets of 10 on each leg for at least two or three weeks before moving on to a lower chair or object.

Full-depth lunge (hitting knee on ground)

The stronger your legs are, the safer your knees. Your muscles help stabilize, absorbing the brunt of heavy loads and lightening the stress on your joints. In effect, lunging can help safeguard your body from injury. The problem is you could be approaching lunges all wrong.

When lunging, you really want to keep your front knee in line with (but not exceeding) your ankle. You want your back knee pointing straight down toward the floor, in line with your shoulders and hips. While your shoulders are down and core engaged, you want your back and chest to be upright. You don’t want your forward knee to dip inward. For people with healthy knees, lunging as deep as possible recruits the most muscle. But it also can cause damage if you’re over-exaggerating the motion. “By hitting your knee to the ground, you could irritate the fluid sac sitting on top of your patella (knee cap), causing pain and swelling, bruising, even dislocation and fracture,” Kolba says. Aside from the irritation, you’re making the movement less fluid and abrupt, which decreases the force and power, Ebner adds.

Try this instead: “I normally tell people to try and get 90° at both knees, which should take the knee “almost” to the ground,” Ebner says. If that still bothers you, don’t lower into the full depth of the lunge (i.e. keep your rear knee from lowering too much). If you’re not feeling enough muscle engagement and activation, perform jumping lunges focusing more on the explosive jump up rather than the deep lowering down. You can also perform a shallow lunge with a shorter stance to hit your vastus medialus, the “tear drop” muscle in your lower quad that helps with stability.

Duck walks

The number of people who love duck walks are few and far between. And for good reason: Duck walks can be seriously tough on your knees. The full-flexion movement puts a ton of stress on your knee ligaments and cartilage, Kolba explains, and you’re twisting on top of the loaded position. Worse yet, the exercise doesn’t really accomplish much. You’re not going to build slabs of muscle or torch calories.

Try this instead: If you’re deadset on incorporating them, Kolba says you can squat down just until your thighs are parallel to the floor, then perform a duck walk, to alleviate some of the knee stress. Better yet, skip traditional duck walks altogether to eliminate your risk of ligament or meniscus tears. Instead, incorporate jumping squats and wall sits to build up muscle strength and definition.

Plyometrics

Whether your knees are in rough shape from injury or repetetive exercising, “impact forces from running and jumping (which can be as high as 2-5 times your bodyweight) can significantly accelerate the arthritic process, especially in the presence of muscle imbalances,” Kolba says. Yes, arthritis can pose a problem for you, even if you’re in your 20s or 30s.

Try this instead: Still, moves like box jumps are a great way to build explosive power. Just make sure you’re landing lightly on top of the box, then stepping down (one foot, then the other) so you don’t jar your knees. Ebner adds: “For the healthy, athletic population with proper leg strength and control, plyometrics are an important part of training if they’re done with good form. For people who don’t have the proper strength and control, or have any injuries, these exercises probably aren’t a good idea.” If any type of jumping or running hurts, try exercising on an elliptical, stepper, or running in a pool with a flotation vest on, and get your strength training from low-impact exercises and learn how to protect your joints.

Hurdle stretch

The hurdle stretch is a very unnatural pose. (Imagine jumping a hurdle: one leg forward, one leg bent behind your body.) It’s uncomfortable to get in to, uncomfortable to stay in, and overall just a terrible stretch—especially when you lean back. That’s because your bent knee is being rotated as you twist, which stresses the meniscus and medial knee joint, Kolba says.

Try this instead: Don’t attempt this if you have any pre-existing knee issues. Try a front thigh stretch on a chair instead. While sitting on a chair, cross one leg over the other so your ankle is on top of your opposite thigh. Put pressure on your bent knee so you feel a stretch in your hip and groin. Kolba says this stretch gives you the same benefit of internal hip rotation, but has less strain on your knee.

“W” sit & stretch

This involves sitting with your knees bent and legs splayed out to the side in what resembles the letter W. Some athletes use the move to stretch their hips and quadriceps. But, you’d be wise to avoid it yourself: “It’s bad because of the large amount of torque applied to the knee, hip, and ankle,” Ebner explains.

Try this instead: If you want to improve internal hip rotation, try supinated hip rotations with your knees bent at 90°. “This stretch allows for rotation at the trunk and pelvis, and limits flexion and stress at the knee,” Ebner adds.

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Squatting’s Biggest Double Standard – The Pistol Squat

The pistol squat is the biggest double standard exercise we have. The rules that we apply to double legged squats should apply to single legged squats or more specifically, pistol squats.

There are two categories of training where we find the pistol squat:

  1. Movement Training
  2. Conditioning training

What we are talking about in this article is using the pistol squat for conditioning training, not movement training. There is no arguing that there are reasons to train a pistol for balance, coordination, body control, etc.

So what IS the double standard?

There are basically 3 main principles in squatting that I want an athlete to meet to consider it “good”. Those are:

  1. Heels stay down
  2. Knee tracks over the middle to the outside of the foot
  3. Spine stays neutral

If someone was doing an air squat and their low back and upper back were rounded at the bottom, would you say “oh nice, that looks good!”? Of course not. We know we don’t want to lose spinal positioning in the air squat, a back squat, or any other squat variation.

So how come when we use pistols instead of air squats we completely ignore the fact that everyone’s low back and upper back is rounded at the bottom?

We sit there and go “wow those pistols look great” just because they got deep. But HOW they got deep in the pistol matters. Do we not see that their back is rounding?

The principles of good squatting shouldn’t change whether you’re standing on one leg or two legs. Why do we turn a blind eye when we are on one leg?

When we’re doing high rep squatting, deadlifting, olympic lifting, etc, we want the lumbar spine to be kept in neutral to prevent low back injury. Most injuries in the low back are when it moves too much and we essentially end up with an overuse injury.

Why Does the Low Back Round More in a Pistol?

One of the reasons pistols lead to nearly everyone’s low back rounding is hip anatomy. A squat is a game of balance. When you go from two legged to one legged squatting, your single foot has to be directly under your center of mass. This requires that the hip be relatively more adducted and internally rotated than a double legged squat.

So what? Hip flexion is reduced more in this internally rotated and adducted position due to the orientation of the hip socket. Some people have a hip socket that can better accommodate this motion than others. To see some cool pictures of hips to help this make more sense, check out this article on why we squat differently.

The Squat is a Balance Game

In order to not fall down in a pistol, your body weight has to be balanced over your foot. Since the hip in a lot of people is blocked at a certain degree of hip flexion in a pistol due to the anatomy mentioned above, you have to make that motion up somewhere else in order to stay balanced over your foot and gain depth.

There are two primary places where this motion happens:

  1. The ankle
  2. The spine

If you lack ankle or hip range of motion, either your heel will have to lift off the ground or you will curl your spine. This is all in an attempt to keep balanced over your foot.

The movement will occur wherever it’s easiest and through the path of least resistance

As you descend into the pistol, if it becomes relatively easier for your body to move through the spine than the hip/ankle, then the back rounds. It’s a matter of relative joint mobility, stiffness, and your pattern.

Are you saying don’t pistol for high reps?

Yes, that is exactly what I am saying IF you don’t have the ankle and hip range to not round your back. I would say the same thing about an air squat if someone rounded their back every time they squatted, wouldn’t you?

Just because squatting on one leg looks cool doesn’t mean it makes sense to do for conditioning. Pistol squatting with a rounded back makes as much sense as air squatting with a rounded back.

Examples

In this first picture, you can see that Alanna’s lumbar spine stays in its neutral position and her lordosis doesn’t reverese.

One leg squat with bench

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