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What is a Single Leg Romanian Deadlift Exercise and What Variation is Best to Strengthen the Hip?

The single leg Romanian deadlift (single leg RDL) is one of my absolute favorite exercises. What is a single leg RDL? Below is an example of me performing the single leg RDL. It is a deadlift variation. Deadlifts are simply a category of exercises or movement patterns that all look similar. The main component of all deadlift variations is that they use a hip hinge movement pattern. This means instead of bending at the knees like a squat, the hip does most of the movement. This allows us to strengthen the posterior chain (aka back, butt, backs of the thigh).


a woman performing an exercise called a single leg romanian deadlift with kettlebells in a gym
a woman performing an exercise called a single leg romanian deadlift with kettlebells in a gym

This is oftentimes a more challenging movement to learn. Some of the key components of a single leg RDL is to:

1.       Balance on one foot and then send the hips back

2.      Maintain a neutral spine

3.      Leave the knee only slightly bent

4.      Keep the weights close to the body so they move straight down to the ground

5.      Stop when you start to feel some stretch in the back of the thigh and return to upright position



Why is a single leg RDL important?

1.       It works on single leg balance and stability. This means that everything from the small muscles of the foot up to the trunk are worked effectively with this exercise.

2.      It reduces risk of lower back injuries and builds a more resilient back. This is important for everyone as it preserves and builds strength, can help prevent back pain, and helps teach the body how to lift heavier things in everyday life. The more prepared your back is, the less likely it will cause you a problem when you throw something at in during your daily activities.

3.       It reduces risk of hamstring injuries and builds resiliency in the thigh. This is especially important for anyone running or playing sports (recreationally or more competitively) who have a higher risk for a hamstring injury.

4.       It is great for athletes and runners as it trains muscles on a single leg which is the position we are in when running. You should be strong enough to maintain a stable pelvis when on a single leg. Your lack of ability to keep a neutral pelvis combined with fatigue from running may lead to the development of an injury over time.


As you can tell, the single leg RDL gets A LOT done within one movement. This is great as strength training shouldn’t have to take us 2 hours a day. When programmed effectively, 20 minutes to 60 minutes can be plenty of time depending on your goals.


What is the best way to load the single leg RDL?


If you have the basic movement pattern down, then it is time to add some weight to the movement for progressive overload to build strength. Above you can see that I have a kettlebell in each hand. You can use a weight in both hands, in only one hand, hold onto a barbell, use a landmine set-up, and more.

A recent study looked into which hand is better to hold the weight in when doing a single leg RDL (the same side or opposite side of stance leg).

Interestingly, all of the muscles of the hip and trunk (superior gluteus maximus, inferior gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, biceps femoris, erector spinae, external oblique, and adductor longus) were most active during contralateral (opposite sided) loading with the weight.

Takeaway: If you are standing on your right leg, hold the weight in the left hand during your single leg RDLs to get the most hip and trunk strengthening.


A performance physical therapist coaching a woman with a trap bar deadlift exercise


I hope this was helpful! If you have any questions about the single leg Romanian deadlift or have any pain/mobility restrictions keeping you from going to the gym, then let me know. That is what I specialize in, and I would be glad to see how I could help you.


Let’s talk soon,

Dr. Sieara






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