Isolated leg strength, also known as single leg exercises, can be a fundamental and valuable part of your off-the-bike strength and conditioning. This blog explores some of the finer aspects of this training, and how to make it work for cycling.
Covered in this blog
- General understanding of isolated leg strength
- Cycling specific isolated leg strength
- Isolated leg strength to correct muscular imbalances
What are single leg exercises
Single leg exercises are exercises that are performed using one leg (obviously!). They are usually just versions of common movements like the squat, deadlift or lunge.
Single leg exercises are brilliant for people who have a muscular imbalance, a weakness in a certain area (the knee for example) and people who take part in sport.
It is beneficial for cyclists on and off road as it helps generate evenly distributed power, while making us more stable when the ground gets rough.
An example of a single leg exercise would be the pistol squat, or the raised heel lunge.
Single leg exercises for cycling
Single leg exercises for cyclists are invaluable, here are my top three single leg movements.
The pistol squat: A single leg squat where the leg that is held off the floor goes forwards, you then raise yourself back up after lowering your body to parallel (for beginners do this onto a bench and then gradually lower your squat). This is a great exercise for the quads, and for ankle stability.
Step up: A simple and basic exercise that is essentially stepping up onto a raised surface. I am a huge fan of this as both a bodyweight and weighted exercise. Again, great for strengthening up the quads and made specific to cycling because it puts the leg at an angle that perfectly matches a pedal stroke. You can also turn this into a power exercise by using your bodyweight and jumping explosively onto the step (carefully!).
Single leg stiff leg deadlift: Another great move! This one is perfect for hamstring strength, core stability and ankle stability. It is essentially a stiff leg deadlift done on one leg, using a barbell at first and then a dumbbell set to further increase the demand on the body’s stability muscles.
Single leg exercises for muscular imbalances
Muscular imbalances are damaging to performance, can be detrimental to our training ability and also our safety in the gym.
One very common problem in cyclists is lateral hip movement during the squat (pictured below).
This is caused due to either a mobility issue of the hip, or calf, meaning that one side is tight. This will essentially pull the body's weight onto the opposite side so the squat will look asymmetrical. Due to the biomechanics of cycling this is quite common, but thankfully it is also very easy to remedy. It just takes some time, and patience.
Single leg work can help remedy this when combined with stretching as it demands less extreme angles from the body based on the exercises performed. Lunges, for example, don’t require a sharp angle in the bent knee, nor does the raised heel lunge mentioned above. Essentially, these movements demand less stretching from the calf and hip while still building strength and power in the legs.
That way you can focus on your cycling, while recovering from any imbalances you have.
Single leg exercises are great, they are functional, and incredibly fun to perform as they add an extra challenge to your training. I recommend you add some in after heavy compound lifts so you have a great balance of strength and functional movement into your training.
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About The Author: Adam Copley
Adam is a self-employed coach based in Sheffield, UK. Alongside this he is an avid cyclist and competes in cross country mountain biking across the UK. He has raced Cyclocross during the winter and is also a huge lover of road cycling. While he's not working on his business, he is usually out on two wheels getting fitter, and enjoying the fresh air and many climbs in the peak district.