Do one-legged squats increase or decrease the chances of knee injury?
Two people can do the same exercise and both get a different result. Watch a baby do a squat and you’ll notice how effortless they move through that range of motion. Full depth — good spine positions, no knee valgus, etc. On the other-hand, if you ask a middle aged office worker who hasn’t consistency worked out since their college days to do a squat — things could get messy. You might expect some combination of: lack of physical literacy, joint cracking/popping, lacking in certain range of motion, etc. What can this general comparison teach us?
There is no such thing as a bad exercise — just a person who is not ready for one.
The likelihood of injury is much more correlated to the readiness/capacity of the person in question, rather than the exercise itself. Especially when considering exercises that have external load to them (barbells, dumbbells, machines, etc.)
So how do injuries occur & how does it relate to one-legged squats?
Load > Capacity = Injury
- When the load going into a tissue exceeds it’s load bearing capacity — you have injury.
Have you ever rolled your ankle but felt fine shortly after? Or even rolled your ankle and legitimately sprained it? That is an example of the above description. Your joints have a certain amount of load they can take before they become injured. Somebody rehabbing an injury will have a much lower threshold than an otherwise ‘healthy’ person.
Luckily for us, we have a lot of control over how resilient our joints are to injury. Train an articulation properly and it can feel almost bulletproof. On the flip side — if you ignore training your joints then you’re accepting the fact that they will atrophy overtime. The common mistake people often don’t make is not doing anything until an injury occurs.
Every time you do an exercise — your joints are put through a pop-quiz. You’re choosing a weight you hope is heavy enough to challenge you, but not so heavy that you injure yourself. Yes this also includes bodyweight exercises. The risk of injury IS much lower in bodyweight exercises, but it’s not zero.
So stop pointing fingers at the exercise itself for being ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Start to look within and learn what your body is ready for. Look at your body’s strengths and weaknesses from a joint perspective. Your quadricep may be strong enough for a single leg squat, but what about your ankle, knee, hip?
To learn more about your joints, I recommend you go through a full body CARs routine. It challenges you to move each joint in isolation through a full pain free range of motion. The healthier and more resilient your joints are — the better they will be prepared for exercises like single leg squats.