Whether you are a fitness enthusiast, a weekend warrior, or training for sports such as tennis, soccer, or running, this is a must-add exercise to your training program. No equipment is necessary and it's a game changer in terms of balance, stability, mobility, and strength. It’s the reaching Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift (RDL).
Why the Single-Leg RDL?
- Great posterior chain work. When performing a Single-Leg RDL, you are working the back of your legs and hips – or your posterior chain, most notably, glutes and hamstring. These are powerful hip extensors and play a key role in all walking, running, and jumping activities.
The upper-body posterior chain includes the back extensors, traps, rhomboids, and deltoids which have to work hard during the Single-Leg RDL to keep your body in alignment and prevent rotation through the hips and shoulders. These important postural muscles need to be strong to prevent rounding shoulders and slumping.
- It’s a unilateral (one-sided) movement pattern specific to life and sport. If you take a closer look at our daily activities or how athletes move in a particular sport, many times we are in a split stance position. Walking, running, and jumping all occur on one leg and then the other. If we routinely rely on one side of the body to perform the movement or task, imbalances can develop.
While this may not be a big deal for relatively inactive individuals, those who exercise regularly or athletes may eventually suffer from poor performance or even injury. Being a unilateral exercise, the Single-Leg RDL can be a corrective exercise for those imbalances.
- The perfect exercise trifecta: balance, stability, and mobility.
Balance: Strength-training machines and exercises using two legs at the same time (bilateral) do not develop balance as well as a unilateral exercise. The Single-Leg RDL challenges you more quickly and efficiently by requiring the inner and outer thigh muscles (adductors and abductors) to fire in a synchronized manner in order to maintain balance.
Stability: Performing the Single-Leg RDL forces you to use lateral hip muscles (glute medius) whose primary function is to stabilize the lower body in running, jumping, and squatting. Healthy function of the ankle, knee, and hip is maximized when the hip displays great stability.
Mobility: Hips are designed for mobility and it’s rare to find a person who doesn’t need hip mobility work. The Single-Leg RDL serves as a hip mobility drill that can be used prior to any strength training program or athletic event.
- Can be progressed to a strength exercise. Once mastered with body weight, the Single-Leg RDL can be progressed to a strength exercise. This can be done by holding a Kettlebell and, while hinging the hips backward and extending the same-side leg back, lowering the KB to the ground just outside the grounded foot.
How to Perform
Stand and place a cone about 24” in front of your toes.
With feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, lift one leg about 1” off the floor. Flex the knee on your standing/support leg about 15-20% to activate the glutes. Keep it flexed throughout the exercise.
Extend the lifted leg toward the back wall while simultaneously reaching forward and extending the same side hand. “Hinge” (push) your hips back while reaching. Be careful not to fold forward. Lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor, reach, and tap the cone. If you find the cone too low, use a taller object. Think about getting as long as possible through the back leg and the reaching arm.
Briefly pause at the bottom, then squeeze your glutes, push your hips forward, and return to the starting position.
Complete 8-10 reps. Shoot for 3 sets on each leg.
While the reaching Single-Leg RDL seems simple enough, don’t be fooled. It’s much more challenging than it appears.
Try adding the reaching Single-Leg RDL cone drill to your training program two days per week on an on-going basis if you want to improve your balance, stability, and mobility, gain hip and knee stability, and strengthen your hips and glutes. It has rightly earned its title “king of posterior-chain exercises!"