Leg Exercises | Sydney Sports Medicine Centre - Education

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Four Exercises to Protect the Legs


If you run in your sport, it behoves you to carry out regular strength training to further protect your legs from injury.

Here are four great exercises which help prevent injury to the legs in sports that involve running:

1. Partial squats
2. One leg squats with lateral hops
3. Balance board moves
4. Downhill hops

1. Partial squats:


Stand with your left foot directly under your left shoulder, keeping your left knee just slightly flexed and maintaining relaxed, fairly erect posture. Hold a barbell (initially with no weights attached) so that it rests on the top-back of your shoulders, just behind your neck; you may incline your upper body just slightly forward for balance. Most of your body weight should be directed through the heel to mid-portion of your left foot. Your right leg should be flexed at the knee so that the right foot is not touching the ground at all - your right foot is literally suspended in air (however, you may occasionally need to 'spot-touch' the floor for balance with your trailing leg).

From this position, if you were going to carry out a traditional one-leg squat you would ordinarily bend your left leg at the knee and lower your body until your left knee reached an angle of about 90 degrees between the back of your thigh and your calf (usually at this 90-degree point your thigh would be almost parallel with the ground). However, for the partial squat you should just go down about half-way - so that the angle between the back of your thigh and lower part of the leg is 135 degrees or so. Then, return to the starting position, maintaining upright posture with your trunk. That's one rep!

So far so good - but you have lots more work to do! Continue in the manner described above until you have completed 10 reps (10 partial squats). Then - without resting - descend into the 11th partial squat, but instead of rising back up hold the partial-squat position (ie, the 135-degree posture) for 10 full seconds. We'll call your body alignment during this 10-second period the 'static-hold' position.

After completing 10 seconds in the static-hold position, immediately - without resting - rattle off 10 more reps, maintain the static hold for 10 seconds again, hit 10 more reps, and then hold statically for 10 more seconds. That's one set on one of your legs!

To summarise, a set proceeds as follows (with no recovery at all within the set):

  • 10 partial squats
  • 10 seconds of holding your leg and body in the 135-degree, down position
  • 10 partial squats
  • 10 seconds of holding
  • 10 partial squats
  • 10 seconds of holding

Once you have completed a set with one leg, immediately perform a set with your other leg. Once you can complete a full set on each leg, add 10 pounds to the barbell for your next strengthening session. Eventually, you will get to a resistance with which you will 'fail' during the third 10-second bout of holding within the set, or perhaps earlier (failure means you won't be able to hold the position for the full 10 seconds). When this happens, don't despair - keep utilising that same resistance until you can finish the whole set on each leg, and then add 10 pounds on your next workout.

Partial squats are great for strengthening your legs, and they give you instant feedback about your improvement. If you can complete a full set using a resistance which has never allowed you to finish the set before, you're stronger! With this partial-squat routine, you get better feedback about your gains in strength, compared with the conventional practice of carrying out two to three sets of 12 to 15 reps using submaximal resistance. Another nice feature: one set of partial squats per leg is enough for a workout; you don't have to do more than one set to get really strong.

2. One-leg squats with lateral hops


To carry out this amazing exercise, stand with your left foot forward and your right foot back, with your feet about one shin-length apart (they should be hip-width apart from side to side). If possible, place the toes of your right foot on a block or step which is six to eight inches high. Most of your weight should be directed through the mid-portion of your left foot. Now, bend your left leg and lower your body until your left knee reaches an angle of 90 degrees between the thigh and the back of the lower part of the leg.

Once your left knee reaches this 90-degree angle, hop laterally with your left foot about six to 10 inches (your right foot must stay in place), hop back to the centre position, and then hop medially (to the right when your left leg is forward) for six to 10 inches, before coming back to the centre position. Once you are back at the centre position, return to the starting position, straightening out your left leg, holding your hands at your sides, and maintaining upright posture with your trunk. That's one rep!

For starters, complete about 10 reps with your left leg and the same number on your right. Rest for a moment, and then hit a second set of 10 reps on each leg. Wait 24 hours, and then apply ice heavily to your quads and glutes. After 48 to 72 hours, you may carry out the exercise again.

For the following routines, use a round wobble board on a wooden floor or firm, carpeted surface.

3. Balance-board moves


(A) Side-to-side edge taps.

Place one foot directly in the middle of the platform, and note that your board is unstable in all directions (planes). Slowly and deliberately touch or 'tap' the lateral edges of the platform to the ground (left edge, right edge, left, right, etc) for about one minute. Maintain full control at all times, avoiding hasty motions of the balance board. If the exercise is too difficult at first, place the toes of your other foot on the ground behind the wobble board for better balance. Once the minute is up, repeat the exercise on the opposite foot.

(B) Front-to-back edge taps.

These are just like the side-to-side exercise, except that you are touching the front edge of the balance board to the floor, then the back edge, etc. Do it for a minute on your left foot and then a minute on your right.

(C) Edge circles.

Place your left foot in the centre of the wobble board, and then slowly and deliberately touch the edge of the platform to the floor, rotating this 'edge touch' in a clockwise fashion so that an edge of the platform is in contact with the floor at all times. The actual motion must be very slow and controlled to gain full benefit from the exercise and should be performed for one minute without stopping. As before, place the opposite foot on the ground behind you if a full one-leg balance proves too challenging. Once you have rotated for one minute on one foot, change to the other.

(D) Counter-clockwise edge circles.

These are the same as the edge circles, except that you are now rolling the edge along in a counter-clockwise direction.

4. Downhill hops


Running or hopping downhill increases the ground-reaction forces experienced by the foot and leg, compared with running or hopping on level ground (or uphill). Forcing the legs to respond to these higher forces has an overall strengthening effect. Start with a moderate downslope of about 3%, and hop downhill on your right foot for about 20 metres or so, staying relaxed at all times, looking ahead (not down at your right foot), and achieving good springiness with your right ankle. Jog back up, repeat with the left foot, and your first set is complete. Rest for a moment if necessary, and then carry out two more sets. As you get stronger and more coordinated, you can increase your speed of hopping, the length of the downslope, and of course the percentage declination. Don't try for long leaps as you go downhill; you are looking for quick, efficient bounces, minimising energy cost and 'pogo-sticking' your way down the hill (ie, using the elastic energy of your ankles and legs as much as possible).

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