I haven’t done an ‘exercise of the week’ post in a while, but a reader requested that I cover the single leg deadlift. You should know by now that the deadlift is my all-time favourite exercise for building strength, adding muscle, losing fat and becoming all-round badass.
Aside from the conventional barbell deadlift, I love performing single leg deadlifts to better target my hamstrings. It also works your core muscles as you have to work quite hard to maintain your balance. I generally introduce this exercise to clients after they have already been training with me for a couple of months, as I don’t want to scare them away!
Purpose: Single leg deadlifts hit all of the muscles of the posterior chain when performed correctly. Your calf muscles are responsible for stabilising the foot and ankle, the hamstrings stabilise the knee and receive much of the stretch, the glutes extend the hip and provide the contraction, while the lower back contracts to stay neutral. This deadlift variation improves the stability in your torso, hips, knees and ankles.
A single leg deadlift will improve your strength, balance and athleticism. Although you will have to lift a lighter weight than you would for a conventional deadlift, the benefits of the exercise are numerous. By training your body to balance on one leg while lifting, you will increase your power for other activities such as jumping and sprinting.
Finally, it is always important to incorporate some single leg exercises in your training to improve any muscular imbalances you may have.
Set-up: All your weight should be in the working leg, with your other toe lightly resting behind your working foot. Both of your knees should be slightly bent. Brace your abdominal muscles and find a spot for your eyes to focus on – don’t take your eyes off it!
I prefer to start this exercise with the weights in my hand, rather than picking them up off the floor mid-exercise. You can either perform this exercise holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand, or just one weight in the hand which is opposite to your working leg (so you are essentially reaching across your body). Use an overhand grip to hold the weights.
Start off light as your balance will need some time to adjust before you think about heavy loading. As your strength increases, you can progress to using a heavy straight bar if you wish; however, I still use dumbbells in my own training.
Execution: Bending forward at the waist, allow your back leg to raise off the floor. Keep the weight/s as close to your thigh as possible and lean forward until the weights reach shin-level and you feel a nice stretch in the back of your hamstring.
Contracting your hamstring and glute muscles, carefully return to standing. Repeat, bending forward at the waist. If you can manage it, do not allow your back foot to touch the floor until you have completed all the repetitions.
Think of keeping your upper body and back leg in one straight line the entire time. Keep your pelvis square – do not allow your hip to open up. As with regular deadlifts, remember that your hands merely hold the weight – your upper body should not lift the weight at all.
Here’s a leg workout to fix your muscle imbalances!
Do you like performing single leg deadlifts? What is your favourite deadlift variation?