Unilateral Single Leg Strength Works Helps Cyclists and Runners Prevent Injuries, Builds Mobility
I admit it. Working out at home has been a challenge.
My wife, because she is amazing, somehow found some kettlebells online for Father’s Day.
But for the most part, I’ve been trying to maintain some strength without going back to the gym.
Lifting heavy weights is the best way to develop more overall strength.
But for cyclists and runners, though, building strength at home without equipment through unilateral work is not only doable, it may benefit you.
Strength training for better balance and endurance comes from working one leg at a time.
If you do it right.
Unilateral Strength Training for Better Balance, Endurance
For cyclists and runners, who focus primarily on endurance, the benefits from strength training are increased strength, endurance, and mobility, as well as increased injury prevention.
We rarely see runners and cyclists out of breath at the end of an event, just out of strength.
Even if you do nothing but go to the gym and crank out deadlifts, your cycling and running strength will improve.
However, since we are always moving in one plane – forward – our lateral stabilizer muscles and core will not get the strength training it needs to hold us upright and prevent injuries.
Strength training for better balance, strength, mobility, and endurance comes from working one leg at a time, forcing you to use stabilizer muscles and your core.
In fact, unilateral work, working one leg or arm at a time, can be part of a program that develops not only strength that will improve your endurance, but strength that will benefit all parts of your movement through life.
Start with Bodyweight Turkish Get-Ups
I spent eight weeks doing nothing but bodyweight Turkish Get-Ups, then gradually adding light weights, to rehab a surgically-repaired shoulder.
They look easy, but to do them correctly takes a little focus, patience, and dedication to the process.
TGUs are a great warm up as well as great workout.
I highly encourage you to practice each step many times, and do each step separately.
Turkish Get-Up Instructions
1. Lie on your back with your right arm in the air, left arm out on the floor at a 45-degree angle, your right knee bent and extended to the outside, and your left leg full extended. Using your abdominals, and left hand and right foot, push and pull yourself to your left elbow, while watching your right hand in the air. Practice this movement several times on both sides.
2. Continue looking at the right hand, and push off with your left so that your left arm is straight under your left shoulder and your left hand is on the ground. Practice this movement several times on both sides.
3. Leave your body exactly as it is shaped, and lift your left hip off the ground so that you’re in the air with three points of contact with the floor. You’re sort of doing a three-point bridge. Practice this movement several times on both sides.
4. Balance yourself on your left hand, while swinging your left leg between your down hand and foot. Bring your knee down to the floor with your foot extended to the side. Practice this motion several times on both sides before proceeding to the next movement.
5. Swing your left foot behind as you rotate your body forward and rise up onto one knee with the right arm still overhead. Look forward now.
6. Use your back foot to push off to a standing position. Keep your arm raised.
Reverse the Get Up exactly the same way, focusing on repeating the single movements. You can use a shoe, book, or any other object to hold in the air, kind of like a serving tray as a waiter. That forces you to keep upright, your shoulder to rotate properly, and your eyes to stay on your hand.
Unilateral Leg Work: Strength Training for Better Balance, Endurance
A split squat is a great way to start weight training for better balance, strength. You’re working each leg separately, working on your core stability, but you are also maintaining some support by using both legs.
Step forward with one leg so that your front knee is over your front shoelaces. I tend to keep my hands near my chest for some stability. Bend your back knee straight down, keeping the front knee in place. To focus more on your glutes, lean forward slightly. You can vary these by holding your arms overhead, adding a weight to hold overhead like a bar or dowel, or you can add dumbbells or other weights to both hands.
Straight Leg, Single Leg Deadlift
A straight leg deadlift really focuses on your glutes. Doing this on one leg is even more challenging and forces you to utilize your core to stabilize.
Start this exercise by moving one foot back about a foot (no pun intended). Come up on the tip toes of the back foot to use as a kickstand to balance. Keep your front knee slightly bent, hinge at your hips and come forward, so that your hands come down to your knees. (Keep your front knee slightly bent, and if you aren’t feeling your glutes firing, then bend the knee a bit more until the glutes fire.)
Make sure you squeeze the glute when you return to standing. Do 10 of these on both sides.
Once you feel your balance, lift your back foot off the ground and repeat the exercise. To make it more challenging, keep that foot off the ground as you tip over and lift back up.
As cyclists and runners, we tend to move forward all the time. Hence, we lose mobility and fluidity in our side movements. Lateral lunges help.
From a standing position, step out to the side as far as you can. Bend the outside knee and sit back, keeping the inside leg straight. Sit back and down as far as you can comfortably go. Push off the outside leg and move to the other side.
Add weight to your hands as you hold them in front of you for a greater challenge. To get deeper into a squat, rotate your hips as you sink them to the ground, bringing your outside foot up like I try to do.
You can also take a step to the outside, sit back and down, then push off to a standing position.
Around the World Lunge
This is a powerful mobility and balance workout for your hips, legs, and core.
Start in a standing position and step forward with your right leg. Do a lunge so that your front knee is over your front shoelace. Push off your front foot to return to standing.
Extend your right foot out to the side to do a lateral lunge, sitting back as much as possible. Push off your right foot to return to standing.
Extend your right foot backwards, dropping your back knee to the ground so that your front knee is over your front shoelaces. Push forward to a standing position. Extend your right foot to the side again.
Push off and lunge forward/ side/ back/ side/ forward until fatigued. Repeat on the opposite side for the same number of reps.
Make this more challenge by balancing on one leg while you do your lunges. Or you can add a weight at your chest.
Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian Split Squat is one of the best unilateral workouts for cyclists and runners. You can always add weights, but if you are doing these right, you may never need them.
With a bench of some kind (I use a low ottoman at home), step forward with one leg. Make sure your foot is far enough forward so that your front knee is over your front shoelaces. Your back foot should be on a bench that is no more than around 18 inches off the ground.
Bend your back knee all the way to the ground to lower your body. Bend forward slightly to focus on using primarily your glutes. Raise your body back up with your forward legs and glutes.
GO SLOWLY to increase the time of tension on the muscle. To make this more difficult, add weights to your hands.
The Breakdancer is a good way to end a workout and build core strength and shoulder mobility.
This particular move has many different names, but regardless of the name variety, it is a great mobility tool and core strength builder.
Start on your hands and knees. Raise your knees into the “Beast” position. Slide one leg through, keeping one hand on the ground, one hand in the air, and one foot on the ground. Move slowly and deliberately. Repeat on the other side.
Try to keep your leg off the ground when shooting it through.
Unilateral Strength Workout for Cyclists and Runners
Here’s a workout I do for strength training for better balance and endurance:
Warm up with the TGU, then do a circuit with eight to 10 reps on each side of Split Squat, Straight and Single Leg Deadlift, Lateral Lunge, Around the World Lunge, and finish with Bulgarians. I’ll do three rounds of that.
I’ll finish with the Breakdancers, doing as many as I can in both directions.
Strength Training for Cyclists and Runners is Critical
Without strength training, cyclists and runners are not going to be as fast, mobile, or have as much endurance. We are also more likely to get hurt.
Strength training, especially single-leg work, has so much value that I do it two to three times a week all year.
Our program targets the muscles we as cyclists and runners need to prevent injury and get stronger.
Do you want to talk more? Do you have questions? Contact me here and let’s chat!