- Technique and Training
Stronger hips and better balance with single-leg exercises
Unlock additional athletic potential and improve mobility and stability
Improving balance and strength in a single-leg stance is vital for general health and fitness—both balance and strength play a big role in avoiding accidental falls as you age. Progress can be slow when learning to master these movements, so patience and repeated practice is needed.
If you’re unfamiliar with the different categories that your strength program should cover be sure to review: “Strength Training: A Balanced Approach.”
Here are the categories that you should train consistently if you want a balanced program with a focus on injury reduction and performance enhancement:
- Push (horizontal and vertical)
- Pull (horizontal and vertical)
- Squat (single- and double-legged)
- Hinge (single- and double-legged)
- Core (prone, supine and vertical)
In this article we’ll review the fourth bullet point, specifically, hinging movements done on a single leg. I’ll explain how to safely and effectively strengthen your hips while increasing mobility.
Important: Before you begin, review all of the videos of the exercises and progressions for a clearer understanding of all of the movements and variations.
Important: If you’re new to training with weights, consult a qualified trainer or strength and conditioning coach to help you determine if these exercises are appropriate for you. Always start with the lowest weight possible and increase as you get stronger.
This assessment is done by standing on your left leg only and bending over to touch your left foot with your right hand for six reps. Try not to touch the ground with your right foot. Perform the same test on the other side as well.
Using your worst leg as a marker, if you can perform all six reps without touching the ground, start on Level 2. If you touched the ground with your other foot once or more during the test, start on Level 1.
These are beginner exercises to help reinforce the correct pattern that your body should be moving through when performing a hinge in a single-leg position. Emphasis should be placed on using your glutes to control your movement up and down. It takes time to make a connection and control yourself in this single-leg position. Make sure that your knee is not locked while standing on it, you want a “soft knee,” one that looks straight but isn’t locked.
Only perform the exercise in a range of motion that you can control. Over time, you should slowly be able to increase your range of motion. Never go faster or farther than you can while maintaining proper technique. Changes will occur slowly, so patience is needed when doing these exercises.
- Single-leg Balance: While standing on your right foot only, bend over and touch your left hand to your right foot. Stand back up while maintaining balance and not letting your left foot touch the ground. Perform four to 10 reps each side.
- Single-leg Floor Bridge: Lie on your back with both feet flat on the ground. Push through your feet and squeeze your butt until your hips are off the ground with your back in a straight line with your head and knees. Then raise one foot off the ground and straighten that knee. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds and then switch to the other leg. Repeat for 10 to 20 total alternating reps.
- Single-leg Layout to Wall Touch: While standing on your left foot, hinge forward at the waist with your arms stretched out in front of you, while maintaining tension in your back, hips, and your right leg, as it lifts behind you. Reach forward until you’re able to touch the wall with your outstretched arms. You should have a straight line extending from your hands through your head, hips, and feet. Resume to the starting position and repeat. Perform five to 10 reps on one side before switching.
These exercises add additional stability challenges, but most gains in the single-leg hinge will be with a combination of both Level 1 and 2 exercises, as appropriate for your level of competency.
- Single-leg Deadlift + DB: This movement is identical to the Single-leg Layout listed above but, instead of touching a wall, you hold a dumbbell in the hand on the opposite side of the leg you’re standing on. Perform five to 10 reps on each leg with an appropriate weight.
- Single-leg Deadlift & Row + Cable: This movement is identical to the Single-leg Layout but, like the Single-leg Deadlift + DB, you instead hold a cable and perform a rowing motion before you stand back up. Perform 5 to 10 reps on each leg with an appropriate weight.
- Single-leg Layout 3D: While standing on your left foot, hinge forward at the waist with your arms stretched out in front of you, while maintaining tension in your back, hips, and your right leg, as it lifts behind you. Through the first three reps go in three different angles: to the right, center, and left when you lean forward. You should have a straight line extending from your hands through your head, hips, and feet. Then resume to the starting position and repeat. Perform six to 12 reps on each leg.
Remember to watch the videos of all of these exercises. The single-leg hinge can unlock a lot of your athletic potential as well as keep you safer from falls as you age. Proceed slowly and you’ll experience success.