How to Do Single-Leg Squats
So you’ve mastered how to do a proper squat and are ready for a bigger challenge — the single leg squat. Lifting one leg off the ground may sound like a simple modification, but try it, and you’ll see that the single leg squat is way harder than doing a squat while standing on both legs.
In fact, the one-leg squat may recruit more muscles than regular squats, according to a small study published in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation. This is because using one leg fires up smaller muscles to help balance your body.
Single leg squats target the glutes, quadriceps and calves, as well as the abdominal wall, adductors, and abductors.
How to Do Single-Leg Squats
- Stand tall with your arms extended straight in front of your chest and your left leg extended in front of you with the heel a couple inches off the floor.
- Keeping your core engaged, and left foot elevated, push your hips back, bend your right knee, and slowly lower your body as far as possible.
- Reverse the move to push yourself back up to the starting position.
- Perform equal reps on both sides.
Single Leg Squat Variations
There are many ways to adjust the single leg squat to meet you at your fitness level—and then progress the exercise to keep challenging your body.
How to make single-leg squats easier
A common way to make the single leg squat easier is to hold two light dumbbells in front of you while performing the move. While extra weight can be used to increase difficulty, light weight in this position acts as a counterbalance and actually makes it easier.
Another simple modification of the single leg squat is known as the Bulgarian split squat, or rear-foot elevated split squat: Rest the top of your back foot on a bench behind you and squat with your standing leg.
Or try a single leg box squat or single leg bench squat: Sit tall on a box or bench with your arms extended straight in front of your chest and your right heel raised a few inches off the floor in front of you. Keeping your back flat, core engaged, and left foot elevated, stand up using just your left leg. Then sit back down.
You can also try doing a one-leg squat on a bench: Stand on top of a bench near one end with your right leg off of the bench. Slowly bend your left leg, lowering into a squat as far as you can go (your right heel may hit the ground lightly). Then press back up to standing.
How to Make Single Leg Squats Harder
Add weight. You can do the single leg dumbbell squat or the single leg barbell squat. You can also hold a medicine ball while doing the exercise.
You can also add a power/acceleration challenge to exercise with the single leg squat jump: Lift one foot off the ground a few inches. Squat back, swinging your arms behind you. Then explode up, swinging your arms forward and up. Land softly on one foot.
Whichever version of the single leg squat you try, be sure that your foot stays flat on the ground throughout the motion and that you move continuously without any moment of rest, says exercise physiologist John Ford, ACSM. Otherwise you could make the exercise easier for yourself.
Benefits of Single Leg Squats
“The squat motion in general is the best full-body leg exercise. It hits the most muscle groups,” Ford says. “Doing single leg squats adds in more stabilizing muscles.”
On top of working several muscles, single leg squats help with muscle imbalances, which most of us naturally have. “Doing more single leg and single arm work makes any imbalance less prone to becoming problematic and causing pulls, strains, or overuse,” Ford explains.