Picture a football running back avoiding a tackle by hopping on one foot over an opponent’s outstretched leg or a wide receiver making a spectacular leaping catch along the sidelines while keeping both feet in bounds. Or a wrestler struggling to stay upright to prevent being pulled down on the mat. And how about the baseball or softball infielder is pivoting in midair to throw and complete a double play.
What do these sports scenarios have in common? A balancing action is demonstrated. In sports, speed and agility, strength, size, power, and endurance are prized assets, while developing balance seemingly gets less attention than those aforementioned athletic qualities. In fact, many traditional weight training exercises are performed either standing on both feet (e.g., Squats, Bent-Over Rows, Overhead Presses), seated with both feet on the ground (e.g. Dumbbell or machine Overhead and Chest Presses), or lying on a bench with both feet firmly planted (Bench or Incline Presses) for building strength, size or power for a particular sport.
However, have you ever tried doing weight training exercises on one leg? They become more complex, with the balance coming into play. However, practicing the 5 single-leg exercises in this article will undoubtedly elevate your game and ideally complement those other beneficial conditioning components.
Make these exercises a key part of your training program – strengthening leg and core (stomach, back, hip, groin) muscles for improving balance. Do them a few times a week in addition to sport-specific strength, power, endurance, or speed and agility workouts, and you’ll add another athletic-enhancing element on the field, ice, mat, or basketball court.
Here is the equipment needed to perform the balance movements indoors or outdoors:
- Water bottle (hydrate before, during, and after workouts)
- Exercise mat (optional) or another soft surface (carpet) for Plank exercises
- One cone for advanced hop exercises
- Chalk or long string to provide a line for hopping movements (or use an outdoor parking space line)
- One light to moderately-heavy dumbbell or kettlebell, or resistance band or cable 40-60% RM or 70-80% RM depending on your strength level
- Perform balance exercises on non-consecutive days for adequate recovery
- Do a dynamic upper and lower-body warm-up (e.g., Combining Walking Forward Lunges with Arm Circles)
- Finish with lower and upper-body cool-down stretches promoting the range of motion and flexibility
- Vary the exercise sequence per workout
- Sets/Reps: 3×10 (for Planks – hold a position for specified duration instead of counting reps)
- Rest: 30 seconds between sets; 60 seconds between each exercise.
Single-Leg Squats and Overhead Presses
Attempt ten reps per leg while trying to remain balanced on one foot. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in your right hand at shoulder level and your left arm extended down at your side. Focus on an object ahead of you throughout this exercise to help maintain balance. Lift your right foot off the ground while squatting with your left leg and hold 2 seconds, then simultaneously press the dumbbell overhead while returning to the standing position on the left leg (the right foot constantly remains airborne).
Repeat nine more times. Then switch with the dumbbell now in your left hand at shoulder level/right arm extended with your left foot airborne, squat with your right leg. Hold 2 seconds, then press the dumbbell overhead while returning to the standing position on the right leg. After ten reps, rest and do two more sets. This is a practical lower and upper body combo exercise strengthening core, leg, hip, arm, and shoulder muscles while also improving your balance.
Assume a prone position on a mat or carpet resting on your forearms. Keep your back straight (never let your lower back sag) and tighten your stomach (imagine pulling your stomach muscles inward toward your back). Keep the legs extended and feet firmly planted. Lift your right leg several inches off the mat or carpet (right leg is straight, not bent) and hold the position 30-60 seconds. Without rest, switch with your left foot airborne for 30-60 seconds. Rest and repeat two more sets. Planks are great for furthering core strength and balance.
Make a line with chalk (or a long piece of string). Stand alongside the line with your right foot airborne and left knee slightly bent. Hop with your left foot 10 times laterally over the line. Immediately repeat the hops with your right foot while the left foot is airborne ten reps—rest/repeat for 3 sets. Advanced version: Instead of making a line for the hops, use a cone instead. Stand alongside the cone and hop laterally over the cone 10 times with your left foot, then with your right foot 10 times. Hopping over a raised object (cone) rather a flat line or string simulates hopping over an opponent’s leg or sidestepping their foot during a game.
Single-Leg Forward/Backward Hops
This exercise is similar to the lateral single leg hops, but now you’re hopping on one foot forward and backward over a line, string, or a cone 10 times. Perfecting the lateral, forward/backward hops benefits your multi-directional balance.
This all-in-one exercise targets upper and lower body and core muscles. Grasp a dumbbell or kettlebell (or resistance band or cable handle – ensuring the band or cable is safely attached to an immovable fixture) in your right hand and the arm slightly bent at your side. With your right foot airborne, and your left knee slightly bent, pull the weighted object toward your waist. Pause 2 seconds, squeezing your shoulder blades together, then lower and return to start position. Do 9 more reps, and without rest, switch by holding the dumbbell, band or cable handle in your left hand and with the left foot off the ground, pull to your waist, pause, lower the object to start position, and do 10 reps.