Deadlifts are the core of most workout programs.
They provide a highly targeted exercise that works not only the lower back, but also the glutes, hamstrings, and other core muscles. In fact, it’s considered one of the best exercises to target the posterior chain muscles.
But the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift takes it a step farther, doubling down on the versatility of the whole-body movement to add a balance and mobility component. If you’re looking to step your workouts up a notch, this is the exercise you should be doing!
What is the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift?
Let’s start with the difference between the Romanian Deadlift and the standard Deadlift.
With a standard Deadlift, you begin with the weight resting on the floor or a low rack, and you engage all the posterior chain muscles to lift it as you stand upright. Many deadlifters will drop the weight rather than lower it, as the focus of a standard Deadlift is all in the “raise” portion of the exercise.
With a Romanian Deadlift, however, you begin with the weight in the “finished” position—ergo, standing straight, with your hips locked out. You then lower the weight and pull back up. The addition of eccentric movement adds an extra element of difficulty—not only are you pulling upward, but you also have to control your descent.
This exercise demands the cooperation of all your core and posterior chain muscles in order to keep the heavy weight controlled. It increases the load on your body, as you are both lowering and lifting the weight rather than simply lifting and dropping. You typically work with less weight, but the double-duty exercise doesn’t need as much weight while still delivering a doubly effective workout.
The Single Leg Romanian Deadlift is the exercise performed while standing on just one leg. As you lower into the forward bend, you extend your free arm and leg to provide balance. The unilateral (“one side”) movement encourages greater mobility and balance, while still providing an excellent workout for all of your posterior chain muscles.
Benefits of the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
What makes the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift such an excellent exercise? Let’s take a look at a few of the benefits of this movement:
Excellent posterior chain muscle recruitment – Compared to the standard Deadlift, the Romanian Deadlift requires more muscular control, thereby engaging the secondary stabilizing muscles to keep your body balanced and controlled as you raise and lower the weight. By shifting the weight all onto one leg, the movement adds in the balance component that forces the posterior chain muscles to work even harder to keep you stable.
Better mobility and posture – This exercise is a complex one that requires regular practice just to master the proper form, much less see serious strength advances. But that’s a good thing! With regular repetition of the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift, you encourage better mobility and flexibility of the hip, knee, ankle, and back joints involved in the movement.
Because the exercise is so difficult to stay balanced, it forces you to become more aware of your body and motion, which translates into more effective movement. Studies have proven that “an increase in body awareness has previously been shown to improve motor fitness skill and overall sports performance.” You have to pay close attention to your posture to keep your balance, and that will lead to postural improvements across the board.
More advanced exercise – This exercise is, without a doubt, an advanced movement, one that takes time and regular practice to master. But as athletes master more advanced exercises, their capabilities expand and their overall mobility and fitness improves.
As the above-mentioned study highlights, advanced movements “may help to increase their rate of force production and the development of power.”
Adds variety to your workout – If you’re looking to change up your training sessions, the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift can bring an entire new dimension (of mobility) to your workouts. Instead of only focusing on strength or power, you can incorporate this type of balance-improving exercise to your resistance training. This will help to keep things fresh, avoid workout “staleness”, and make you overall fitter.
After all, mobility is one of the four crucial pillars of fitness. A lot of bodybuilders focus so much on muscular strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular endurance that they neglect their mobility and flexibility. With the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift, you train your body to balance better and move more fluidly through a full range of motion.
No grip limitations – For athletes who are recovering from injuries or suffering problems that create weakness in their grip, the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift offers an excellent alternate to standard Deadlifts.
With standard deadlifts, athletes fail to complete their sets because of grip failure, due to the heavy weight involved in the exercise. With Romanian Deadlifts, the amount of weight used is fractionally lower, but even then, grip strength will often fail before the legs, glutes, or lower back muscles are sufficiently taxed.
Not so with the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift!
This movement is much harder because of the balance component, and for that reason significantly less weight is used as trainees adapt to the instability of the exercise. Training with a lighter kettlebell or dumbbell makes the exercise less prone to cause grip failure, allowing the trainee to work their posterior chain muscles to failure.
Better hip strength – The hip adductors and abductors are two muscles that rarely see regular use in standard resistance training. After all, when both legs are utilized together to perform bilateral exercises–such as Squats or Deadlifts—there is no demand on the hips to stabilize the lower body.
With the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift, however, a lot of the balance work will be done by your hip adductors. These hip muscles work with your leg muscles to keep your pelvis stable, which in turn provides a stable platform for your lower back muscles as you bend into the exercise.
You’ll find your hips are stronger and better able to sustain your balance and weight thanks to this exercise.
Better core strength – Your core is going to work double-time on the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift. When standing on just one leg, your body has a tendency to rotate inward to try and maintain balance. Part of learning how to perform this exercise is training your body not to twist, but instead to engage your core to keep your balance without rotating.
The SLRD becomes not just a lower body movement, but also an excellent core training exercise. Your lower back is doing the work of lifting the weight, and your abs and obliques pitch in to keep your upper body stable and aligned, to resist the natural urge to twist.
How to Execute a Perfect Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
If you want to master this workout, here’s what you need to do:
Step 1: Get into position. Grip a kettlebell in your left hand (to start), and shift all of your weight onto your right foot. Lift your head, straighten your spine, thrust out your chest, and tuck in your tailbone to shift your pelvis forward so it’s parallel to the floor.
Step 2: Lock in your balance. Inhale, drawing air into your belly, and use it to tighten your core muscles. Imagine yourself pulling your ribs downward and using them as the support to push against with your abs, obliques, and lower back. Clench your free right hand into a fist and reach it out to the side for balance.
Step 3: Start bending forward. Hinge at the hips, shifting your buttocks backward slightly as you bend forward. Keep your eyes locked on the floor to avoid neck hyperextension, and make sure that your entire spine from neck to pelvis is aligned. When you feel yourself wobbling, lift your left leg behind you and tighten your right glute muscles for better stability.
Step 4: Reach the bottom. Make an effort to keep your hips pointed straight toward the floor, with no twist or rotation. Your foot can shift slightly to maintain your balance, but not your hips! With your chest still thrust out, fight to keep your shoulders back—don’t let the weight pull them forward. Bend until you’re at the “bottom” of the movement, when you feel the stretch in your hamstrings.
Step 5: Come back up. Tighten your glutes to engage your hamstrings to push back up toward standing position. When you straighten, thrust your hips forward to hit “lockout” position. Take a breath at the top, regain your balance by touching your left foot to the ground if needed, and center your weight once more.
Step 6: Repeat. After a one-to-two-second pause, inhale again, and repeat the process of bending and straightening. Complete a full set on one side, then shift feet and switch the weight to your other hand to repeat on the other side. Make sure to perform an equal number of reps on each side, and maintain solid form discipline throughout the set!
It will take a lot of practice, but once you master it, you’ll find that this is, hands down, one of the best lower body strength, balance, and mobility exercises you can perform!
Common Single Leg Romanian Deadlift Mistakes
As you’re training your body to adapt to this particular movement, here are a few common mistakes to watch out for:
- Twisting your torso. Twisting your torso is a natural reaction to the weight resting entirely on one side of your upper body. However, doing this will add strain to your lower back and hips. Make it a point to keep your shoulders back and aligned parallel to the floor. Maintain your proper upper body position through the entire exercise.
- Twisting your hips. This is a natural reaction as your body tries to compensate for the imbalance. You need to fight the urge to let your hips twist, but instead keep them aligned with the floor. Doing so will shift the focus onto your core muscles, making the exercise more effective and significantly safer for your lower back.
- Lifting your foot. You may feel the urge to rock forward onto your toes as tight leg muscles pull your heels off the ground, or shifting the weight onto your heels may make the exercise easier on your foot muscles. Work toward keeping your entire foot flat on the ground—not only will it stretch your leg muscles, but also strengthen your feet and shin muscles.
- Rounding your back. At all costs, keep your spine straight! Rounding your back—particularly your lower back—can raise your risk of injuries. Use your core to brace your upper body as you bend forward, and keep your back as straight as possible.
Correct these mistakes, and you’ve got the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift in the bag!
The Single Leg Romanian Deadlift is an advanced exercise that can lead to serious improvements in balance, posture, mobility, flexibility, and strength. Not only will it train your posterior chain muscles (upper back, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves), but it can strengthen your hip adductors and engage all of your core muscles.
It will take regular practice to learn the form correctly and safely, but it’s so worth the effort. You’ll find that you move more easily and have exponentially better balance overall thanks to just this one exercise!