Performing single leg or unilateral movements has a host of benefits. However, many may not realize or perform these movements properly because of dysfunction, uncomfortable sensations when going onto one leg, or even pain.
Some benefits for single leg training range from improving sport specific qualities, improving gait patterns for activities of daily living, along with training “imbalances” that may occur from a host of reasons.
Something that is not evident when training bilateral movements like the squat or deadlift involves understanding what happens when you effectively split a pelvis in terms of stabilizing musculature.
In the squat and deadlift, you need to move both sides of the pelvis together as one unit – that is, if you are going down into a squat (or slight bottom position of the deadlift), you will need to be performing a hip flexion moment on both sides of the right and left hip. On the ascension or way up during the squat, you will be performing hip extension.
However, unlike a bilateral movement, in the unilateral exercises, one pelvis will be in hip flexion, and the other will hopefully be in hip extension. This is simply the nature of how unilateral lower body exercises work.
If you have ever gotten an assessment, understand that about 90 degrees (or more) of hip flexion, and 90 degrees (and slightly more) are needed in order to effectively split the pelvis. If you have these requisite ranges, and you can perform them without pain, then I believe you can move on to loading a split squat or single leg deadlift pattern.
If there is a psychological fear of moving in any specific direction, and you already have that specific range of motion required to performing those requisite movements, try this trick out.
So what happens when someone can’t effectively put one hip into hip flexion, and the other into hip extension? Well, a ton of things could be going on at the biomechanical and muscular level:
- Hip Joint Issue
- Ankle Joint Issue (or Foot or Even Toe)
- Sacral-Iliac Joint Issue (Different than the Hip)
- Soft Tissue Quality
- Anything else up the chain (lumbar, thoracic region, etc.)
The above issues can happen for all types of reasons – lack of use, too much use, inability to understand how to achieve depth during a split squat or lunging, or single leg deadlift pattern, or maybe even the individual has never done that exercise before.
However, what happens when these biomechanical items begin to bleed into other systems – such as the emotional or psychological state of your client? It is not out of the question to understand that if someone cannot lunge because of pain in any of the five items outlined above, there may be other extraneous factors that can be limiting them from achieving better movement quality.
Psychological fear of movement is a very real thing, and pain is often a solid defense mechanism for warning the individual to avoid getting to that range of motion or trying that movement pattern out. There are many ways to de-threaten the system – this is just one more way to do improving movement quality!
Keep it funky.