The Romanian deadlift is a classic weight training exercise, where the quads take the majority of the weight. However, performing a single-leg Romanian deadlift activates the posterior chain – that’s the glutes, hamstrings and back – and also works each side of the body independently which is useful if you are stronger on one side than the other. Resisting rotation in the hips will work the spinal line balance, a chain of muscles running diagonally across each side of the body.
Holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand, transfer bodyweight into the opposite leg, then push the hips back, folding forward, keeping the moving leg in line with the body. The whole body should be engaged, even the hand holding the dumbbell – grip it tight! Approximately half the weight of your regular deadlift should be used, though you may wish to experiment with lighter weights at first to get the form correct. Because you’re using opposite hand and leg, your core is working hard to stay balanced with tiny stabilizing muscles also firing in the hips. These stabilizing muscles are situated deeper than larger strength muscles, and are often not trained by big movements like squats.
Because so many parts of the body work together in a single-leg deadlift time and care must be taken to ensure technique is correct to prevent injury. Here are five tips to ensure you’re getting the most out of your single-leg Romanian deadlift.
1. Practice without any weight
Remember Warrior III from yoga class? It’s actually pretty similar to a one-legged Romanian deadlift. Practicing this yoga asana will teach you the amount of engagement throughout the entire body required to perform this deadlift variation. Step one foot forward, keeping the toes pointing forward, placing your weight into this leg. Lift arms above the head, then fold forward from the hips, lower the arms and lifting the back leg so they are parallel to the floor. Keep your core engaged and take a few breaths here.
Once you feel strong in Warrior III, you’re ready to move onto the weighted single-leg deadlift.
2. Keep the supporting knee soft
This assists with balancing the rest of the body, activates the glutes and works those stabilizing muscles deep within the hip. Locking the knee straight means you’re using your muscles less for balance and also increases the risk of your knee over-extending, which is at best painful, and at worst could damage the ligaments of the knee. However, a gentle stretch in the hamstring should be experienced during the move, so the bend in the knee must be mild enough to feel this.
At first calves will be working hard to keep you balanced, though once they have become accustomed to keeping the foot stabilized the posterior chain will start firing – consciously squeeze the glutes for extra activation.
3. Weight sits in the heel
Flat shoes are best for the single-leg deadlift, as your weight sits back into your heel. Running and Olympic lifting shoes both push the foot forward, with the weight on the ball of the foot. Shifting forward will mean your balance is off-center and will be harder to stay steady, plus your hamstrings and glutes won’t be targeted as well during the move. Easily sort this issue by taking off your running shoes – this roots your feet to the floor and encourages drive through the heel.
4. Back and neck should be neutrally aligned
This isn’t about forcing your back into a straight line – your back has natural curves, so ensure your body feels engaged yet natural. Imagine you’re pushing your neck into the back of a shirt collar for correct alignment, and gaze forward as you fold into the movement. Looking up can put pressure on the small vertebrae in the neck. To assist in this form adjustment, brace your core like someone is about to punch you in the stomach! The engaged muscles will help protect your spine.
It’s also worth getting a friend to check your form or videoing your deadlift – what feels like a neutral back can look very different in reality!
5. Don’t fold too far forward
Don’t feel like the dumbbell or kettlebell needs to touch the floor: work to your own range of range of movement. As hip and hamstring flexibility increases, as will the range, though this is not integral to completing a successful single-leg deadlift. Trying to force the movement too low will cause rounding of the back or unnecessary strain on the hamstrings, and as has been covered already the back should be neutral and protected by engaged muscles, and only a stretch on the hamstring should be felt. The dumbbell reaching mid-shin is ideal.
The single-leg Romanian deadlift is an awesome exercise which really targets the posterior chain, including the glutes and hamstrings, plus tiny stabilizing muscles which aren’t often worked during regular lifts. These tips will help you perform the lift safely and effectively, though videoing yourself would be a great idea to check up on form, and always ask your trainer if you’re unsure!