Improve strength: single leg exercises for runners

Do you want to run faster? Spending some time in the gym strength training can help you achieve that. Adding single leg exercises into your routine can help your overall running.

You might say, “I do hill work and speed work to help improve my running performance.”

dumbbell single leg exercises in the gym

And while that is good, it is important to include unilateral exercises to improve any imbalances or weakness that can occur with your knees, ankles or hips collapsing.

Why are single leg exercises important for runners?

Many runners who strength train focus on bilateral movements and exercise, including barbell squats, deadlifts and presses. 

However, single-leg exercises are important for runners because they help:

Correct muscle imbalances

When doing double leg exercises (i.e., squats), the muscles on your stronger side will compensate, creating more imbalances and increasing your risk of injury.

Single-leg exercises (i.e., single-leg deadlifts and single-leg squats) eliminate the chances of your dominant side taking over and allow you to isolate the targeted muscles.

Reduce Injury prevention

Injuries often result from overuse, muscular imbalances or poor movement. Unilateral training allows you to isolate specific movements, muscles, and joints to increase the symmetry of muscular development and movement. 

Improve running form

Stronger legs will help runners maintain good posture and alignment, which can lead to efficient running while improving overall power and speed. 

Strengthens your core

Single-leg exercises (ie, single-leg bridges) can increase core strength by requiring your core muscles to work harder to maintain stability and balance on one leg.

Your core muscles include the abdominals, obliques, and lower back muscles, which are essential for maintaining good posture and proper alignment while running. 

Increases stability 

Single-leg exercises can increase stability by challenging the body to maintain balance while standing or moving on one leg. This requires leg muscles and core to work together to maintain proper alignment and control, which can improve overall stability.

Single leg exercises for runners

There are plenty of unilateral exercises out there, so it might take time to decide which ones to do. The truth is, whichever unilateral exercise you choose, as long as it’s done with proper form, will allow you to 

Single-leg glute bridges

dumbbell single leg bridge
woman doing dumbbell single leg bridge on bench
  • Place your mid to upper back (right about the bra strap line) on a bench.
  • With your feet flat on the floor and hips dipped towards the floor. The feet will be slightly outside of your hips. At this bottom position, your knees should be slightly behind the bridge of your feet/your heels.
  • Lift one foot off the ground while raising the mid-section of your body while squeezing your glutes, bringing your body to a tabletop position.
  • Slowly lower to your starting position.
  • Repeat the desired number of repetitions and switch to the other leg.

Single leg deadlift

  • Place your feet together and hold a dumbbell at chest level
  • Shift your weight to one leg and lift your other leg behind you while hinging from the hips.  
  • When your torso is parallel to the floor, hold the position for a second and slowly head back to the start.  
  • Squeeze your glutes at the end and repeat.  
  • Switch legs and perform another set.  

Tip: Don’t let the lifted hip rotate out. Squeeze through your glutes as you come back to standing.

Single leg squat

Single leg exercise that works on balance of ankles and hips throughout the movement.

woman doing single leg squat exercises in the gym
woman doing single leg squat exercises in the gym
dumbbell single leg squats
  • Start standing with your feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell at chest level.
  • Balance your weight on your right leg and gently raise your left foot off the ground.
  • Slowly lower yourself into a seated position on a bench right behind you.
  • Pushing your weight through your right leg, return to your starting position/ standing up.
  • Repeat desired reps and switch to the opposite leg.

Bulgarian split squats

single leg exercises: woman doing dumbbell bulgarian split squat in the gym
dumbbell HIIT workout bulgarian split squat
  • Stand with your back to a bench or stable surface.
  • Place your right foot behind you on the bench and the left foot planted on the ground. This should resemble a lunge position.
  • Hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands and keep your chest tall and core tight.
  • Lunge down to the ground until you’ve reached full range of motion. 
  • The majority of the weight should be kept over the front foot with the additional weight on the rear foot.
  • To stand back up, drive through the heel on your front foot and come back to a standing position.
  • Repeat and then switch sides


  • Hold a set of dumbbells in your hands with a bench in front of you.
  • Place your right foot on the bench and push your weight through the leg to fully step up onto the bench.
  • Slowly lower yourself down to the starting position.
  • Repeat desired reps and switch to the opposite leg.

Standing hamstring curls with resistance band

  • Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart and add a resistance loop band around one ankle.
  • Balance on one leg and curl the other leg with the resistance band around it.
  • Slowly lower your leg under control.
  • Repeat desired reps and switch to the opposite leg.

Curtsy lunges

single leg exercise lunges
woman doing curtsy lunges with dumbbells in the gym
  • Stand with a dumbbell in each hand and feet hip-width apart.
  • Take one leg backward and slightly across while lowering to 90-degree angle. 
  • Push through your front leg back to the start.  
  • Repeat with the opposite leg. 
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