I’m on a new regimen of this great exercise! I started with just one rep with each leg using dumbbell counterweights. So I’m going to use this spot to track my progress:
As of 8/12, I’m up to a personal best of 6 reps per leg, no counterweights! It was a near maximal effort, and I was a little sore for a couple days, but the improvement was worth it!
I have often extolled the virtues of squats, but even I sometimes get sidetracked and neglect them for awhile! A couple months ago I decided that I’d better follow my own advice and get with it, so I got back into the habit of doing squats regularly. Properly done, there are very few exercises as beneficial as the squat for the whole body.
Because I fired my gym awhile ago, at the moment I don’t have easy access to an Olympic bar and a ton of plates. Not to worry! I just do one-leg bodyweight squats.
These are pretty challenging, even if you’re in shape. Along with the strength component, there’s a large balance component that may cause even a very strong individual to land on their butt the first few times. I had done them before, so it was not quite as hard as starting them from scratch. (By the way, for any of you who are trying this exercise and falling down, if you’re interested, let me know, and I could write another article listing ways to prepare for it!)
To make balance a little easier, I would hold two small dumbbells out in front of me, 5 lbs. each, to help prevent falling backwards. With a good warm-up, good concentration, and a lot of effort, I got up to doing sets of 5 reps with each leg.
Wanting to get to the next level, I decided to abandon the dumbbell counterweights. This was not easy at first, and I landed on my butt a few times. Even though the exercise is similar, the large balance component makes any shift of weight a big deal! Finally, with a very big effort, I managed to crank out a couple reps with each leg. Without the counterweights, the muscle flexion pattern changed, and between that and the big effort, I ended up sore the next day, after previously doing the counterweight one-leggers with no soreness at all!
The next couple workouts, I still had trouble balancing, until by the end of the week I had cracked the code. While mastering this new muscle recruitment pattern, I unexpectedly discovered something else; one-leg squats without counterweights require your abs to flex very hard to maintain balance, so you get some free ab training along with all the legwork!
It may sound sick, but I really find this exercise fun, and after doing it for awhile, my legs seem to be augmented with springs! After getting up to a good number of reps with each leg, I am considering moving to a still-higher level, possibly adding additional weight with a kettlebell or sandbag! Highly-trained Olympic-level athletes crank these out without undue fuss, but we regular people find these really challenging, especially those of us whose early twenties are a fond memory!
Barbell squat fans may not be fond of one-leg squats, arguing that one-leg squats are not the best way to squat. More power to them; at the risk of pointing out the obvious, people who want to become extremely proficient at heavy barbell squats should concentrate on heavy barbell squats; for them, the one-leg variety should probably be done as a supplemental exercise, if at all. I also suspect that they may resent it when they try one-leg squats and immediately fall down!
In any case, for a fit person, there are few exercises that give you as much bang for your buck as one-leg squats! Additional bonuses: being able to do the exercise in your living room (or anywhere on the planet that has a flat, stable surface) with no huge plates falling on the floor; equipment expenditure: $0!