Tag: balance

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.

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.
Unilateral strength work can easily be done at home and can build strength, endurance, mobility, and balance.

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. They are solid as strength training for better balance and endurance.

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

Split Squat

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.

Lateral Squat

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.

This uses strength training for better balance and endurance by balancing on one leg as you move.

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.

When you are strength training for better balance and endurance, this exercise is my favorite.

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!

Some weeks ago, I did a post on lower body unilateral strength work in the weight room. As we enter the winter off-season (for most of us), it’s time to re-examine some good moves to build strength and balance.

There’s two important reasons to do lower body unilateral strength work, especially as an endurance athlete.

  1. Running, skiing, and riding requires a LOT of repetitive movement. So there is a lot of opportunity to build up imbalances in muscle strength. For example, the left vastus medialis muscle, a key stabilizer in the quads, might get stronger than the right side. Unilateral work strengthens both equally and re-balances the muscle strength.
  2. Unilateral work requires more use of stabilizer muscles, and therefore strengthens the muscles around the hip, knee, and ankle joints.

Four Different Lower Body Unilateral Strength Moves

Trainer and yoga instructor Charlee Atkins shows off four different bodyweight lower body unilateral strength moves.

Image from Men’s Health

These are great for building muscle endurance and re-balance, particularly in the off-season. To build more muscle strength, you can add dumbbells or kettlebells to your routine.

Try these with a dumbbell or kettlebell in just one hand. You’ll have to use your core to stabilize your movement so you don’t tip over!

Unilateral Work to Create More Balance

I’ve been using these moves a lot at the WAC for not only athletes but for older men and women who have lost a step with their balance.

We do modified versions of these moves. For example, with the single-leg straight-leg deadlift, we use a straight bar in front to create some balance, and then use the back foot tiptoe on the ground somewhat behind the front foot.

We also utilize the TRX strap, or as my daughter calls it, the T-Rex strap. The TRX creates some stabilization doing all four of these moves, for those who are ready to create more stabilization work.

TRX Hip Hinge

We also use the TRX to do a modified single-leg deadlift, with arms outstretched. If the TRX is too unstable, we use the Smith machine bar or a bar attached to the wall to do these.

Katerina Nash, winner of the recent cyclocross World Cup at the Trek headquarters in Waterloo, Wisconsin, says having fun and keeping a balance in life is the key to staying successful in endurance sports over decades.

Nash, 41, has won world-level races in cross-country skiing, cyclocross, and mountain biking, including appearances in the Olympics for skiing and mountain biking.

Molly Hurford, writer, cyclist, runner, and author of the amazing Shred Girls book and future series, wrote the article for Bicycling about Nash.

Molly Hurford, Bicycling Magazine

Stay Focused, Have Fun

Here are the tips she told Molly about why she’s been able to excel in endurance sports for so long:

Stay Focused on the Prize

Know your goals and keep them simple. You don’t have to be “good” every weekend or every event. Plan out your season or plan for that one event.

That way, when training gets difficult or the weather doesn’t cooperate, you still have that goal to keep you working

Embrace Those ‘Eye of the Tiger Moments’

Get after it when you need to. During the long endurance runs or rides, just move. You don’t need to go hard, nor do you really need to think. It’s a great time to listen to podcasts or music, watch a movie while on the trainer or treadmill, or have a long conversation with friends.

But when it’s time to go, whether in your event or interval training, go hard. It’s going to hurt, so push yourself through the challenging times to bring yourself to a higher level.

Accept That You’ll Make Mistakes

You’re going to crash, do something wrong in training, or get hurt. Accept it, and deal as best you can. As I’ve said so many times, we’ve made all the mistakes. From taking a bad line in a cyclocross race to tripping on a root during a trail run, or turtling an oar on the water, you’re going to make mistakes.

When you accept that these are going to happen, you probably won’t freak yourself out. You can stay calm, learn from the mistakes, and grow as a person and as an athlete.

Make Your Years Work for You

Use your experience to your advantage. Most of us are beyond those prime athletic years in our 20s. But if you’ve paid attention to the previous piece of advice about learning from your mistakes, you’ve probably gained a lot of experience. You’ve dialed in your pre-race routine, you know how or what to eat.

Seek Help

Get a coach. I know this seems self-serving, but in past years, when I was building up for nationals or another big event, I’ve hired coaches. Just the ability to not think, to trust someone else to take care of the planning is a great way to focus on your training and recovery

Focus on Health, Not ‘Race Weight’

Don’t worry if you have ice cream or an extra whiskey. Don’t worry about carrying some extra pounds. Be healthy – because it helps your overall health – but don’t give up the occasional secret pleasure!

Find Your Balance

Don’t just ride or run. Find something else to balance you. Write. Sing. Hang out with your family. Go to movies. I gave up a lot of fun nights out to race my bike. I don’t regret those nights, but I sure wish I had stayed out later!

Seek Moderation

I hope the themes here are getting clear. Nash is talking about finding a balance in all things. Don’t binge on lots of whiskey every night, but enjoy a glass. Don’t spend all your time training, but get out there and do the work.

Love Your Sport

I may love this one the best. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to stop riding because my head got too serious or because of health problems. But I just love to ride my bike. I love to get out and run on trails.

Nash is saying that you’ve got to love your sport, whatever it is. Be passionate and have fun.

It’s All About Balance

Most of these come down to balance: stay balanced with food, drink, and training.

And have fun. Always just love what you’re doing. Endurance sports are too damn hard to not enjoy yourself.

At Simple Endurance Coaching, we have taken ourselves way too seriously, way too often. But we’re at a point where we keep training balanced and fun.

For our clients, we build in fun days, off days, hard as hell days, and always working toward your event goal.

Unilateral strength training helps endurance athletes build balance and critical strength.

Endurance athletes need to do strength training two or three times a week for several reasons: to counteract aging, to build strength for cycling, and to build bone density to counteract the non-weight-bearing nature of cycling.

Unilateral Strength Training to Build Balance

One focus is full-body exercises, like squats, deadlifts, and work that strengthens my core. Several years ago, I was hit on my bike by a pickup truck and broke my femur. There’s still a rod in the bone, and I still get fatigued in that leg far more quickly.

So research suggests unilateral strength training – working on one muscle side at a time to develop your weaknesses, to strengthen weak or underdeveloped parts of my body, especially with the repetitive type of cycling exercise,

My biggest piece of advice: Start very slowly with minimal weight!

I thought to myself, well, I’ve been doing a lot of strength work, and I’ll be fine.

Oops. Holy sore muscles, Batman. Those stabilizer and weaknesses get quickly revealed doing this kind of work.

Reducing the weight and increased the reps to about eight helps avoid serious soreness and fatigue, plus you can do back to back (super) sets with a lower-body exercise and, while resting from that, do an upper body exercise.

Photo by Foto Garage AG on Unsplash

Workout Routines for Unilateral Strength Training

Here is a possible unilateral strength training list for Day 1:

  • Single arm push press
  • Bulgarian split squat
  • Chest press with single dumbbell
  • Single arm row and push with a band but making sure to keep core stabilized
  • Turkish Hinge
  • Single-arm row
  • Core work including side plank, one-arm planks

Here is a possible unilateral strength training list for Day 2:

  • Single arm dumbbell snatch
  • Turkish get up – which I often use as a warm up for all workouts
  • Lateral lunge
  • Glute bridge with one leg
  • Pull rotation on Kinesis or cable machine
  • Single arm pull – anti-rotation on TRX
  • Dumbbell one-leg deadlift
  • Core work

In addition, you can also add in:

  • Pistol Squats
  • Airborne Lunge
  • Step ups
  • Side Plank Stars
  • Side Plank with Dumbbell

Add pistol squats with a weight in one hand or single-leg airborne lunge, which is leaning forward and dropping the knee.

Video Examples

Here are some great links to videos to show you how to do these unilateral strength training. This one is from Redefining Strength and offers a lot of simple, solid advice. This one is from Athletic Build and has some really fit people demonstrating how to do these unilateral exercises.

Remember to start slowly with light weight. Do three sets of five reps, and build to moderately heavy weight.