Unilateral Leg Training for Runners

Welcome to another edition of workout Wednesday! Today we are talking about unilateral leg training for runners. What is unilateral training? It is training one side of the body independently from the other. Think about it for a moment. When you run you repeatedly transfer your body weight from one leg to the other for the duration of the run. Since you run on one leg at a time, it only makes sense to strength train one leg at a time. 

While traditional bilateral (two leg) exercises like the squat are great for runners, you can take it to the next step in strength and balance by training each leg independently to increase runner-specific strength and help ward off injuries. I recommend incorporating both bilateral and unilateral training into your program.

WHY UNILATERAL TRAINING?

When you train both legs at the same time you may be reinforcing strength imbalances. If one side of your body is stronger than the other, that side is going to compensate for the weaker side. Training each limb independently will build up the strength on your weaker side and eventually even out the strength of both sides. If you don't train unilaterally, the dominant side of your body will stay strong, while the weaker side will stay weak. These imbalances can lead to injuries. 

I also love unilateral training because it requires more stability and forces you to balance and build core strength. Balance and core strength are essential for runners. 

Try these unilateral exercises in your next leg workout. Perform these moves without weights at first until you master technique and form. As your balance and stability improves, add weight to the exercises for an additional challenge.

 

Lunge 

 Lunge

Lunge

With your feet hip width apart and your toes pointed straight ahead, engage your core and keep your back straight. Take one large step with your right leg to lunge forward until your front knee is lined up over your ankle and your back knee is nearly touching the floor. Do not allow your knee to move forward over your toes. Resist the urge to lean forward or rest your arms on your thighs. Once you are in the lunge position push back up to starting position. Repeat for 20 seconds.

Single Leg Deadlift

 single leg deadlift

single leg deadlift

Standing on one leg, keep your knee slightly bent and perform a deadlift by bending at your hip while keeping your back straight and neck neutral. Extend your free leg behind you in line with your body. Lower until your back is parallel to the floor. With your back straight return to the upright position. Repeat for 20 seconds.

Single Leg Squat

While the single leg squat is an advanced move, there are a couple of variations that almost anyone can perform. I like using a bench for the low position. Balance on one leg and lower yourself until you are sitting on the bench. Your knee may want to cave inward, which is sign of a muscle imbalance. Work to keep your standing knee inline with your outside toe as you lower to the bench. Keeping the 2nd leg off the ground stand back up to the starting position.

 single leg squat

single leg squat

Another variation is the single leg wall squat. Lower yourself into a wall squat position, with your back flat against the wall and your thighs parallel to the ground. Lift one leg off the floor and straighten it in front you. Repeat for 20 seconds.

Bridge with leg extension

Lie on your back with your knees bent and lift your hips off the floor while engaging your glutes and abs. Straighten one leg. Keep your leg in a straight line with your body and your knees together. Hold for 20 seconds.

 bridge with leg extension

bridge with leg extension

Perform each of the exercises in a Tabata-style format: 20 seconds work/10 seconds rest for four minutes. Rest one minute then repeat the circuit two more times. This is a quick and effective unilateral workout that you can tack on to the end of your run.

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Coach Lea

I am a NASM personal trainer and RRCA adult distance running coach that specializes in strength training for runners. I offer in-person training in the Shredshed, as well as online training. If you are interested in a more in-depth running or strength training plan, please contact me. Have questions? I'd love to help. 

While I am a certified personal trainer, I am not your personal trainer. Since I don't know your exercise abilities, injury background or medical history, please see your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.