15 Sep Master the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
The single leg Romanian deadlift is a whole body, complete, functional exercise that can be used for rehabilitation, as well as strength and conditioning purposes alike. You get phenomenal posterior chain recruitment while working on single leg stability, which is absolutely vital for injury prevention as well as sports performance. Furthermore, because the single leg Romanian deadlift is a variation of a primary movement pattern, the hip hinge, we can scale it up and down in so many different ways to find a suitable exercise variation for anyone! Whether you are a complete newbie to strength and conditioning or a stud who performs the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) and all its variations regularly, this article will cover the amazing benefits of the single leg Romanian deadlifts as well as a foolproof step-by-step guide to master the single leg Romanian deadlift.
Romanian Deadlift vs Traditional Deadlift
While similar, there are some subtle differences between the Romanian deadlift and the traditional deadlift that we must cover first before discussing the single leg Romanian deadlift. The deadlift is classified as a hip hinge movement – meaning it primarily involves movement around the hip joint from a flexed position to an extended position. Breaking it down, even more, we can classify the deadlift as a vertical hip hinge movement vs a horizontal hip hinge movement like a hip thrust. The primary differences between the Romanian deadlift and the traditional deadlift are as follows:
- The Romanian deadlift starts in the standing position and begins with the eccentric (lowering) motion; whereas the traditional deadlift starts from the floor and begins with the concentric (rising) motion
- While both hip hinge movements, the Romanian deadlift involves more of an emphasis on a hinging around the hips while maintaining a slight flex in the knee the entire time; whereas the traditional deadlift hinges around both the hips and the knees
- The Romanian deadlift is usually cued with pulling from the hips through the heel and feeling a stretch in the hamstrings; whereas the traditional deadlift is usually cued as a push off from the ground through a full foot with the knees
- While hitting the same muscles groups, the Romanian deadlift will elicit greater levels of glute and hamstring activation; whereas the traditional deadlift elicits greater levels of quadriceps activation
Both variations, including the Romanian and traditional deadlift, should be learned and trained for optimal performance!
Bulletproof Your Hamstrings For Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts
Hamstring injuries are one of the most common soft tissue injuries in sports. They are especially challenging and frustrating due to the high recurrence rate. This is largely because people don’t appropriately rehab their injury. It’s time to change the narrative and be proactive with taking care of your hamstrings! This program will expose your hamstrings in a safe and effective manner to prepare you for high-level activities like the single leg Romanian deadlift!
Romanian deadlift barbell
Traditional Deadlift – Barbell
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift Benefit #1: Whole Body Functional Movement
The Romanian deadlift should be a staple of any strength and conditioning program, and for good reason. If done correctly, the entire posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, calves, back extensors, etc) can be hit with one functional movement. Furthermore, there is nothing more satisfying than picking up heavy $h!t off the ground, especially in the rehab setting when teaching someone that our backs are, in fact, very resilient. The single leg Romanian deadlift is easily transferrable to new situations and environments that closely simulate everyday tasks, like picking objects off the floor. Every individual can and should be able to bend over and pick up an object off the floor without having to think twice about it!
The single leg Romanian deadlift is one of the best ways to functionally target the hamstrings. While many might associate hamstring exercises with the leg curl machine (which definitely does target the hamstrings), the hamstrings also originate at the hip, meaning hip extension movements also target the hamstrings. Why is this significant? Because throughout normal everyday movements, it is actually hip extension, and not knee flexion, that plays a dominant role in movement and developing power in a host of activities, like walking, running, and biking!
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift Benefit #2: Challenges Your Body’s 3 Primary Balance Systems
Unlike a normal Romanian deadlift, the single leg Romanian deadlift adds a component of balance to the exercise. Simply by standing on one leg, you are challenging your static balance, which is comprised of 3 separate sensory systems, including vision, somatosensory (proprioception, touch, pressure, vibration, muscle stretch), and vestibular (equilibrium). By incorporating the movement of a single leg Romanian deadlift, you are now additionally challenging your dynamic balance. Exercises that challenge your dynamic balance are more functional and, for the most part, recommended over static balance exercises once someone is able to easily stand on one leg. While you can work on your balance in MANY ways, one of the most time-saving ways is to simply perform single leg exercises, like the single leg Romanain deadlift! The addition of external load like a kettlebell makes for a whole new challenge, as in the two variations below. Balance is by far the hardest part of mastering the single leg Romanain deadlift – we’ll cover how to work on this in a bit!
Isometric single leg RDL – KB handoff
Sample exercise from our Hamstring [P]Rehab Program!
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift – Ball toss
- HOW: Grab a weighted slam ball. Stand on one leg and perform a single leg RDL, hinging at the hips. Once you reach the bottom of the single leg RDL, throw the ball against the ground and catch it as it comes back up.
- FEEL: You should feel all the muscles in your hamstrings and glutes working, in addition to your foot, working to stabilize yourself.
- COMPENSATION: Hinge at the hips. Control the weight of the ball, don’t let it control you!
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift Benefit #3: Strengthens the Foot Intrinsics and Calf Muscles
Dynamic balance exercises, like the single leg Romanian deadlift, not only challenge your vision, somatosensory, and vestibular systems but also challenge your foot strength. While your sensory systems are responsible for detecting changes in balance, it’s actually your muscles that are responsible for carrying out and controlling the proper corrections! In particular, the muscles in your calf and foot are largely responsible for making the small, postural foot changes that allow you to maintain your balance. These muscles include the posterior tibialis, peroneus longus, triceps surae muscle group, and the small foot intrinsics. These muscles are commonly weak in individuals with foot and ankle pain, like plantar fasciitis.
The single leg Romanian deadlift is a great exercise to strengthen these muscles as they are heavily relied upon for maintaining balance during this particular movement. If done correctly, you will feel a good burn in your foot and ankle, meaning you’re using the right muscles!
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift Tip 1: Learn to Hip Hinge
Before even thinking about performing a single leg Romanian deadlift, you must first learn how to hip hinge properly. There are many ways to learn how to hip hinge, but some of the most common involve using a dowel, decreasing the degrees of freedom, or using reactive neuromuscular training.
First, let’s discuss the use of a dowel on your back when learning to hip hinge. The point of the dowel is to give you feedback and learn to move at your hips, rather than your back. To do so, place a dowel behind your back with one end making contact with your head and on your tailbone with the other end, the middle of the dowel should also be in contact with your mid-back. Make sure you keep contact with these three points for the entirety of the movement. Then bring your chest forward by hinging primarily at the hip. This is achieved by bringing your torso forward and pushing your butt back. Lower yourself as far as you feel comfortable while maintaining all three points of contact, then pull yourself upright by using the muscles in the back of the leg. Maintain the 3 points of contact during this exercise, (tail bone, mid-back, and back of the head).
Hip Hinge Dowel
With our Hamstring [P]Rehab Program we provide you with A TON of various movements to master the hip hinge so that you can better control the hips!
Second, by learning to hip hinge on our knees, you are essentially eliminating “purposeful movement” from the knees and focusing only on moving the hips. This is called eliminate a degree of freedom in a movement. Yes the knees are still moving but as a consequence of the hips moving. Having a superband around the hips provides a resistance cue to facilitate hip extension, as well as providing a directional cue to sink the hips back and posterior. This is called reactive neuromuscular training or RNT. Some individuals do better with the band coming from the front – play around with it as everyone responds differently to different cues. Another common technique many people like is to stand a few inches from a wall, and cue the client to push their hips back and touch the wall. Getting down the hip hinge movement is step number one in the process to learn the single leg Romanian deadlift.
Tall Kneel Hip Hinge – Band
Begin by kneeling on both knees and anchoring a band behind you at waist level. Loop the band around your waist. Push your toes into the ground with your heels facing up. Sit back on your heels by hinging forward at your hips while keeping your back straight. From here, push into the ground and drive your hips forward against the resistance of the band. Ensure that you keep your back straight during this exercise, and avoid slouching!
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift Tip 2: Control the Hips
The hardest aspect of the single leg Romanian deadlift is hip control, particularly of the back hip as it goes into extension during the descent phase of the exercise. This is especially true if the athlete or client has neglected single leg exercises in their training program prior. A commonly seen fault is outward pelvic rotation, which effectively throws off your center of balance and loses the necessary hamstring tension needed to properly pull off the exercise.
To fix this, a cue I like to use first is to “keep the back foot pointed down towards their stance leg.” This encourages you to keep the hips neutral. Letting the foot point outwards to the side is indicative of a loss of pelvic control. Wherever your foot points, your pelvis will follow, and vice versa!
A second manual cue can be accomplished using a foam roller. The foam roller essentially connects the client’s hand and foot. And by bringing the arm directly back in a straight line, it forces the foot and leg to follow a similar path, directly back and keeps the foot pointed down.
Single Leg RDL – Foam Roller
While standing, place the end of a long foam roller on top of your foot. With the hand on the same side press down on the other end of the foam roller. While balancing on the leg without the roller and keeping your back straight, hinge forward at the hips and maintain holding the roller on your foot making that foot come up behind you. Return to the starting position after you have hinged as far as you can go. Try to push your foot back in a straight line.
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift Tip 3: Balance Support
Losing your balance is probably the biggest problem that most people have when learning the single leg Romanian deadlift, especially as we add external weights like kettlebells or dumbbells. In the video below, we cover some of our favorite drills to improve your balance with the single leg Romanian deadlift. Just having another point of contact with your back foot is huge when it comes to maintaining your balance! Don’t think of having your foot down as a failure, instead, view it as a bridge to truely mastering the single leg Romanian deadlift!
Master The Single Leg RDL
We’re going to show you how to fix and master your single leg RDL!
The 2 most common faults we see with the single leg RDL are:
- Losing your balance during the exercise
- Not feeling your glutes activate during the exercise
Kickstand Romanian Deadlift
Begin in a staggered stance position with a majority of your weight on the front leg. Next, focus on hinging primarily at the hips. This is achieved by bringing your torso forward and pushing your butt back. Lower yourself as far as you feel comfortable, then pull yourself upright by using the muscles in the back of the leg. Squeeze your butt once you are fully erect. The leg in the back is there to give you some stability, make sure the front leg is doing most of the work here.
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift against wall
Begin this exercise by the balancing on one leg next to a wall. Place your back foot on the wall behind you to give you some support to make balancing easier. Next, focus on hinging primarily at the hips. This is achieved by bringing your torso forward and pushing your butt back. Lower yourself as far as comfortable, then pull yourself upright by using the muscles in the back of the leg. Squeeze your butt once you are upright to ensure that you are standing fully erect. This exercise requires a lot of stability, make sure you are staying engaged with the foot muscles.
Tip 4: Build Up Tension
Building up the tension, in BOTH your hamstrings and your mid-back, can help a ton with not just stability but also feeling the right muscles working! As discussed above, imagine you have an elephant on your back while you’re performing the exercise. If it’s hard to imagine, you can try something as simple as an Romanian deadlift isometric with a heavy weight. Just holding weight, many times, is enough of a cue to really fire up your posterior chain!
RDL Isometrics – Kettlebell
Place a kettlebell on the ground in between your legs. Hinge forward at the hips, slightly bend your knees, and keep your back flat. Reach down with both hands and grab a hold of the kettlebell. While keeping your back parallel with the ground and your elbows straight, slightly pull up on the kettlebell using your glutes and hamstring muscles. Once it is barely off of the ground, hold that position for 5-10 seconds, and relax.
SINGLE LEG Romanian Deadlift – LAT TENSION
Another great exercise to help you build up tension would be the single leg Romanian deadlift with lat tension. Anchor bands above your head. With a band in each hand and your arms straight, pull down where your arms are by your side and palms facing back creating tension on the sides of your back. Keeping tension on the bands at all time, shift your weight to one leg, hinge forward at the hips as you kick the other leg back. Remember, the body is one connected unit, so building up tension in your mid back through the bands will also help you active your glutes and hamstrings below!
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift Tip 5: Use a Landmine
The landmine Romanian deadlift is the perfect progression once you have mastered the bodyweight single led Romanian deadlift. It’s the same movement albeit with more stability derived from the barbell being attached to the ground. The landmine Romanian deadlift must follow a fixed arc, which helps the client learn where to position their hand and shoulder as they descend into the movement. Start off with no weight and just the barbell. With the landmine Romanian deadlift, you have two options to add offset contralateral loading. I tend to prefer to use the contralateral loading as I find it easier to balance, plus it requires you to use your glutes more!
Single Leg RDL – Landmine, Offset
Place a barbell in a landmine and stand at the end of the barbell. Shift your weight to the outside leg, slightly bend the knee, hinge at the hips and reach down and grab the barbell end with the arm that the landmine is on. Pull the bar up returning to the starting position and repeat.
Putting it All Together
Once you’ve mastered all the microregressions and built the single leg Romanian deadlift movement from the ground up as detailed in this guide, then you’re ready to put it all together! First, start off unloaded – without any weight.
Once you’ve mastered this and are ready to load the movement, I recommend starting off with a barbell. Having two hands control the load is easier to stabilize, and once you master that can you progress to unilateral loading with a dumbbell or kettlebell. Remember to place the unilateral weight in the opposite arm from the stance leg!
I hope you enjoyed this step-by-step tutorial on drills you can incorporate to learn the single leg Romanian deadlift! If you have any questions, feel free to leave us a comment!
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- Lastayo, Paul C., John M. Woolf, Michael D. Lewek, Lynn Snyder-Mackler, Trude Reich, and Stan L. Lindstedt. “Eccentric Muscle Contractions: Their Contribution to Injury, Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Sport.” J Orthop Sports Phys Ther Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 33.10 (2003): 557-71.