How to Do a Single-Leg Deadlift

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

one leg deadlift
one leg deadlift. Caiaimage/Trevor Adeline

Targets: Gluteus maximus

Equipment Needed: Kettlebell or dumbbell

Level: Intermediate

The single-leg deadlift is a simple yet effective exercise for simultaneously strengthening and toning the butt muscles and improving balance. You can perform this with a kettlebell or dumbbell, although beginners can do it without any weights. You can make it a part of your lower body stength and toning routine. It is good to do this exercise after warmup near the beginning of a training session when you are fresh.

Benefits

The gluteals, or butt muscles, consist of three muscles working together: the gluteus maximal, gluteus medial, and the gluteus minimus muscles. The glutes form the central piece of the all-important “posterior chain,” which also includes the hamstrings in the back of the legs, lower back muscles and the other muscles of the rear side of the body. These posterior chain muscles working in harmony help to maintain a healthy, upright posture and are involved in balancing the body both statically (in one position) and dynamically (multiple planes of motion). Additionally, having a strong rear end is important for maintaining a healthy, pain-free lower back.

Single leg exercises increase glute activation because of the increased balance demand from standing on one leg instead of two.

With the improved balance developed by regular practice of the single-leg deadlift, you will not only tone and strengthen your glutes, but also increase general athleticism and ease of movement in daily activities.

Step-by-Step Instructions

You will need an area where you will be able to stretch out fully. Place a kettlebell on the floor in front of you.

  1. Stand straight with both feet on ground and legs straight, hands hanging down in front of you.
  2. Press into the supporting leg as you slide the non-supporting leg back, allowing your upper body to move forward with your hip as the hinge. If at any point during the exercise you start to lose balance, simply touch the free-floating leg lightly to the floor to regain balance.
  3. Keep the support (balancing) leg straight or allow a slight, gentle bend to the knee. Keep folding forward until your fingers reach the kettlebell handle, then grab the handle by wrapping your fingers around it.
  4. Complete the movement by pulling with the muscles of the backside of your body—the hamstrings and butt muscles.
  5. Complete the movement with your body upright and the support leg fully extended. Make sure to finish the full range of motion by pushing your hips forward at the top of the movement, so that your butt muscles are firm.
  6. Take a slight pause to assure you have full control of your balance, then lower the kettlebell back to the floor under control.

    Start with five repetitions per leg with a light to moderate load, then gradually increase first the number of sets.

    Common Mistakes

    Avoid these errors to get the most from this exercise and to avoid strain or injury.

    Rounding or Arching Spine

    Your body should be in a straight line, without either arching your spine or rounding it. Rounding it can lead to back pain. Arching your back can reduce the load on the glutes, which is counter to the intent of the exercise.

    Bending Back Leg

    Your back leg should be kept straight, in line with your spine. Bending it can lead to rounding the spine.

    Modifications and Variations

    You can perform this exercise in different ways to make it more accessible as you build strength and to increase its intensity as you progress.

    Need a Modification?

    It is highly recommended that you practice the single-leg deadlift without any weights to perfect your form before adding weights. Lower your torso only as far as gives a mild stretch to the hamstrings. Bend your supporting knee more if you don't have enough flexibility to bend far enough.

    Once you are ready for weights, start with a light weight. A good rule of thumb is to perform five sets of five repetitions each per leg in this exercise, then progress to a slightly heavier kettlebell and repeat the process.

    Up for a Challenge?

    An alternative way to practice the single-leg deadlift is to use two kettlebells instead of one. This will increase the total load you are lifting, so make sure you are first confident and competent with a single kettlebell before progressing to the double kettlebell one leg deadlift.

    You can use one dumbbell or two dumbbells in this exercise, or a barbell held with both hands. When using dumbbells, you start holding them in your hands rather than picking them up off the floor.

    Another way to increase the challenge without increasing the load is to perform the one leg deadlift with your eyes closed. By closing your eyes, you remove the visual input, making the muscles have to work harder to keep you balanced.

    Safety and Precautions

    Talk to your doctor or physical therapist to find out whether this exercise is appropriate if you have an ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, or back injury. Be sure to work within your range of motion and abilities. Stop if you feel any sharp pain. If you are pregnant, it is often advised not to do exercises requiring balancing. Be sure to practice this exercise where you can reach out to a chair or wall for support as needed if you feel unbalanced.

    Try It Out

    Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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