The almighty single leg squat

At Beyond, we’ve just celebrated single leg squat month. And it was a hoot.

Here’s a little bit more in depth info on these little beauty exercises.


What are they?

Single-leg squats are a highly beneficial squat variation that can improve body symmetry through loading and working one leg at a time.  A full range single-leg squat to the ground is called a ‘pistol squat’. This is an advanced exercise that requires progressive training through single-leg squat variations to gain the strength and mobility needed to perform it.   


Key benefits

  • Improve body symmetry through lessening muscle imbalances and therefore assist in injury prevention.
  • Improves strength, balance, and mobility all in one hit.
  • Strengthens key knee stabilisers
  • Skill crossover to just about any sporting discipline including running, athletics, surfing, rugby and rock climbing.


Main muscles worked

  • Gluteal muscles including hip and knee stabilisers
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Ankle stabilisers
  • Abdominals and spinal stabilisers


3 progressive levels of single-leg squats


#1 Single-leg squat to box (sit to stand)

This is a great starting point for any level of fitness and can be adjusted by using a higher bench/surface to make it easier or adding weight to make it more challenging. To perform these find a bench/box or stable surface to sit down onto that is slightly higher than your knee.

  1. Stand just in front of bench and raise your right leg, lower your butt down to the bench by pushing your hips back and bending your left knee.  
  2. Once seated on the bench, drive your weight into your left heel and engage your glute to stand, keeping the right leg extended out in front of you.
  3. Repeat for desired repetitions each leg.




#2 Single-leg Squat off box

These require a little more balance and are performed by standing on the edge of a stable box, bench or step.  

  1. To start, sit your hips back, and lower the non-working leg towards the floor.
  2. Push down into the heel of the working leg and squeezing into your quads and gluteal muscles as you stand back up to straight.




#3 The pistol squat (assisted or unassisted)

This is the ultimate single-leg squat that works through a full range of motion and requires a lot of time working through earlier progressions to gain the strength, balance and mobility it needs.  

  1. Stand on one leg and lower your butt all the way down until the non working leg is horizontal infront for you.
  2. Drive weight into the heel to stand back up.
  3. Once the bodyweight pistol squat is mastered, weight can be added for additional strength building.  





Exercises to improve hip and ankle mobility

Single-leg squats require a lot of hip and ankle mobility, it is often tightness in these areas that restricts range of motion in these squats.Try these hip-opening warm ups before single-leg squat training:


The spiderman walk

  1.  Step your left foot forward out into a long lunge stance
  2. Bend back knee to ground and place left hand on floor outside the left foot with the left elbow inside the knee, pushing outwards.
  3. Hold stretch for a second then repeat on right side, walking forwards with each lunge.



Deep bodyweight squats and holds

Squat all the way down with your feet approx hip width apart and toes slightly out, use a wider stance if necessary.  If you can’t get down pain-free then you may need to work a smaller range of motion. Sitting in the bottom of a deep squat for 30-60 sec is also a great daily practice for building mobility into the hips and ankles.




Here’s a couple of ankle-mobility exercises you can also perform as part of your warm up.


Squat holds and rocks

Same as deep bodyweight squats above but come up so thighs are approximately parallel with the ground and gently sway side to side to work more range of motion into the ankles.



Dynamic lunge stretch

Get down in a long lunge-stance with hands either side of your front foot. Pushing off the ball of your back foot, rock forward gently pushing your knee over your toes and stretching the back of your ankle. From here, rock back until your front knee is behind your ankle, stretching out the front of the ankle.  




We’re very particular about form. It’s paramount to get form correct to get maximum benefit from the exercise. If you have questions about your form, just yell out 🙂