Strength, balance and flexibility lie at the heart of functional movement. Together, these 3 core attributes will help you move with ease and joy.
So, when a single exercise helps develop and improve all 3 at once, you know its an exercise to take note of.
Squats with side leg lift raises are one of those exercises, helping to develop strength, improve balance and increase hip flexibility/range of motion.
In this guide, we outline how to perform this movement properly and the benefits you’ll get by including this in your workouts, as well as variations and progressions you can do to increase difficulty.
How to Perform Squats with Side Leg Raises
To do squats with side leg raises:
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent.
- Lower yourself into a squatting position, so your thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold for a moment.
- Push yourself up out of the squat and back into the starting position.
- Transfer your weight to your left leg and raise your right leg out to the side. Hold for a moment before returning this leg back to the ground. Try and keep your leg as straight as possible during the lift.
- Repeat this movement but transfer your weight to your right leg and raise your left leg out to the side.
- Repeat this for repetitions.
Tip – This should be a very controlled movement, especially the side leg lift. Avoid rushing the movement or using a swinging motion during the side leg lift. Instead, focus on engaging your glutes, core and hamstrings to lift and stabilize the leg.
As you lift your leg to the side, keep your torso upright and avoid leaning to the side. This suggests inflexible hips.
Muscles Worked and Benefits of Squats with Side Leg Raises
This movement focuses primarily on the glutes, quads, hamstrings and hip flexors. All these muscles are working to help perform the squat and lift your side to the side.
Squats help to strengthen the lower body and develop better functional movement. By adding more weight, squats become an effective powerlifting and bodybuilding exercise to add muscle mass and definition. Alternatively, they can be used as part of a HIIT workout to provide cardio-vascular benefits.
The additional side leg lift engages the hip flexors and develops better hip range of motion. This can help loosen up tight hips, which can cause all sorts of problems, such as lower back pain. Open hips help improve movement and reduce the risk of injuries or pain.
Lifting your left will also require balance and stability. Your core and stabilizing muscles will be engaged to help avoid falling over. Balance training is a fundamental pillar to healthy ageing and such exercises are worth their weight in gold when it comes to enjoying better movement as we age.
Squat Side Lift Variations
There are multiple ways to increase difficulty and add variation to the squat with side leg lift, including:
Barbell squats are a common progress from the regular air squat. Holding a weighted barbell on your trapezius muscle/upper back, will create additional weight for your muscles to move during the exercise. This is common in powerlifting to help develop strength, power and muscle mass.
If you are including a side leg lift, it means you’ll need to stabilize the barbell while balancing on one leg. This means it’s important to opt for a light barbell to avoid injury.
Dumbbells are another great way to add additional weight. You can hold them on your shoulders, such as with a power clean movement, or by your side.
Holding a single kettlebell in a goblet squat also naturally lends itself to a single leg raise as well. Again, it’s important not to select a kettlebell that is too heavy and makes lifting your leg feel unrealistic.
If you want to focus more on toning and sculpting your muscles, instead of building strength and mass, then resistance bands could be a better choice.
Place the bands around your legs, ideally just above the knee. The bands will create resistance as you lift your leg out, forcing the muscles to work harder.
Squats with reverse kickbacks is a similar movement but focuses more on glute strength, as opposed to hip flexibility. Our recent guide explains how to perform this movement, the benefits and muscles worked.
You could even add a kickback and a side lift in the same exercise to create 2 additional movements after the initial squat.
Standing Fire Hydrant
A standing fire hydrant is basically a side leg lift with a bent knee. If you are having difficulty keeping your leg straight during the side lift, then you could try it with a bent knee instead. This should be easier and require less stability than with a straight leg. It still helps to open up the hips.
Squats with Side Leg Raises Workout
This movement is very easy to fit into all sorts of workouts. From strength training to HIIT routines to warm-ups, the movement can be adapted to suit your needs.
As an example, try some of the below
3 sets x 10 repetitions of squats with side leg raises
5 sets x 5 repetitions of barbell squats with side leg raises
4 sets x 8 repetitions of squats with side leg raises with resistance band