Single Leg Stance for Total Body Performance

By Diane Vives – August 1, 2013
Photo by Brian Fitzsimmons

By now, somewhere in your fitness and training experience, you have probably heard someone discuss the importance of single leg strength and stability. In many cases of locomotion such as running, shuffling, or transferring weight for many throwing movements, it is rarely a perfectly symmetrical effort of both legs at the exact same time. Therefore, when we look at total body performance in many sport activities, there becomes a distinct advantage in performance as well as injury risk reduction when we train the single leg stance within a full kinetic chain movement. Lifestyle and human nature also play a role in how we become dominant on one side of our body and focus many conscious and unconscious efforts on either our left or right leg. Think about how we approach a locked door with a heavy bag full of groceries in our hand. We naturally choose to shift the bag to the hand that prefers to hold heavier objects in order to free the hand that will perform the more fine motor skill of putting the key in the lock and unlocking the door. Many people, when standing and speaking with a friend, will naturally shift their weight to the side on which they feel more stable—and unconsciously repeat this motion numerous times throughout daily activities. A combination of what is called use of our “dominant” side creates imbalances that affect whole body movement and efficiency in performance in sports and fitness activities. These four simple movements with single leg stance will give you some strategies for creating better functional strength and performance.

In single leg stance exercises, part of the key for success is the pelvic position; being able to maintain a neutral pelvic position that connects the lower body and trunk to transfer forces properly while loading, accelerating, and decelerating movements—all while on a single leg base of support—is crucial. All of the following movements are performed with a single leg stance on one side of the body and are then repeated on the opposite side in order to perform one full set of the exercise.

Vertical Chop on Single Leg 

• Start in a tall, single leg stance with arms extended overhead, holding a medicine ball.
• Using a vertical chopping motion, bring the ball down in front of the body while bending at the ankle, knee, and hip.
• Be sure to sit back in the hip by making this a squatting motion.
• Perform this in a smooth, controlled motion while maintaining balance.
• Push through the heel of the ground-based foot in order; then, extend the lower body, reverse the chopping motion, and return vertically back to the start position.

Tweak Down: Perform the movement with body weight only and to the successful range of motion that you can control and maintain balance.
Tweak Up: Add speed to the movement, performing it as fast as you can control.

Focus: To maintain balance and stability on a single leg while performing a total body combination of lower and upper body movement. The triple flexion and extension of the lower body’s ankle, knee, and hip are critical to the success of the movement.

Modified Russian Twist on Single Leg

• Start in a single leg stance with a slight bend in the ankle, knee, and hip and while holding the ball just in front of the body.
• Begin the movement by bracing the core muscles of the torso and focusing on initiating the movement from the hip.
• Maintain the upper body position as a stable unit while focusing on side-to-side movements, using mainly hip rotation.
• The range of motion should be just 45 degrees off from center position on each side in order to avoid collapsing at the knee or involving the knee in the rotation of the movement.
• Think of the pelvis as a swinging gate hinging at the hip.

Tweak Down: Use body weight by just clasping hands with arms extended in front of the body.
Tweak Up: Use speed to increase the load of the motion but only as fast as you can maintain proper positioning and stability.

Focus: This is a modified version of the Russian Twist that emphasizes controlled hip rotation and ankle rotation while maintaining knee stability.

Diagonal Chop on a Single Leg

• Start in a single leg stance on right side with a slight bend in the ankle, knee, and hip with the torso slightly rotated to extend the arms over the opposite shoulder.
• Diagonally chop the ball across the front of the body while squatting with the single leg, and finish with the ball just outside the lower portion of the lower leg.
• To return to start, push through the heel of the foot, extend the single leg, and finish with the ball over the opposite shoulder.
• Be sure to face forward and maintain vertical alignment of the ankle, knee, and hip of the stance leg.

Tweak Down: Perform the movement with body weight in a slow, controlled motion. Use a shortened range of motion until you are successful; then, work up to a full range of motion.
Tweak Up: Add speed to the movement but only as fast as you can control and consistently maintain the lower body stability and path of the ball.

Focus: This exercise combines the vertical chop and rotation of the twist in order to perform the natural diagonal movement that connects the shoulder with the opposite hip. This motion is key in many sports and daily living movements.

90-Degree Vertical Hops

• Start in a single leg stance on the right side with a slight bend in the ankle, knee and hip facing forward, and with toes pointing forward.
• Quickly perform a lower body “dip and drive” movement while rotating the body to the right, and land with the foot at 90 degrees just under the body.
• Return to start by using the same “dip and drive” while pushing off the inside edge of the foot to rotate left.
• Perform the vertical hop, landing with foot at 90 degrees to the left using the same method.
• Continue with the vertical hops, landing at 90 degrees from center for the desired number of reps in a continuous and controlled rhythm.

Tweak Down: Perform the movement and pause at each landing to ensure balance and control.
Tweak Up: Add speed to the movement—but only as fast as you can control—and perform high-quality takeoffs and landings at the desired pace.

Focus: This movement emphasizes a single side of lower body stability and strength needed to accelerate and decelerate takeoff and landing in rotational movements and reinforces lower body landing mechanics.


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