One-legged squats are tough, but they'll improve your balance

Wina Sturgeon / Adventure Sports Weekly /


If there was one exercise that could strengthen your lower body, plus stretch out the tendons of the muscles in your legs and hips, and improve your balance as well — would you do it?

What if that one exercise was hard? If you could only do part of it at first, and had to spend time working up to being able to actually do the exercise, would you put in the time and effort?

If you answered “yes” to those questions, welcome to one-legged doorway squats.

This movement sequence is amazingly simple, despite the fact that it offers so many benefits. It requires no equipment. It’s performed in a doorway. You only do it as a workout two or three times a week.

Here’s how to do it: Stand in a doorway and grip the front of the door jamb. Stand in a position that feels comfortable; your feet may need to be slightly behind the door jamb. Lift one foot. Different muscle angles are worked depending on whether the lifted foot is held in front or in back, so alternate where you hold the lifted foot.

Next, balance your body over the weighted leg. Use the door jamb for light support; try to stay in balance without needing to use the door jamb to steady yourself. Slowly bend at the knee, ankle and hip. Keep your back straight and in line with your head. Your head should be in line with your heels. Lower yourself slowly until you feel the stretch in your calf muscle. Hold it there for about 30 seconds, then slowly stand up.

Repeat the movement five or more times. If your strength allows it, go slightly lower as the calf muscle stretches out. If you start wobbling, rise to a more upright position.

Do the same with the other leg. Keep track of differences. Is one leg fine after five reps? Is the other leg feeling those reps, or unable to bend as deeply as the stronger leg? You’ll need to give the weaker leg some extra attention to build it up. Muscle imbalances are a big reason for falls; and falls are a big cause of disability in those 50 and older.

As you continue this simple workout, you’ll both equalize and build strength in the legs and lower core, while greatly improving your sense of balance. If you want to work the upper body and core as well, that’s also easy. Grab the front of the door jamb securely and lean back until your arms are straight. Slowly pull yourself upright. Increase resistance by bending the joints in both legs as described above.

Stretch out the muscles and tendons of the chest and front shoulders by holding on to the back of the door jamb and leaning forward. Increase the stretch range by varying the height at which the hands are placed. You’ll feel the different muscles that are being worked and stretched with each change in hand position.

Now the warnings. Always remember: A stretch should never be painful. If a stretch ever hurts, back off. Toughing it out only causes injury. Also, it may take months to build up the strength and balance needed to go down to a full squat. It needs to be done gradually enough so no muscle fibers get torn by pushing that muscle past its strength capacity.

If you’re in fragile shape, you should only start doing the doorway workout while a trainer or physical therapist observes. If you have, or may have, osteoporosis, talk to your doctor before doing the doorway workout. But it’s good to know that many studies show even 80-year-olds can build new strength and bone density with regular workouts.

The best thing about this workout is that you don’t have to pay out money. Doorways are free.