Improve Your Balance and Functionality Doing More Single-leg Exercises

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They may take a bit longer, but the many benefits of doing single-leg exercises, or unilateral exercises, far outweigh that one issue. Moreover, performing these types of leg exercises regularly can improve balance, functional ability, correct muscle imbalances, and increase core strength. Knowing that, the better question might be why would you not do them? Unilateral exercises require only a single-leg or single-arm to perform.

Just about everything we do is based off a single-leg movement. Movements such as walking, running, skipping, forms of jumping and climbing a flight of stairs all utilize one-leg. In fact, Michael Sylvester, owner of TheFitnessDocs, states, “when we walk or run, 60 percent of the gait cycle is bearing our entire bodyweight on one-leg.”

Single-leg Exercises Mimic The Way We Move

Leg exercises, especially single-leg exercises, mimic the way the body moves naturally (i.e. gait pattern) in everyday life and during athletic events. We want to train the body the way we move in life and in sport. Using lower body unilateral exercises in a workout will check off those two boxes. Compound exercises, also known as bilateral exercises, like a squat or deadlift are of course important. If an athlete is trying to improve their vertical jump, for instance, then those types of exercises are applicable.

Think of the way you and your clients move throughout the day. Watch a video of any sporting event and observe how each athlete moves up and down the field, court, track or ice. Every movement requires unilateral or single-leg action; running down the field, cutting on a court, a lay-up, running the bases, or pushing off on the ice. The body therefore needs to train in a similar manner replicating those types of movements in the gym in order to improve performance.

Single-leg Exercises Helps Correct Muscle Imbalances

Many people use their dominant side most of the time. If your dominant leg is your right leg, this is typically the one you’ll use to start running up a flight of stairs or kick a soccer ball. Likewise, the same thing applies to the upper body. Think about how strong the arm of a tennis player or baseball pitcher’s dominant side is. This is why it’s so important to train the opposite or non-dominant side and using unilateral exercises work best in most cases.

Performing barbell bilateral exercises can help someone become stronger but not correct imbalance issues; unilateral dumbbell exercises on the other hand will. Each one of us has as area or a side of the body that is typically weaker and less flexible. Further, if not corrected over time, dysfunctional movement will occur and lead to injuries. Speaking of injuries, this can be a major problem when coming back from a leg or foot or injury that as a result, leads to changes in gait pattern. If not corrected, in-efficient movement patterns can take hold or what I like refer to as, get “ingrained in the brain” and become the norm. Unilateral movements will help bring the body back to its original state after this has been corrected.

According to, Gray Cook, MSPT, you “must develop sound movement patterns long before worrying about performance enhancement. These movement patterns are not possible in the presence of poor flexibility or poor body control – that is, poor mobility and stability.”

Improves Balance

Working off one-leg makes the involved leg work that much harder and the smaller intrinsic muscles around the ankle ultimately become stronger. Consequently, the muscles around the knee and hip joints also get stronger resulting in better balance. Continuing to use single-leg exercises like split jumps, pistol squats, step-ups, and Bulgarian split squats in workouts force you to spend more time balancing on one leg while working different single-leg movement patterns. This in turn improves kinaesthetic awareness leading to better balance through postural awareness and new found strength.

Added Bonus on Core Strength

When you work one side of your body as a result of using unilateral exercises, like a single-leg Romanian Deadlift, you activate more core muscles in order to maintain balance. The by-product is the stabilizing muscles end up working much harder and become stronger. The primary core stabilizers include the deep trunk muscles like the multifidus, internal obliques, external obliques, tranverse abdominis and pelvic floor muscles. The purpose of these muscles is to support and protect your spine and improve your posture.

For best overall results, try adding more unilateral leg exercises to your workouts if you’re not already doing so. As an example, combining bilateral (Squats) and unilateral (DB Bulgarian Split Squat) exercises in the same workout will help take your strength gains (and more) to the next level. Stay Strong!

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Designing Your At-Home Workout Program

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The at-home workout program has unexpectedly become the new norm due to area gyms closing as a result of COVID-19. A by-product of this is that we are spending more of our time inside. Many are now wondering how we can take our old workout plan we did at the gym and incorporate it into a new home routine?

Now that we are home-based, there seems to be additional questions we need to think about and work around. In addition to the question above, there are other matters to worry about too, like when you’re going to exercise, space availability, and equipment needs.

Approaching Your At-Home Workout Program Differently

A paradigm shift is a “a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.” This may be a perfect time to start thinking differently about how we exercise at home, meaning, how we structure and execute our training routine. Change can be a very good thing when it comes to an individuals body and how that body adapts and progresses during a training cycle.

5 Basic Human Movement Patterns

Whether your training plan is geared towards a full-body, split routine or circuit-training, should not be the focus. What really matters most is training movements not muscles. Do not rely on specific exercises, instead, make sure you add-in specific movement patterns during each training session. Movement patterns are exercise classifications and can be thought of as the movement direction of the exercise. There are different schools of thought on how these movement patterns are categorized and even talked about.

The following is a modified version of some of the basic human movement patterns that should be included in the design of any training program. This list could also include other categories like hip dominant, knee dominant, rotational and anti-rotational categories. For the purposes of this article though, we will refer to the following five basic categories.

Squat

Any variation of a Squat is considered one of the best compound movements you can do. Exercises listed in this category are considered hip or knee-dominant by some. You can think of this category as exercises that utilize muscles around the hip and knee, like a Barbell Squat, Dumbbell Squat, or a Goblet Squat, as examples.

Hip Hinge

This particular category of exercises consists of movements that involve a “hinging” motion at the hip joint, and have little to no movement at the knee. Classic examples of exercises that incorporate a hip hinge are a Kettlebell Swing and a Romanian Deadlift.

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Hip Hinge Category: Kettlebell Swing exercise

Pull: Vertical & Horizontal

The vertical pull includes moving a weight or body weight vertically, relative to the position that your body is in. Examples of these types exercises would include Pull-ups and Lat Pull-down.

The horizontal pull include any exercise that moves the weight toward your body horizontally. A few examples include: Bent-over Rows, Inverted Row or a Seated Row.

Push: Vertical & Horizontal

This category combines both vertical and horizontal in order to make life easier for you. The vertical push, includes exercises that move a load or weight vertically in relation to the torso, like a Military Press or Push Press.

Horizontal push is a category of exercises that involves moving a weight straight out in front of you, away from the body, like a Bench Press.

Weighted Carry

Many strength and conditioning experts agree that a Weighted Carry is the best, all-in-one exercise a person can do. The Carry is ideal for increasing overall strength, especially back, core and grip strength. The exercise benefits don’t stop there though; it’s also ideal for improving stamina and functionality. A simple definition of a Weighted Carry is picking up a weight or a load and carrying it for distance or time. The best exercise example is a Farmer’s Carry.

The importance of adding these five movement patterns into your at-home workout program is invaluable. It offers someone a better way to design and customize their training program to meet all their needs. It also assures that an individual will work through the various planes of motion more often during training compared to a traditional training plan. The benefits of focusing on movement patterns instead of working specific muscles ensures a well-balanced, strong, functional body.

Exercise Program Design

Now that you have a better understanding of movement patterns, it’s important to use them in your next at-home workout. To experience measurable gains with your at-home training program, it’s important that you understand the basic concept of periodization.

  • “Periodization is an organized approach to training that involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period of time.” Len Kravitz, PhD

To get the most benefit out of any at-home workout program, a periodized training plan should be followed. This is where adjusting the various training variables over time (i.e. sets/reps/rest/load/time under tension) comes into play. The idea is to control these variables during each training day and over the course of a full training year. By following such a training format over time, you’ll ensure maximal gains long-term, safely and effectively. Think about that for a moment. If you have not had strength gains in a while, maybe a lack of periodization is the culprit?

Use the Jefit App for Additional Workout Guidance

The JeFit app makes thousands of strength training routines accessible. It comes with a customizable workout planner, an extensive exercise library, and a members-only Facebook group page. Check it out!

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