What if I were to tell you there was an exercise that could actually help you get better at what you do, both in the gym and while performing your daily tasks?
Imagine: better balance, more overall strength, more muscle mass in your glutes and hamstrings… and mental benefits as well. Sounds amazing, right?
Enter the single-leg Romanian deadlift. A fantastic vertical hip-hinge exercise, the single-leg Romanian deadlift will help improve not only your strength and balance but also your mobility and coordination.
Whether you’re new to the single-leg Romanian deadlift or have found it to be a frustrating exercise in the past, this step-by-step guide will help you feel confident with the movement in no time.
In this article, you’ll find:
You’ll also learn how to incorporate this movement into your training sessions (and why you should!). Plus, make sure you read all the way through to the end so you don’t miss your two free bonus workouts.
Let’s dive in, starting with…
The single-leg Romanian deadlift (single-leg RDL) is a vertical hip-hinge exercise in which you balance on one leg, hinge at the hips, lower your torso until it’s almost parallel with the floor, and then reverse the movement to return to your starting position.
The single-leg RDL with bodyweight works the posterior chain, including your hamstrings, glutes, back, and calves. Add weight, and you’ll also challenge your lats, traps, and forearms as well as increase strength in your erectors, scapula stabilizers, and anterior core. Additionally, the single-leg RDL requires a lot of stability in the ankles, knees, hips, and core.
Performing single-leg RDLs will improve your balance and proprioception (your awareness of your body’s position and movement in space), both of which will have excellent carryover to other unilateral exercises, such as split squats, step-ups, and pistol squats. Additionally, single-leg RDLs can expose deficits or imbalances between your legs that bilateral exercises (e.g., standard Romanian deadlift) may mask.
Mastering the single-leg RDL provides you with unique opportunities to:
Plus, being able to balance on one leg while performing an exercise will help you feel confident, capable, and strong!
But the benefits go even further. At Girls Gone Strong, we're huge fans of having a growth mindset — or in other words, believing that your abilities and skills can be developed, improved upon, and cultivated through effort and practice.
Working on something that’s initially challenging — like a single-leg RDL — and seeing yourself improve with practice is incredibly gratifying.
Interested in a new performance goal? Learn exactly how to perform a proper pistol squat.
Now you understand what a single-leg RDL is and why it’s beneficial to add to your training toolbox, it’s time to break down each step of the exercise so you know exactly what to do. After I go through the instructions, I’ll share six technique tips you can use to practice proper form until you’ve mastered the movement pattern.
When it comes to the single-leg RDL, being very mindful of your alignment and form is paramount. Use the following tips to make sure you’re dialing in on these to get the most of the exercise.
Before you dive into the single-leg RDL, you need to know how to perform a proper hip hinge with both feet on the ground. Take some time to practice your hip hinge in a conventional deadlift or Romanian deadlift before you attempt to do it on one leg.
Performing the single-leg RDL barefoot will help you root your foot down into the floor, making it easier to balance.
During a single-leg RDL, proper alignment is incredibly important. If you were to run a dowel or broomstick down your back during the exercise, it should touch in three spots:
By practicing with a dowel or broomstick, you’ll learn proper alignment. It'll also help prevent you from rounding through your back, which is a common mistake.
It’s very common for the knee of the working leg to want to collapse inward when performing single-leg exercises like this. Make sure your knee tracks in the same direction as your toes through each and every rep.
While it’s really tempting to lock out the knee of the working leg, this puts a lot of pressure on your joint and makes it more challenging to balance. Be sure to keep a soft bend in the knee of the working leg.
One of the most common mistakes we see with single-Leg RDLs is that folks want to “open up” their hip to the side. An easy fix for this is to flex the foot of your non-working leg and point your toes down toward the ground. This will help keep your hips square.
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As you start working on your single-leg RDLs, you still might need a little extra support as you work on building your strength and balance. Here are two modified variations you can incorporate that will provide some assistance.
(Both of these are also wonderful variations for intermediate and advanced lifters who want to lift heavy but either need a little support or don’t want to worry about balance.)
Simply hold on to the side of a squat rack, the edge of a countertop, or anything else that is sturdy to help provide you with balance assistance.
Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Shift your weight to your right foot, then pick up the heel of your left foot and slide it directly back by about 12 inches. Focus on keeping the majority of your weight in your right foot, and only enough weight in your left foot to assist with your balance. Complete all of your reps on the right side, and then repeat the same steps for the left leg.
If you're new to single-leg RDLs, I’d like to encourage you to work them into your training at least twice per week, preferably at the beginning of your workout. Single-leg RDLs are challenging and require a lot of muscle recruitment, and practicing them early in your workout will ensure you’re fresh and will get more out of your practice.
Start with bodyweight only, and aim for 2–3 sets of 6–8 reps per side to start. Once you’re able to perform those with excellent form, you can move on to perform this exercise with dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell, or a resistance band or cable. Always begin using lighter loads to make sure your technique remains on point.
Bonus: To make it even easier for you to try out single-leg RDLs, here are two complete workouts (no equipment needed!) you can try next time you’re ready to train.
Here’s your circuit:
And here’s exactly how you do it:
This workout is formatted a little differently. Instead of going through a single circuit, you’ll be working with supersets.
Here’s how to do it:
And if you want to see even more workouts and exercise demos, make sure you follow Girls Gone Strong on Instagram (@thegirlsgonestrong).
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