“Are you doing ballet at the gym?”
“No, I’m just building my balance and stability with Single-Leg Deadlifts.”
“Oh. It looks a heck of a lot like ballet.”
The Single-Leg Deadlift is one of the most challenging and downright awkward looking weightlifting exercises. It’s a perfect exercise for building whole body fitness, but it looks like one of the most exotic exercises in the gym. Balancing on one leg, no matter how much you might be committed to your fitness journey, almost always feels odd. It’s best to just get over the awkwardness though, because this exercise works.
Though this weightlifting exercise may look strange, it actually imitates many more organic movements like running and swimming. The Single-Leg Deadlift teaches you to develop force through a single leg while you learn to effectively carry the weight through the leg as well. All of this is going to increase your stability when external factors press in.
The Single-Leg Deadlift targets the glutes, so much so that it’s known anecdotally as the “non-surgical butt lift”. It’s a remarkable exercise because it not only improves muscle tone, it is widely reported to smooth out the glutes, giving these muscles a more pleasing and even appearance. Though it is closely related to the traditional, two legged deadlift that keeps both feet on the ground, raising one leg in this variation proves to add a whole lot of power to the exercise.
By separating each side, the Single-Legged Deadlift teases out imbalances that you probably didn’t know were there, no matter how much fitness you’ve focused on. You get to fully appreciate how beautiful balance is, even if these exercises are a hugely challenging in the beginning. With time, each side of the body learns to work on its own without either over compensating or favoring one side over the other.
The Mechanics of the Single-Leg Deadlift
Dumbbells, kettlebells, or even bags are all appropriate depending on individual taste to use for weight when doing this exercise. However, experts recommend that fitness enthusiasts master the form of the exercise before adding weights in. As with any weight training exercise, proper form is key to preventing injury and getting the best results.
To perform a Single-Leg Deadlift, first root the foundational foot on the ground by spreading out all five toes and planting the heel firmly in the ground. Obviously all of the weight is going to go here, so it’s got to be solid. Slowly lift the other leg, hinging it back until it’s parallel with the floor. The back must remain flat during this entire process! Keep the knee of the moving leg as straight as possible. Don’t let the chest drop below the hips, but do bend the weight bearing knee for balance.
Keep your head up and looking forward throughout the process. This will help to prevent the back from rounding. If you’re going to use weights, now is the time to reach down and pick them up. Hinge the hip forward to reach the weight, then pull the shoulder blades back once you have the weight in your hand. This movement is repeated backwards, putting the weight down between each rep.
Keep in mind that form is critical to this exercise. Again if you’re starting off, just use the movement without adding weight until the form is perfect.
One final tip – the Single-Leg Deadlift is a great way to start a workout! It’s an exercise that is more common to lead to injury if fatigue has already set in. It is actually a great exercise to start with, as it engages a wide variety of muscles across the body and will get them nice and warm.
Don’t be afraid to go for one leg! Balance and whole body fitness are on the other side of this intense and challenging exercise.