Single Leg Squat Variations

The Single Leg Squat (SLS) is a very important exercise to incorporate into any exercise program as a strength, rehabilitation, or auxiliary exercise.  This exercise is an integral part of many activities of daily living such as climbing stairs, getting up from the floor, walking up a hill, etc.  SL Squats also directly correlate to sport specific movements including running, changing direction, decelerating, jumping, etc. 

When performed properly, SLS improve glute, quad, and hamstring strength, while improving balance.  By utilizing one leg at a time, each leg is forced to work equally which addresses any asymmetry in strength or stability.  This is extremely beneficial for rehabilitation of a foot, ankle, knee, or hip injury.  During a bilateral squat the user can compensate by shifting weight and tension to one leg more than the other to mask weakness, pain or instability. 

Single leg squat performance is crucial for sport performance as nearly all movements are done on one leg at a time.  They help transition force to the ground to sprint faster and jump higher.  SLS also improve landing mechanics to dissipate force when landing on one leg or decelerating from a high speed.

To perform the single leg squat you must understand YOUR depth for each leg (as they may differ).  To find out the depth stand hip width apart with your feet facing forward and then squat down as far as you can with losing a neutral spine, pronating your foot, breaking proper squat angles, or any other compensation.  From here, shift all of your weight to one foot and slowly lift the other foot off of the ground.  Memorize this depth as it is YOUR depth for this leg. Any additional range will come from a compensation that removes the benefit of the exercise. Any less range will not develop strength through full range of motion and decrease potential benefit of SLS.

Variations of the Single Leg Squat are endless.  For today’s post we’ll focus on a few.  The split squat is the first variation that should be performed as it takes away the balance aspect of the SLS by placing the toes and balls of the feet of the hanging leg on the ground allowing for better control.  The setup to this exercise is similar to that of a normal single leg squat with the exception of the back foot being on the ground.  Make sure the back foot is only 4-6” behind the front foot. 

After being able to perform the split squat with good control and understanding of your range of motion the back foot can be lifted and normal SLS can now be performed.  Once 15-20 reps can be performed without a loss of balance, try progressing to a BOSU ball.  The BOSU ball SLS is a very challenging exercise that introduces an unstable surface.  This requires perfect control of all lower body joints and core or the ball will shake making the exercise nearly impossible.  To set up you will place your foot directly over the center of the flat side of the BOSU ball and slowly stand up.  Be sure to keep the ball still and flat since.  If it moves the ankle joint to move as well, thus changing the alignment of your body. 

Additional progressions can include a Slideboard.  By adding in a Slideboard you can increase the difficulty of the SLS by moving your hanging leg through various planes of motion.  First, position your foot to the side of the Slideboard and allowing your hang leg to abduct (slide away from you) as you squat.  The weight of the hanging leg will move you center of gravity as you squat making balance more difficult.  Just be sure to keep most of your weight on the leg doing the SLS unless you want to try a split.  If you are unable to reach the same range on your SLS due to a groin stretch, you may need to stretch your adductors. 


Another Slideboard variation includes a sagittal plane movement.  If you position your foot in front of the Slideboard and reach the free leg as far behind you as possible (without hyperextending your back or internally rotating your leg), you get a running specific movement to improve hip and core stabilization.  Both Slideboard variations require hip mobility and allow loading of the SLS.

All Single Leg Squats require similar coaching cues for proper technique.  The most important rules are the use of proper hip-knee-toe alignment (see Too Squat or Not To Squat blog) and level shoulders and hips.  If those requirements are not met, the rest of the squat will be done incorrectly.  Once you are in a good single leg stance, make sure to bend at the hips, knees and ankles at the same time until your full range of motion is achieved.  Be sure to keep your alignment on the way down and then back up. 

The most common mistakes include, dropping the hanging hip (tilting the pelvis) or counter leaning the shoulders over the leg you are standing on.  Both of these are signs of inadequate glute meds strength.  Other mistakes involve overpronation of the ankle, knee valgus (collapsing in toward mid-line), turning the body or bending at one joint excessively.  Follow these rules for a productive and pain free single leg squat.  Try these variations to keep your workouts fresh and fun.

Tommy Barzal