Target Muscle/s: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves
Sets & Reps: 12 rep max x 3 sets (1-2 minute rest)
Tempo: 2 seconds down, 1 second up
Frequency: Twice a week strength training program (or as advised if part of rehab plan)

Rationale

When it comes to building speed, focus obviously needs to be placed on the muscles that contribute to propulsion. In running, the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) provide up to 50% of the power during the propulsive phase, particularly the soleus (which is why seated bent leg calf raises are so important). However, when it comes to reducing risk of injury, attention also needs to focus on the muscles that work hard during the braking phase of running, i.e. the ones that control deceleration of the leg from the moment it lands (stance phase) until the moment it passes under the body and enters the propulsive phase. The quadriceps muscles (front of thigh) are the main contributor during this braking phase, working eccentrically (tension whilst lengthening) to support & control the knee bending (flexing) of the grounded leg as the weight of the body passes over it. Once your body has passed over this supporting leg, the role of the quadriceps muscles remains passive until the last 20% of swing phase during which they extend (straighten) the knee in preparation for landing. The single leg squat can be an excellent exercise to prepare the quadriceps muscle group for the role they play during running.

Method

  • Single leg squats can be performed in a number of ways. Initially, find a version that is most comfortable for your body. In the photo, the arms and non weight bearing leg are held out in front to aid stability & facilitate movement of the body in a backwards direction during each repetition.
  • When starting this exercise, make sure that you do not go too deep. Even for an experienced athlete, the first few squats should be slight bends of the knee until the body is warmed up. Tempo is important: take two to three seconds to slowly lower the body into the squat, hold the bent position for a second, then accelerate as you push back upwards.
  • If you can perform more than 10-12 repetitions, progress the exercise by squatting a little deeper. You can also add resistance by holding a weight in the hands. Remember to maintain a controlled tempo and start each repetition by pushing the backside backwards. Placing a seat behind you can provide a useful cue to ensure good form.
  • Another way of performing single leg squats is putting the non weight supporting leg behind, i.e. moving the back knee back and downwards towards the floor. As previously, remember not to go too deep at first, and maintain a controlled tempo.

Embracing Variety

Although great emphasis is traditionally placed on keeping hip, knee and foot aligned during single leg squats, most functional movements involve a certain amount of rotation (even at the knee) and running is no exception. Introducing asymmetry into the single leg squat can help prepare the body for such demands, although you may at first need to reduce depth and load. Variances in anatomy of the hip can also result in some runners not being able to maintain alignment. If in any doubt, seek advice from a suitable health professional.