How to Do a Single Leg Squat: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do a single-leg squat exercise to help with knee pain and mobility, plus modifications to make it easier or harder.

Published Date: May 24, 2023
Table of Contents

If you’ve experienced knee pain in your life, you’re in good company. This is a very common occurrence among adults, though it’s worth noting that knee pain is by no means inevitable as you get older. 

Surprisingly, a helpful solution for easing knee pain lies in an exercise that may seem counterintuitive at first glance: the single-leg squat. Many people have been told they should avoid squats if they have knee pain, but this is far from the truth. The reality is that we squat all the time in everyday life when we sit down or stand up from a chair, or pick something up off the ground. And those activities are not harmful. To keep your knees healthy and strong for life, the key is to stay active – both in everyday activities and with targeted exercises. 

Here, we’ll explore the potential advantages of incorporating single-leg squats into your movement routine, highlighting how this movement can strengthen the surrounding muscles, enhance stability, and promote proper joint mechanics to mitigate knee pain and improve overall knee health. We’ll also look at how to modify single-leg squats to meet your unique needs.

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What Is the Single-Leg Squat?

The single-leg squat is a lower-body exercise that primarily targets the muscles of the legs, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. It also engages the core muscles for stability and balance. The single-leg squat is very similar to a regular squat, but you balance on one leg instead of distributing your weight across both legs during the exercise. 

What Muscles Do Single-Leg Squats Work? 

The single-leg squat primarily targets the following muscles:

  • Quadriceps: Located on the front of the thigh, the quads are heavily engaged during the single-leg squat. They work to extend the knee joint as you push up from the bottom position. Strengthening your quads helps increase knee joint stability and reduces pressure on your knees during activities like walking and going up stairs, which can help reduce pain. 

  • Hamstrings: Found on the back of the thigh, the hamstrings act as stabilizers during the single-leg squat, helping control the descent and providing stability to the knee joint. By strengthening your hamstrings, you may notice that activities like brisk walking, running, climbing stairs, sitting down, and bending forward at the hips are easier and less painful. 

  • Glutes: The gluteal muscles play a significant role in extending the hip joint and maintaining stability when performing a single-leg squat. Strong glutes help keep everything in your lower body in good order, including your knees, hips, and low back. 

  • Calves: The calf muscles, specifically the gastrocnemius and soleus, assist in maintaining balance and providing stability during the single-leg squat.

  • Core muscles: The core muscles, including the abdominals, obliques, and lower back muscles, are engaged to stabilize your torso during a single-leg squat. These muscles are important for stability and balance during everyday activities — everything from lifting a laundry basket to reaching overhead to shifting your weight from one foot to the other involves your core. 

The single-leg squat also involves smaller stabilizer muscles in the lower body, such as the hip adductors, abductors, and deep hip rotators. These muscles contribute to maintaining balance, controlling movement, and providing overall stability. 

Benefits of Single-Leg Squats

Single-leg squats have a lot of benefits, including:

  • Strengthening lower body muscles: Single-leg squats are highly effective at targeting several important muscle groups in the lower body that all help to reduce joint and muscle pain, as well as help you go about your daily activities with ease and efficiency.  

  • Improving balance and stability: Performing single-leg squats requires significant balance and stability, as you rely on one leg for support. Regularly practicing this exercise can improve your balance and reduce your risk of falls, and also enhance the stability of your lower body and core muscles.

  • Increasing functional strength: Single-leg squats mimic movements that occur in daily activities, such as walking, running, and climbing stairs. By improving your lower body strength and stability, you enhance your ability to perform these tasks with greater ease and less pain. 

  • Improving flexibility and mobility: Single-leg squats require a good range of motion in the hips, knees, and ankles. Regular practice can help improve flexibility and mobility in these joints, promoting better overall movement and reducing the risk of injuries.

Not to mention, single-leg squats are a bodyweight exercise, meaning they can be done anywhere without equipment. This makes them a convenient option for when you need a quick movement snack during your day. 

Single Leg Squats: Exercises and Variations

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Single-Leg Squat

Single-Leg Squat

Single-Leg Squat

Single-Leg Squat

To do a single-leg squat: 

  • Stand with one hand resting on a sturdy surface, such as a countertop or table. 

  • Lift one leg off the floor so that your foot reaches slightly behind your body. 

  • Bend through your knee as you lean your chest slightly toward the floor. 

  • Hold the squat for a few seconds, then push through your foot to straighten your knee and return to standing.  

Everyone is different, which is why you may need to modify your single-leg squat to meet your needs.

Single-Leg Squat Modifications

Single-Leg Squat Modifications

Single-Leg Squat Modifications

Single-Leg Squat Modifications

To make single-leg squats easier:  

  • Reduce your range of motion by limiting how much you bend your knee when performing the squat. 

  • Rest your non-working leg (the one that’s extended behind you) on a step, box, platform, or another object that keeps it elevated. This can decrease the depth of the squat and reduce the demands on your supporting leg.

  • Instead of a true single-leg squat, perform a split squat or stationary lunge exercise. With this modification, you have both feet on the ground, but you place more emphasis on the working leg by positioning it slightly forward and decreasing the involvement of the non-working leg.

To make single-leg squats harder: 

  • Increase your range of motion by increasing how much you bend your knee when performing the squat. (You can also try deep squats.)

  • Decrease the amount of pressure you put through your hand that rests on a sturdy surface to challenge your balance and stability. (You can also eliminate holding on to a sturdy surface altogether.) 

You can apply one of the above modifications to make the stretch easier or harder, or multiple modifications at once. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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  1. Single-Leg Squat. (n.d.). National Academy of Sports Medicine. Retrieved from

  2. Quinn, E. (2022, March 11). How to Do a Single-Leg Squat: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes.

  3. How to Do Single Leg Squats (Form & Benefits). (2022, February 11)