3 Strategies on How to Strengthen Your Weaker Leg
Most people have one leg that’s stronger than the other. This can create problems when it comes to sports and other physical activities, where you need equal strength in both legs. Luckily, there are ways to even out the strength in your legs and reduce your risk of injury! In this article, we will discuss how to identify a weak leg, as well as strategies for strengthening it.
As a starting point use bodyweight exercises and yoga poses. After mastering those, slowly begin to add some weight to the targeted exercises below. After you feel you have built up strength with weighted exercises, consider adding a bosu ball to the mix to increase balance and stability and starting with bodyweight exercises again.
Add targeted exercises to your workout routine
Bulgarian Split Squats
Bulgarian split squats work to strengthen nearly all of the lower body including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Because one leg is on an elevated surface it forces both your lower body and core to stabilize your upper body and any added weight throughout the exercise.
You will need a bench, chair, or some other stable surface to elevate the non-working leg. Be sure to perform the exercise on both sides.
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
The single leg Romanian deadlift focuses on the hamstring and glutes. This is a part balance, part strength exercise as it is done on one leg with additional weight being held if desired. Start with only your bodyweight and then slowly add weight in 1-2.5 lb increments as you feel comfortable.
No other equipment is needed other than weight. Again, be sure to perform the exercise on both sides.
Forward or Reverse Lunges
Lunges can be performed with the working leg moving forward or backward. Start with lunging forward, alternating legs with each rep, bodyweight only. Once you feel comfortable, consider adding weight via dumbbells or begin to lunge backwards.
Single Leg Box Jumps
This explosive movement focuses on the quads, glutes, and calves. It also requires coordination and balance. Start with a lower box or surface and work your way up as you feel comfortable. The key is to land softly on the balls of both feet before resetting for the next rep.
Be sure to stabilize yourself at the top, rest for a moment, then hop back down to start the next repetition.
Single Leg Lateral Bounds
This movement works the entirety of the lower body, core, and some of the upper body. You'll essentially be jumping from one leg to the other in a zig-zag pattern.
Start with small hops laterally then increase the height and distance of each hop as you become more comfortable. Try to land softly on the balls of both feet before initiating the next jump.
Stretch or practice yoga regularly following your workout
The below routine only takes about 20 minutes and is an excellent cool-down following a leg workout.
Add stability exercises to the workout once you've built up strength
The bosu ball is a versatile piece of equipment that can be used in a variety of strength training exercises. Its bottom-curved surface makes it unstable, which forces your muscles to work harder to maintain balance.
You may perform both weighted exercises, yoga poses, and stretches on the Bosu ball.
If you've never used a Bosu ball before, start simple.
- Bosu ball squat (hold)
- One-legged Tadasana
- Single Leg Hold
- Forward Lunge
- Lateral Lunges
How to Identify your Non-Dominant Leg
To identify your non-dominant leg, it may be easier to do so by identifying your dominant leg - that is, the leg you favor for specific tasks.
In a 2017 study published in the peer-reviewed, PLOS One Journal researchers sought to determine leg dominance based on the self-reported data by participants and what was observed in healthy adults.
The best way to determine leg dominance was found by asking, "If you would shoot a ball on target, which leg would you use to shoot the ball?"
Another way to determine leg dominance is to have someone give you a push from behind and whichever leg you step forward to support yourself with is most likely your dominant leg.
The researchers determined this was accurate for bilateral mobilizing tasks and that the leg used in bilateral mobilizing tasks was dominant in unilateral mobilizing tasks in about 50% of men and 70% of women.
In the study, participants were put through four bilateral mobilizing tasks and two unilateral stabilizing tasks after self-reporting which leg they would have preferred to use for each task. The researchers then measured the agreement and consistency between what was reported and how each participant performed.
4 Reasons One Leg is Stronger
Favoring the Dominant Leg
Simply said, some people favor using one leg over the other in day-to-day activities and they may not be consciously aware of it. Over time thousands of repetitions every year preferring to use a certain leg for a certain motion or action can cause an imbalance.
Certain Activities Requiring Only One Side
Just like you writing words on paper with only one hand, there may be activities you do with only one leg. If you have a truck that sits higher off the ground and requires a step to get into you might always use the same leg to get in. This can lead to overdevelopment on one side and underdevelopment of muscles on the other.
One Leg is More Flexible Than The Other
You may notice this when you go to touch your toes and it's easier to move towards one side than the other. Or, at the least, you experience greater feelings of tightness on one side vs. the other. More or less muscle flexibility, length of a bone, or even shape or size of a joint may also result in an imbalance of strength between your legs.
History of Injury
If you've ever injured your ankle, knee, or hip there's a good chance you favored the other side while it healed. This can lead to an imbalance of strength as well as range of motion issues later down the road if not addressed. While most people take physical therapy to get back towards baseline, that doesn't mean some scar tissue isn't left behind that causes greater tightness on one side.
When we show up to move our body we bring a history made of many different factors that makes each of us unique. We are often unaware of what we are showing up with each day.
- Evolution - Being upright on two legs creates movement patterns.
- Prior activity - Any movement over periods of time that created repetitive neuromuscular patterns.
- Genetic - Size and shape of bone structures or other structures in the body, which creates tendencies towards flexibility or stiffness and other propensities.
- Learned - The movements and behaviors we copied as we learned to move.
- Injury - Any injury that exists and the ramifications.
- Cerebral - psychological, spiritual, emotional can affect drive, approach, response, impartiality, focus, motivation.
How can we reduce chances of injury in yoga?
- Be present with what you are doing
- Find a balance of ease and effort
- Quit over competing. Be OK with where you are in each pose. This includes competing with yourself. If something was working for you yesterday this doesn’t mean it’s going to work today. Each and every day will look and feel different.
- Practice yoga consistently. It is better to do a little bit throughout the week, than go to a tough 75 min class once a week.
- Learn your body and your baseline. Learn your own patterns of your body and what things feel like as a baseline. You will be more likely to tell when something doesn't feel right for you.
- Listen to your body! It’s very cliché, but it is true. When something doesn’t feel right, please stop, back off and reevaluate your movement.
- Assess how each posture feels versus how a posture looks.
Is One Leg Being Stronger than the Other a Problem?
In the long run, yes it can be a problem. Remember that everything in your body is connected via kinetic chains in your body such as your foot, ankle, knee, hip and an imbalance on one side may eventually cause pain elsewhere along the chains in our body. For example, some people that have lower back pain experience it because of tightness on one side of their hips. Other muscles, ligaments and tendons have to compensate for the weakness of another, which is not ideal.
1. van Melick, N. et al. (2017) How to determine leg dominance: The agreement between self-reported and observed performance in healthy adults, PloS one. Public Library of Science. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5747428/ (Accessed: October 31, 2022).