Tag Archives: deadlift

Single leg Romanian deadlifts to make you awesome sauce.

single leg RDLIt happens every so often, and it may happen even more often if my coach reads this: I get single leg Romanian deadlifts put into my program. I used to cringe when I saw Bulgarian split squats, but I have made my peace with the Bulgarians and their exercises. I actually enjoy them now.


But the Romanians… oh, you Eastern bloc countries, with your strength prowess. You make me work harder. And you make me better, which is why I continue to do the Romanian deadlift as well as a variation, the single leg Romanian deadlift. But they’re still tough.

The single leg Romanian deadlift in particular gives me a run for my money every time I work on it. My old hip injury might shed light on that: this exercise demands (and builds) hip stability like crazy. It also builds strength and stability through the entire posterior chain. That’s your backside, FYI. You know, your butt, hamstrings, and to a lesser extent, your back. It also requires your abs to help you maintain core control. Those are all good things to improve: so every time I begin doing single leg RDLs again, I remember that I should probably be doing more of them.

Here’s the lowdown on the single leg deadlift: what it is, how to do it, and when to use it in your workouts. Read on:

Basics first: what’s a single leg deadlift?  
A single leg deadlift is a basic hinging movement that requires mastering strength, balance, flexibility, and overall control of your body. That’s a lot, isn’t it? For this reason, I like to have beginners start by just using their own bodyweight to practice.

Deadlifts in nature: I’m mostly thinking “omg it’s so hot. Why am I wearing pants?”

Why to use them:
Single leg Romanian deadlifts build strength in the butt and hamstrings, though I don’t use them as a main strength move in workouts. For building brute strength and muscle mass, I still rely on the “big” players like squats, conventional and sumo deadlifts, as well as hip thrusts and 2-legged Romanian deadlifts. The lack of stability one on leg makes it tough to add a huge amount of weight to the single leg variation – but that’s exactly why you should do these as an accessory exercise.

They do a bang up job of building single leg stability, core control, flexibility, and still give you extra volume to work your muscles. I also use them in metabolic conditioning.

When to do them:
I put them near the end of strength workouts, typically with 3 sets of 8-12 per leg.  I also like doing the movement slowly with just my bodyweight as a glute activator.

How to do one:
You’ll start by thinking about your hips shifting back as you elevate one leg while your torso shifts forward.

Tips for getting off to a great start:

  • If you think about bending forward instead of reaching your leg back, you’re more likely to round your back and you’ll never get that beautiful hip hinge you’re aiming for. Instead, think of your body as a teeter totter and your working leg as the axis. If you focus mostly on making that elevated leg really long, you’ll have an easier time getting the movement down.
  • People move farther down than they need to: work on getting that lifting leg elevated toward the sky instead of worrying about your working arm reaching the floor. You want a big stretch on the back of your planted leg.
  • Locking the knee: it’s no bueno. Instead, think about keeping your knee just a little “soft”.
  • Try to keep your hips as square with the ground as you can. While doing this movement, it’s easy for the hip on your lifting leg to open up too much.
  • Gaze at the floor about 10 feet in front of you – if you crane your neck up to see yourself in the mirror, it tends to throw off your back alignment and makes it tougher to get down into the position.

Balance bonus – if you have a tough time holding your footing, a few things may help you out:
1. Don’t be afraid to lightly drag your foot for a few moments as you extend it behind you. This gives you a little extra contact time with the ground that goes a long way in helping you learn to balance.

2. When you begin the movement, lightly brace your abs and try to maintain stiffness through your torso. A more active core makes it easier to stabilize your body.

3. If you have squishy shoes, consider taking them off and doing this exercise barefooted – or put on a very flat, stiff-soled shoe like some Chucks.

4. One balancing trick that really helps me is digging my big toe of my working leg into the floor. It also seems to help me avoid opening up at my hip too much.

Once you’ve mastered the basic move, load ‘er up. Give one of these variations a try:

  1. Hold one or two kettlebells:

    I like the challenge of holding only one kettlebell, as it makes for feeling a bit more of an unbalanced load and makes me think about my core stability more. Grip it hard. I picked up this trick from Tony Gentilcore, who explains that a tight grip gets your rotator cuff firing and puts your shoulder into a better position as you move. Your shoulder will be less likely to creep forward.

  1. Barbell single leg deadlift:

    Sometimes I don’t have access to heavy enough kettlebells or dumbbells to do my deadlifts. So a barbell variation does the job.

    3. Landmine single leg deadlift:

    I had this crazy fantasy that the landmine variation would rock my world because  the bar would be less annoying to hold onto than a heavy dumbbell. While a big dumbbell or kettlebell is less stable than a barbell, try holding onto the end of an Olympic bar with a small hand: it’s a huge grip challenge! My grip strength is only slightly above grandma level, so I’ll be doing more of these.

If you don’t have a slick landmine holder set up in your gym, just do what people have been doing for eons: shove it into a corner of the room or into the corner of a rack like I did. Some people like to use the center hole of a 45 pound plate too.

Other ideas for your single leg deadlifting pleasure:
1. 1.5 rep single leg Romanian deadlifts –
move to the bottom of your pattern, come up partway, back to the bottom, then all the way back up. That’s one rep. 
2. Eccentric single leg Romanian deadlifts –
take a full 4 seconds to lower yourself down into the bottom of your position. 
3. Combo moves for metcon –
try doing a rep of a single leg deadlift and then following it with a lunge. Do all your reps on one side, and then switch. Your legs and heart will be talking to you. 

What’s your favorite way to do single leg RDLs? Leave a comment below and share! 

Psst – if you want workouts to use the moves I talked about, I share them on the regular with my insider newsletter subscribers. Sign up for free below – I’ll hook you up with a copy of Fat Loss on a Budget too. 


The Strength Move That Transforms You Inside and Out – Learn to Deadlift Today

deadlift favorite

Gather round for story time today, friends – the book is Deadlifting: The Fairytale. Or something equally dreamy and dazzling.

Are you ready to learn the most fun strength move – one that will also make you feel mighty? If you’re already doing the deadlift, then follow along anyway, because I have some help for you too. But if you have never tried a deadlift, I’m going to help you get ready to run to the gym and have a blast. So let’s go.

I just like to deadlift. Deadlifting is my favorite.

I turn into Buddy the Elf when it’s deadlift day. Why? Because this movement is like nothing else. There’s something about pulling heavy stuff off the floor that makes us feel powerful. It makes us stand tall and strong and somehow begin to feel an inner reserve of fortitude that we didn’t even realize we possessed.

You might say deadlifting is the heavy metal of strength training. And I want you to try it.

If you’ve been following my newsletter this week, you’ll know that I’ve been outlining the “big three” lifts of powerlifting. Not because I’m trying to get you to drink the Kool-Aid and become a powerlifter. Although it is delicious.

In actuality, these three lifts are cornerstones of an effective strength program, whether you want to build muscle, gain athleticism, or work on your body composition. Today is the BEST day because it’s deadlift day.

Pulling sumo deadlift makes you feel majestic. Like a lioness or something.

Pulling a deadlift can make you feel majestic even while making a dorky face. Like a lioness or  the queen of the gym or something else magnificent.

What Deadlifts Will Do For You
Aside from the rock star feeling you get, you’ll get rock solid fitness benefits. Among them:

-A movement that works nearly every muscle in your body.

-Huge metabolic demand with extra fat burning and conditioning.

-Focus on our back side, which usually needs more help anyway. It’s a very functional lift for life.

-It translates to real world demands. Every summer, clients joke with me about using their deadlift technique to safely pick up heavy things in the garden. Ever want to get better at holding onto things? The deadlift will improve your grip.

-It makes you more powerful and explosive. If you’re after athletic benefits for other sports, deadlifts will help you out.

What a Deadlift Is
If you’ve never deadlifted before, don’t be shy. It’s really not all that complicated to learn. It’s a lift that requires you to pick up something heavy. Sometimes we do them off the floor, as in the variations called conventional or sumo style deadlifts, and sometimes starting at the top of the movement out of a rack with moves like the Romanian deadlift. Every variation is based on the basic human movement of hinging your hips.

When I teach beginners to deadlift, I first make sure that they can hinge their hips properly. A hinge is simple in concept – imagine trying to touch your butt to the wall behind you. We do drills to reinforce a good hip hinge:

butt to wall collageYup, we try to touch our butts to the wall. The better we get, the farther away from the wall we go.

PVC Pipe Drill
You can also see if you’re hinging well or not by holding a PVC pipe against your butt, upper back, and head. You want the pipe to maintain contact with those parts at all times during the hinge.
good hinge
A Good Hinge

bad hinge collage
A Not-So-Good Hinge

See the difference in how the back looks and where the hips go?

Once you’ve mastered a basic hinge, you can go on to more exotic things to practice your hinge with some load. I like starting with things like:

-Banded Good Mornings
-Sumo Kettlebell Deadlift
-Romanian Deadlifts
-Hex Bar Deadlifts
-Hip Bridges

Some people do just fine getting behind a bar and starting from the floor if they are hinging well and are eager to get going. We just keep the weights light enough to work on technique.

The Basics of a Conventional Deadlift from the Floor

My friend Jen Sinkler doing a conventional deadlift. Rawr.

My friend Jen Sinkler doing a conventional deadlift. Rawr.

So you want to do a deadlift from the floor? Either in the sumo position (where your feet are in a wide stance and your hands pull from inside your legs, as I do in my picture) or in a conventional stance, where you stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, you will have a barbell loaded with plates.

If you aren’t ready to use 45 lb plates yet, you’ll need to use either light bumper plates or elevate the bar with something like steps to get the bar to the appropriate height – roughly at the middle of your shin or so.

1. Step up to the bar and line it up with about where your shoelaces are tied.

2. Shift your hips BACK as you reach down to grab the bar on either side of your legs. You can start with a double overhand grip. If you plan to powerlift eventually, you might consider learning a mixed grip (one overhand, one underhand) right from the start.

3. Imagine you have oranges in your armpits. Squeeze some juice for me. (Yeah, really!) That gets your lats tight. Show me the logo on your t-shirt so that I know your chest is high enough.

4. Take a deep breath. Brace your abs like someone is going to punch you. Then push your feet into the floor, drive your hips forward as you pull the bar off the ground.

5. Finish the move by squeezing your tuckus at the top, then set the bar back down.

That’s a deadlift. The most fun move in the gym.

Movin’ On Up
If you’re ready to improve your basic deadlift, I would like to point to powerlifting as a prime resource for making your deadlift more… powerful! As your form improves, so will your ability to lift some seriously heavy weight.

As a powerlifter, I make micro adjustments with things like my foot angle, the width of my stance, and the height of my hip. Sometimes I pull with a sumo stance deadlift – that’s where my feet are outside my hands. Other times I pull with a conventional stance, as Jen Sinkler is doing in the picture below.


Remember the “Unapologetically Powerful” e-course I’ve been so excited about all week? Well, one of the reasons that I keep talking about Jennifer Blake and Jen Sinkler’s production of the video series is because Jennifer’s input got me through a tough spot in my own deadlifting. Her advice helped me learn to respond to what my body is telling me as I lift. When my hip started bugging me a few weeks before my first meet, I drew upon her wisdom and ended up changing my variation based on what she taught me. I hit a huge PR when the meet arrived.

Jennifer really knows her stuff, and if you’re aiming to improve your own deadlift, definitely sign up to watch her free video on the deadlift. You will get a video link you can watch as often as you want, as well as an accompanying guide to download.

Here’s what I like most about Jennifer and Jen’s series:
-They help you improve your form, which will make you feel better as you lift and keep you lifting safely.

-You will feel much less fearful of deadlifting, and instead can have fun being a powerful badass.

-You’ll get hella strong if you take their advice – you are going to still have to work really hard, don’t be mistaken. But their tweaks will make a big difference in your results.

So are you ready for deadlift day? Go get ’em!

Leave a comment below and tell me if you’re like me and have a deep, abiding love of the deadlift. Or leave a comment and tell me about what drill or variation you’d like to try!

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