Continuing on from the theme of lasts weeks article that discussed the benefits of adding functional exercise into your workout routine, another detail to look is to perform single limb vs. double limb exercises. If you workout with dumbbells then most likely you are already performing single limb exercises with your upper body; however, when it comes to strengthening the lower body, many people turn to double leg squats or leg curls to build leg strength. When performing double leg exercises only the prime movers are being placed under stress, resulting in strength gains of only these muscle groups; however, although this is good for developing leg strength, it is not “functional”. Performing single leg exercises actually recruits more muscle groups at a time because not only are the prime movers being worked, the stabilizer muscles of the hip, the inside of the leg, and the lower back are also triggered to maintain balance and proper alignment (hip over knee and knee over toe).
Many common injuries are a result of muscle imbalances in the lower body, trunk, and core. Some people can get away with these imbalances without suffering serious pain or injury; however, muscle imbalance put you (especially athletes and physically active people) at a higher risk for acute or insidious onset/chronic-type injuries because the body is not able to properly transfer and absorb the loads placed on it. It is very common for people to notice a significant difference in strength levels between left and right legs once they begin to perform exercises one leg at a time. This is because when they have been performing traditional double leg exercises the stronger leg has been “taking up the slack” for the weaker leg throughout the movement. Performing double limb lower body exercises have their place a training routine, but mixing it up by throwing in some single leg exercises are definitely beneficial for improved strength gains and injury prevention.
Many believe that performing single leg exercises is more for rehabilitation purposes and that more weight can be lifted when performing exercises with both legs; therefore, this will result in more strength gains in the long run. This is a myth. Looking back at the term functional strength training, which basically means training the muscles the way that we use them; most movements of the human body are unilateral, meaning one limb is stressed more than the other at any given time. This is especially relevant in a sporting atmosphere as most movements required in sport are unilateral and require strength in not only the prime movers (quads, gluts, and hamstrings), but also the stabilizers (hips, low back, core), in order to create a solid base of support, generate power, and prevent injury. A perfect example would be running, this action requires each foot to strike the ground individually from the opposing leg, which requires not only strength in each leg but strength in the stabilizer muscles to prevent falling over or injury.
Some examples of single leg exercises are single leg squats, single leg bench step-ups, or single leg deadlifts. Try this idea out next time you are at the gym, perform exercises in front of a mirror and watch your hip, knee, and toe alignment in order to try and pinpoint an area of concern or muscle imbalances in your own body.
Email Michelle@CORE-Condition.com for more single leg exercises or more information about the benefits of functional training.
Michelle Roots BA Kin, CSCS, PES