There are some exercises, no matter how many times you do them, never get easier. One prime example is the single leg deadlift. The reduced stability and tension on one leg make this challenging for all lifters. It is easier to be strong on two legs but harder to be stronger on one leg.
The single leg deadlift is what’s known as a self-limiting exercise, which means it is not a walk in the park. Self-limiting exercises have a starting and stopping point because your body will scream enough is enough. Self-limiting exercises will demand your total attention, like the single leg deadlift.
That’s probably the number one reason people avoid this exercise, but avoid it at your own peril. Here will dive into everything single leg deadlifts so you can perform this critical exercise right.
What is the Single Leg Deadlift?
The single leg deadlift is a hip-hinge movement that’s performed on one leg. When performed with good form, it will strengthen imbalances between sides, improve balance and get you strong on two legs. This variation involves one leg lifting off the ground and extending behind you.
How to Do The Single Leg Deadlift Exercise
- Stand on both feet, hip-width apart, with an upright posture.
- Pick one foot off the floor, and find balance on your grounded foot by gripping the floor with your foot.
- Then soften your working knee with both arms by your side.
- With an upright posture, hinge your hip back until your belly button faces the floor and you feel a stretch in your working hamstring.
- Then return to the start and reset and repeat.
The reduction in stability means more of the lower body stabilizing muscles are working overtime to keep you balanced, including your ‘core.’ Going through all of them will be geeky and dull for you, so here we’ll focus on the primary muscles trained by the single leg deadlift.
- Glutes: The glutes have double duty as hip stabilizers to keep you upright by also hip extenders for juicy glute gains. This exercise applies muscular tension to the glutes through the entire range of motion.
- Hamstrings: Assist the glutes with hip extension and work as knee flexors. But the hamstring’s eccentric strength to avoid you crashing face-first to the floor is where they make their real money.
- Calf Complex: The anterior and posterior calf muscles co-contract isometrically to keep the working foot on the ground at all times.
4 Single Leg Deadlift Benefits
Single leg deadlifts are an exercise that can make you look foolish quickly, so there’s got to be a benefit. Yes, and here they are.
- Hamstring Strain Prevention: Hamstrings strains don’t happen when they’re working concentrically; during hip extension, they happen when they extend eccentrically, like lowering into the SLDL. It’s been shown that eccentric knee flexor exercises like this reduce the risk of hamstring strains because of improvements in eccentric hamstring strength.
- Improved Balance: There are two main types of balance, static and dynamic, and this exercise improves both. Having one foot planted on the floor while working through a full range of motion during the SLDL improves your single leg balance.
- Strengthen Imbalances: The bilateral exercises are where many of your strength gains will be made, but they can hide strength imbalances. Sometimes, one side may take over for another, increasing the likelihood of injuries and poor form. Reducing any imbalances will make you stronger on one leg and two also.
- Increased Intensity With A Reduced Weight: Regular deadlifts don’t have an eccentric phase, but the single leg deadlift does. Unlike bilateral deadlifts, performing this unilaterally requires you to slowly lower down and display eccentric strength throughout the entire ROM.
3 Common Single Leg Deadlift Mistakes
- Don’t Round Your Back: Rounding the back is a no-no because you’ll lose muscular tension in the hips and hamstrings. Excessive spinal flexion shortens the ROM, interferes with your balance, and puts you at risk for injury. Keep your shoulders down and chest up to ensure your spine is neutral throughout the entire exercise.
- What’s The Hurry: There are times when an exercise is performed fast and times when it is performed with control. Doing the SLSL fast removes the main benefit, hamstring strength, and messes with good technique. Instead, take your time and feel every part of the movement for great glute and hamstring gains.
- Avoid Rotation : Some lower back rotation is unavoidable due to balance or hip mobility shortfalls. Rotating to the side of the working leg shifts your weight too much to one side and causes a loss of balance. Trust me; you’ll know when it’s happening. If it does, working within a ROM you can control is advisable, or using one of the alternatives below to build better single leg strength.
Single Leg Deadlift Programming Suggestions
The single leg deadlift is not a 1RM exercise and is best utilized as an accessory movement after your daily bilateral strength exercise. But because this exercise demands balance, it’s best trained when you are relatively fresh, early on your accessory routine. Here are some programming guidelines for muscle and endurance.
- Building Muscle: Two to four sets of six to 12 reps
- Muscular Endurance: Two to three sets of 12-15 reps.
Single Leg Deadlift Variations and Alternatives
Not all have the stability and balance to perform the single leg deadlift, but they still need its benefits. Here are some variations and alternatives to make this difficult exercise easier and harder to perform if you’re advanced.