Every Runner’s Strength Routine Should Include Single-Leg Exercises

These unilateral moves build the strength and stability you need for better running.

single leg exercises
Trevor Raab

As a runner, you need strong legs. And one of the best ways to train your lower half is via single-leg exercises, which help you improve your running performance.

“Because running is a unilateral sport basically consisting of mini single-leg movements over and over again, these single-leg exercises can help improve motor control in the single-leg position, as well as stability, and they can prevent injury,” Dan Giordano, P.T., D.P.T., C.S.C.S. and chief medical officer at Bespoke Treatments tells Runner’s World.

Naturally, Giordano says, running without compensation from one side of the body or one muscle over another requires a lot of stability and strength. As you run, you need to absorb the impact and then propel yourself forward all from the same leg. In order to accomplish this without injury, he says, you need the strength to withstand that impact and power you through the gait cycle.

To help you build that strength, Runner’s World coach, Jess Movold, offers up the best single-leg exercises for runners. Consider dedicating at least one day a week to practice these single-leg exercises, says Giordano. (You can practice bilateral, or both sides, on different days, he adds.) Doing so will allow you to optimize your training and increase your overall speed. He also suggests practicing this workout without shoes to improve foot muscle strength—also important on the run.

How to use this list: Perform each exercise below for 4 sets of 8 reps. Each move is demonstrated by Coach Jess so you can follow proper form. You will need a step, chair or bench, and a set of dumbbells or kettlebells for this workout. An exercise mat is optional.

Single-Leg Glute Bridge

Lie faceup on the mat with knees bent, feet flat on floor, arms resting at sides. Lift right foot of the floor, bending knee and keeping knee over hip. Press through left heel to lift hips up toward ceiling, engaging glutes. Then slowly lower back down. Repeat for reps. Then switch sides. Make sure core is engaged so you’re not lifting with the low back.

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Start standing with weight in left hand. Shift weight to right leg, and with a soft bend in right knee, hinge at the hips by sending butt back. Keep back flat, shoulders down, and core engaged as torso reaches toward the floor and left leg lifts straight back behind you. Only lower until you feel a slight pull in right hamstrings; you don’t have to lower weight to ground. Drive right foot into ground to stand back up, squeezing glutes. Repeat for reps. Then switch sides.

Single-Leg Step-Up

With right foot on top of a box and left foot on the ground, step up onto the box by driving all of your weight through the right foot, keeping knee over laces, body traveling directly upwards. Drive left knee up toward chest at the top. Slowly lower back down. Repeat for reps. Then switch sides.

Single-Leg Squat

Standing in front of a chair, facing away from it, lift left leg out in front of you. With chest lifted and shoulders back and down, extend both arms straight out. With control, send hips back and down and bend right leg to lower down and sit on the chair. Keep left foot lifted and upper body tall. Press through right foot to stand back up. Repeat for reps. Then switch sides.

Bulgarian Split Squat

Stand in front of a chair, bench, box, or step, facing away from it. Take a small step away from the chair. Reach right foot back and rest laces on the chair. Keeping chest tall and slight lean forward, bend left knee to lower as far as you can with control. Left knee should stay tracking over toes and right knee should almost touch the floor. Drive left foot into the floor to stand back up. Repeat for reps. Then switch sides.

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