Get Strong on ONE Leg
“Who would have thought it would be possible to run across Canada on one leg, eh?
I wanted to try the impossible and show that it could be done.” Terry Fox
You might be wondering how this topic applies to you. You’re walking on both legs. What’s the big deal?
It’s everything! Every step you take is a single-leg action. As you step forward on one foot you momentarily lift your back foot to bring it forward. In that instance you are doing a single-leg action. Every time you climb stairs, you need single-leg strength and balance. Stepping out of bed, climbing into a car, riding a bicycle, getting down on one knee, kicking a ball, going for a jog, getting dressed… all of these actions and so many more require single-leg proficiency and balance in order to be executed safely and confidently.
Falls and Brain Health
According to the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, individuals who are unable to balance on one limb for 5 seconds have twice the risk of incurring an injurious fall than those who can balance for more than 5 seconds.
In her book Balance and Your Body – How Exercise Can Help You Avoid a Fall, author Amanda Sterczyk tells us that “In Canada, falls are the leading cause of injury among older Canadians. Twenty to thirty percent of seniors experience one or more falls each year. Falls are the cause of 85 percent of seniors’ injury-related hospitalizations.”
Moreover, research shows that the inability to balance and be strong on one leg may indicate if you are at risk of dementia or stroke. According to Dr. Yasuharu Tabara of the Center for Genomic Medicine of Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Kyoto, Japan: “Our study found that the ability to balance on one leg is an important test for brain health. Individuals showing poor balance on one leg should receive increased attention, as this may indicate an increased risk for brain disease and cognitive decline”.
It is imperative that every day we find a way to move, exercise, stretch and strengthen AND that we incorporate single-leg activities.
Avoid the “shuffle”
Think of an elderly person who starts to shuffle as they walk. Their steps become smaller, they don’t pick up their feet and they often rely on a cane or walker. They lose the confidence to pick up their feet when they walk (single-leg work) because they are weaker and their balance is poor. When they walk up and down stairs they have to hold the railing because they lack the stability and strength on one leg.
We know that falls and reduced mobility don’t simply occur because we get older. They tend to happen because we become more sedentary and exercise less. The less we do, the more our muscles weaken and our bones become brittle.
We need overall stability, mobility and strength.
AND we must work at it!
Balance work, single-leg exercises
Single-leg strength isn’t just about being able to stand on one leg for 20 seconds (although that is something to strive for).
When we think of single-leg work, we really want to target the joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia in our hips, legs, feet and core with appropriate exercises – exercises for strengthening but also for mobility.
Single-leg work is challenging! Your standing leg has to work hard to support your whole body weight. This requires strength, balance and endurance. Your moving leg also has to work hard as it may be suspended in air working against gravity as it performs various movements.
If you do Essentrics® with me, these are some of the single-leg exercises we do (although everything we do will influence your overall strength and mobility):
- Balance work (on one and both feet)
- Hip cleaners
- Slow motion bicycle
- Foot work
- Side leg lifts
- Quad raisers
- Chair stretches
Personal Training – At the Gym
If you personal train with me, these are some the exercises that you will recognize:
- Lunges of all kinds (forward, backward, walking, lateral)
- Step ups
- Single-leg squats
- Split squats
- Single-leg bridges
- Pistol squats
- Kick Backs
- Single-leg Romanian Deadlifts
- Single-Leg Calf Raises
“Get a leg up”
I want you all vibrant and strong now and when you’re older. No shuffling! No hip pain, no back pain.
Getting strong on one leg is part of your overall exercise prescription. We need to be proactive and incorporate single-leg exercises on a regular basis.
Not only will they give you the tools to walk with confidence but those exercises will also help improve your posture, avoid a fall and keep your brain in tip top shape.
Do you want an extra challenge? Try standing on one leg while you brush your teeth 🙂