Master the Single Leg Romanian Dead Lift
Next up in my “Exercises You Should Be Doing” series is the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift. Also known as the Single Leg RDL, this exercise not only provides an excellent lower body workout, but also carries over to work other key areas – making it an ideal exercise for everyone from the general fitness enthusiast to high level athletes.
The most obvious area of focus when doing a Single Leg Romanian Dead Lift is the back of your legs and hips – also known as the posterior chain. These muscles, most notably the glutes and hamstrings, are powerful hip extensors and play a key role in all walking, running and jumping activities.
Another key area involved in this movement is the midsection, or core area of the body as it has to work hard to keep your body in alignment and prevent rotation through the hips and shoulders.
While the movement pattern of the Single Leg RDL itself looks relatively simple, it is in fact a complicated move in the sense that a lot of things must happen together (core and hip stability, upper back strength, balance, etc.) in order to perform the movement properly.
Why The Single Leg RDL?
If you take a look at many of our daily functions or even how athletes move in their particular sport, many times we are put into a split stance position and rely on one side of the body to adapt to that position in order to effectively perform the movement or task. So, the first reason is single leg training is more “functional.”
Training in a single leg fashion also allows us to work on any strength or mobility imbalances the body might have. For instance, many people tend to be one-side dominant (right or left). While this may not be a big deal for relatively inactive individuals, those who are regular exercisers or athletes may eventually suffer from poor performance or some type of injury because of the imbalance.
Balance (the ability to keep your center of gravity) is also a big benefit of single leg training. Balance is very important in sports and for making everyday activities safer and easier. Strength-training machines and exercises using two legs at the same time do not do as much to develop your balance as an exercise that requires you to balance with one leg. The Single Leg RDL, therefore, challenges and improves your balance much more quickly and efficiently.
Finally, single leg exercises like the Romanian Dead Lift place more demand on the ankle, knee and hip joints making them more stable and less prone to injury.
How To Do Your Best Single Leg Romanian Dead Lift:
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent and raise one leg off the floor. Flex the knee on your standing/support leg about 15-20% to activate the glutes.
Without changing the bend in your knee, keep your back naturally arched, bend (hinge) at your hips, and lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor.
Briefly pause at the bottom, then squeeze you glutes, thrust your hips forward, and raise your torso back to the starting position.
Repeat until you complete the prescribed number of repetitions (10-15 reps with light or no weight and 6-8 with moderate to heavy weight….shoot for 3 sets on each leg).
A Few Key Points To Focus On When Performing The Single Leg RDL:
- If you are brand new to this exercise, start out with a simple balance and reach (you can use an object to reach for like a barbell as pictured below) or make it a little more of a challenge by reaching further down and touching a cone or the floor.
- When you’re ready to use a weight (dumbbell or kettlebell), start off light and progressively work your way up.
- Be sure to hold the weight in the opposite hand of your work leg (whatever hand is holding the weight, that same leg is reaching back on the down motion of the exercise).
- Try to keep your neck in a neutral position (chin packed) as you perform the movement.
- Think about pushing the hips back on the down phase and squeezing the glutes as you stand all the way back up.
- Do not lock out the knee on your standing/support leg. Keep a soft bend throughout the entire movement.
- A slight bend in the back leg is ok, but try to extend it back as much as possible with the toes pointing down to gain the full benefit of this movement. Think of lifting the heel toward the ceiling.
About the writer: Ken Grall is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owns and operates an Edge Fitness in Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Ken.