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A Single-Limb Strength and Stability Session for Endurance Athletes

Swimming, biking, and running all require your limbs to act independently, so it makes sense to strengthen them independently.

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With the race season finally (hopefully!) on the horizon, now is the time to make sure your body is strong and resilient and ready—and that you don’t have any cracks in your foundation. The root of any strength foundation is something known as single-limb alignment. Swimming, biking, and running all require your limbs to act independently: One leg pushes while the other pulls or swings through; one arm pulls while the other recovers. Maintaining control of spinal and pelvic positioning in these single-limb motions, especially while under fatigue—like during the last 10K of a marathon—is challenging. That’s where limb-specific strength training comes in.

Performing these single-limb strength exercises can help improve stability and power output through the core, hips, and shoulders. These exercises also increase durability and fatigue-resistance, and reduce the chance of injury. It’s normal to have slight variations in strength from side to side, but when those imbalances become too pronounced, efficiency goes down and the chance of injury goes up.

The following exercises are designed to challenge single-arm and single-leg stability—as well as postural and core endurance. All are easy to do at home with limited equipment.

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1. Skater Squat

Illustration by Oliver Baker

Standing upright in front of a box that’s about 6-12 inches high, with your left foot on the ground, pick your right foot up off the ground to a 90-degree angle in front of you. Drive your hips back to tap your right knee back and down behind you on the box. Extend your arms with a light weight as you lower, keeping your spine straight. Drive with your glutes to lift yourself back up to the starting position. Do 6-8 reps per leg, and then switch legs for a total of 3 sets.

Demo

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2. Offset Carry With Marching Legs

Illustration by Oliver Baker

Hold a medium weight overhead in one hand and a heavy weight by your side in the other. Engage your core and stay tall as you walk for 20 steps, slowly marching your legs as you walk. Do 3 sets of 20 steps per side.

Demo

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3. Lateral Lunge with Overhead Press

Illustration by Oliver Baker

Take a step to the side, driving your hips back as you lunge. Keep your chest up and both feet pointing forward, keeping the weight at your shoulder, and then drive back up to a standing position, pressing the weight overhead with one leg raised in front of you. Do 3 sets of 6-8 reps per leg.

Demo

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4. Bent Over Pull Down, Alternating Arms

Illustration by Oliver Baker

With stretch cords attached to a fixed point in front and above you, stand with your feet hip width apart, knees slightly bent. Hinge at your hips with your torso at a 45-degree angle. Pull the cords down, starting with both arms, and then alternate arms. Keep your lats and core engaged throughout the movement. Do 3 sets of 5-6 pulls per side.

Demo

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5. Dead Bug with Contra-Lateral Core Activation

Illustration by Oliver Baker

Lie on your back with arms and legs off the ground—arms straight up from shoulders and legs bent 90-degrees at the knee so the shin is parallel with the ground (like a “dead bug”). Drive one knee into the opposite hand. Brace your core and slowly extend your other arm and leg out so they almost reach the floor and then bring them back into the center of your body before repeating. Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps per side.

Demo

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