Bringing Balance to the Legs

Sage Rountree offers advice to ensure the upper and lower leg work together evenly, which can prevent a variety of injuries from ankle sprains to hip problems.

We’ve been investigating the imbalances that can lead to injury, both in asana and in sports, and recently looked at a self-test to explore balance left to right in the leg. The same test—a single-leg chair pose—also reveals balance between stren gth in the upper portion of the leg, especially the glutes, and the lower leg, especially the foot. By ensuring the upper and lower leg work in happy union, you’ll injury-proof your body against complaints including plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains, knee pain, and hip problems.

Return to the squat in single-leg chair pose, and observe the way your lower leg reacts. Is there a lot of wobbling side to side, or is there stability? Are the muscles of the foot engaged without clenching? Higher up the chain, where do you feel the work of holding the squat? Is it in the quadriceps, which run along the front of the thigh? Is it in the outer hip, or deeper in your rear end? What fatigues first: the lower leg or the upper leg? And how does the second side compare?

While the test is designed to highlight weakness, sometimes you notice that flexibility is your limiter—as you squat, you feel a big stretch in the hip, or in the heel. If this describes your experience, focus on flexibility and mobility before you work on strength and stability in the legs. Malasana (Garland Pose) will help stretch the hips and thighs as well as the lower leg. Once you’ve cultivated enough flexibility to come into a single-leg squat—which may take several weeks, if you are very stiff—focus on strength in the lower and upper legs.

If your self-test indicates relative weakness in the lower leg, include these poses in your practice:

If your self-test indicates relative weakness in the upper leg, include these poses in your practice:

  • Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
  • Single-leg standing balance poses
  • Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III)

Yes, that’s right—all single-leg standing balance poses, from Vrksasana (Tree Pose) to Virabhadrasana III, will help both lower-leg and upper-leg strength. For extra challenge, string several poses together on one side before repeating the sequence on the other side. You’ll be building a healthier relationship in your legs, top to bottom, and thus fostering one of the many connections that yoga offers us.