As we've highlighted before, the single leg deadlift is one of my absolute favorite exercises for [P]Rehab purposes because you get phenomenal posterior chain recruitment. It is also a great exercise because single leg stability is absolutely vital for injury prevention as well as sports performance. In my humble opinion, single leg stability is not emphasized enough in sports programming.
Whether you are a complete newbie to strength and conditioning or a stud who performs the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) regularly, this foolproof step-by-step guide will show you how to scale up the single leg RDL.
Learning to Hip Hinge
Before even thinking about performing a single leg RDL, you must first learn how to hip hinge properly. There are many ways to learn how to hip hinge, but two of the most common involve decreasing the degrees of freedom (left video) or using reactive neuromuscular training (both videos). By assuming the tall-kneeling position, you are essentially eliminating "purposeful movement" from the knees and focusing only on moving the hips (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. 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.
Learning to CONTROL the movement on one leg
The hardest aspect of the single leg RDL is the requisite motor control and hip and ankle stability that is required to pull it off. Especially if the athlete or client has neglected single leg exercises in the training program prior. To groove this new motor pattern, try the two modifications shown in the video. Start with the modification on the right, as there are fewer moving parts to focus on. Next, progress to the variation on the left where the back leg is actually moving. Although not shown in the video, it would be best to use a slider under the back leg to decrease friction.
Added weight means more stability
The landmine RDL is the perfect next progression, as it is the same movement as the single leg RDL, albeit with more stability derived from the barbell being attached to the ground. The landmine RDL 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 RDL, you have two options to add offset contralateral loading. Typically the barbell in front variation (left video) is easier to learn. Once you have mastered that you can progress the exercise and position the barbell perpendicularly (right video).
Controlling the hips
One of the hardest aspects of the single leg RDL is hip control, particularly of the back hip as it goes into extension during the descent phase of the exercise. A commonly seen fault is outward pelvic rotation, which effectively throws off the client's 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 tell the client to “keep the back foot pointed down towards their stance leg.” This encourages the client to keep the hips neutral. Letting the foot point outwards to the side is indicative of a loss of pelvis control. Wherever your foot points, your pelvis will follow, and vice versa!
A second manual cue can be accomplished using 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.
Putting it all together
Once you've mastered all the microregressions and built the single leg RDL 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!