Single Leg Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

How To Do A Single Leg RDL With A Kettlebell
By Alli McKeeFebruary 19, 2016

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift Exercise

The single leg Romanian deadlift is a great exercise for strengthening the musculature of the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings), hips, and core.

Equipment needed:

You will need one or two kettlebells to perform this hip hinging exercise. You can also use one or two dumbbells.

Ability level:

Beginner

Beginners should start out by mastering the single leg hip hinging movement. This can be done with a broomstick or wooden dowel. You have two options. One is to position the broomstick so it’s touching your tailbone, upper back, and head, and to perform single leg Romanian deadlifts. The second is to hold the broomstick like you would a regular barbell, and perform single leg Romanian deadlifts. With this variation, the broomstick should travel up and down your leg and along your body the entire time. With both of these variations, if you are hinging your hips properly, the dowel will not leave the points of contact on your body. The single leg band pull-through is another great option for beginners who are looking to master the hip hinging movement. Once beginners have mastered the hip hinging movement with their bodyweight, they can begin to use some light resistance.

Intermediate

The single leg Romanian deadlift with one or two kettlebells is a great option for lifters who have an intermediate level of experience, and who have mastered single leg bodyweight deadlifts. If the resistance is going to be high, intermediate lifters should do these towards the beginning of the workout as it is important to perform these exercises when you are mentally and physically fresh. If you are going to be performing a heavier barbell deadlift variation, you can perform the single leg Romanian deadlift after. If a full body workout is being performed, the single leg Romanian deadlift can be paired with some type of pushing or pulling movement, but don’t pair it with any exercise that will compromise grip strength, or one that will fatigue the core muscles. Intermediate lifters might perform 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps of the single leg Romanian deadlift.

Advanced

Women who are comfortable with the single leg Romanian deadlift may choose to increase their weight/resistance for multiple sets (2-4+) of fewer repetitions (3-6). You can use two heavier kettlebells, or can perform this single leg exercise with a barbell. The single leg Romanian deadlift variation may also be used as part of a conditioning circuit or barbell complex, but only once a high level of technical proficiency has been achieved. Lifters can also perform negative reps and really focus on the eccentric component, or can add chains/bands for additional resistance.

Benefits of Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts:

There are many benefits of the single leg Romanian deadlift. How a woman chooses to use a single leg Romanian deadlift is highly dependent on her overall technical ability and experience, how much weight is being used, the set/rep scheme used, where it falls in the workout, what it’s paired with, and what the rest periods are. In general single leg Romanian deadlifts can be used to do any or all of the following:

  • increasing lower body strength, primarily in the hamstrings and glutes
  • increasing upper body strength in the lats, traps, upper arms and forearms (if heavier weights are being used)
  • increasing core strength in the erectors, scapula stabilizers, and the anterior core
  • building muscle, especially in the hamstrings and glutes
  • evening out muscle imbalances and improving muscle symmetry
  • increasing speed and power, which will be beneficial to running, jumping, and other sports specific movements
  • increasing performance in the weight room
  • increasing athleticism and sports specific performance
  • increasing balance
  • increasing your ability to perform daily tasks
  • fat loss (if your diet and exercise routines are conducive to fat loss)
  • conditioning (if used as part of conditioning circuits)
  • increasing flexibility

How to perform a Single Leg Romanian Deadlift:

  • Stand on one foot. Have a slight bend in your knee.
  • You can hold the kettlebell in two hands so that the weight is straight down the center of your body, or you can do an offset single leg deadlift and hold it in one hand.
  • As for your foot position, think about screwing your foot into the floor by pressing through the mid/back of your foot, and also through your big and baby toe. This is called a tripod foot and will dramatically improve your overall stability.
  • Before you go, take a deep breath into your belly (360 degrees of air around your spine), brace your core (I like to pretend that I am about to block a soccer ball with my stomach), and lightly tuck your rib cage towards your hips (close the space in your midsection).
  • Now push/hinge your hips backwards as far as you can (while maintaining a neutral spine and not bending at the waist or rounding the upper back).
  • Your leg that's in the air should stride back and should remain close to the center of your body. This will help prevent your pelvis from twisting. Your body should remain square to the floor the whole time and should not rotate in the hips or spine.
  • In terms of the hip hinge, you can pretend that a rope is attached around your hips and is pulling you backwards, or pretend that you are trying to reach back with your glutes and touch a wall that is behind you. You should feel tension in your hamstrings the entire time. It is crucial that you maintain a neutral spine at all times.
  • Once you feel a mild stretch in your hamstrings, return to the starting position by driving through the mid-back of your feet (but keep your toes down) and pressing your body away from the floor, squeezing your hamstrings and glutes, and pushing your hips forward. Even if you don’t feel a stretch in your hamstrings, if you feel your spine rounding, this is a sign that you have gone too low. With this (and many exercises), lower doesn’t always mean better.
  • As you return to the starting position, lock out by squeezing your glutes, extend your knees by squeezing your quads and hamstrings, brace your core, and actively tuck your rib cage towards your hips (close the space in your midsection).
  • Create tension in your upper body by squeezing your upper arms into your arm sides. You can even pretend that you are crushing something in your armpits. Also, bring your shoulder blades together and down and pretend that you are tucking each one in the opposite back pocket of your pants. This is what you will be required to do when you are performing any loaded deadlift variation.
  • Keep your chest up for the entire lift but do not over arch your back. You can pretend that you are showing the logo on your shirt to a person who is standing in front of you.
  • Keep your chin tucked and neck in neutral alignment. Many lifters make the mistake of looking up.
  • Reset, and repeat.
  • When you deadlift, wear flat shoes, or bare feet.

Video Transcription: 

The single leg Romanian deadlift is very similar to a regular Romanian deadlift, but just like the exercise sounds you are doing it on one leg. There are a couple of really important things to remember. First and foremost, when you push back into your hips, your knee are soft - you don't want to lock that knee all the way out.  The second thing is that your back leg is moving and your upper body is going to maintain a  bit of a seesaw motion. Again, this is pushing back into your hips, not just bending at the waist.

So to do the single leg Romanian deadlift it is ideal to be barefoot so you can really feel rooted into the ground and feel that tripod foot, which is 3 points of contact. Your heel, underneath your pinky toe and underneath your big toe feels nice and rooted into the ground. You are going to push back into your hips, and kind of let your back leg float back but it only comes back as far as your upper body goes down. It is a seesaw motion: you push back, this is as far as I can go, my leg doesn't go any higher and my torso doesn't drop anymore, it maintains a seesaw motion the whole time. Push back into my hip, stop when my hamstring catches, come up, push back into my hip, and come up. You will notice that my knee stays soft the whole time that I am pushing back into my hip and I am not going down farther than my hamstring can handle. I am also controlling my knee and not letting it cave in.

Another really important thing to note here, a lot of people's hips will kind of open up when they go back, and this is what it looks like. When they push back this hip will kind of open up to the side, it is really important to close that off. One cue you can use for that is to almost be thinking about  your down leg kind of floating to the center of your body a little bit. That will teach you to close that hip off, so that looks like this. You will see this leg almost floats more to the center of my body. If you think about trying to balance your weight, when it is evenly distributed like this and you are all on one leg, that's not going to work.  Think about closing that hip off and letting that leg float to the center of your body.

Once you’ve nailed being able to do it with body weight you are welcome to use a kettlebell or dumbbell to liven things up a little bit. A couple of things: you can hold the kettlebell in two hands so that the weight is straight down the center of your body or you can do a offset single leg deadlift and hold it in one hand. I will demonstrate two hands first. I am going to push back into my hips, grab that kettlebell, come up, push back, come up, I am leading with my heel, keeping that back leg relatively straight, spine nice and neutral. This is what it looks like from offset, I am only going to hold the kettlebell in my left hand. You can see this is really challenging exercise.

Now I get a lot of questions from people who are doing the offset kettlebell single leg RDL and they ask if they should hold the weight in the same hand as their down leg or the opposite hand. To be honest it really doesn't matter, it is whatever feels comfortable for you. I have clients that think each way is harder than the other. Just play around with it and find out what you like.

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About the author:  Alli McKee

Alli is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She's contributed to and modeled for a number of major publications including Oxygen magazine and the New Rules of Lifting: Supercharged. You can find out more about Alli on her personal blog at www.allimckee.com.

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