The Single Leg Deadlift

Bodyweight training is my bread and butter, but deadlifts are still one of my favorite exercises. The single leg deadlift is a nice alternative to traditional barbell deads and can be done with nothing but your own body.

Much like a pistol squat is exponentially harder than a regular air squat, single leg deadlifts are more challenging than you might think. Doing a deadlift on one leg takes strength, balance and flexibility.

While I consider the one legged deadlift a full body exercise, the main muscles involved are the hamstrings, glutes and lower back.

The movement of a single leg deadlift is not unlike that of a drinking bird. As you lean your upper body forward, reach your opposite leg out behind you. This will not only help you balance, it will also further engage your lower back as well as the leg that’s in the air. I like to touch my hand to my opposite foot at the bottom to keep from externally rotating at the hip.

Watch out that you don’t bend your spine on the way down, but rather take the stretch in your hamstrings. Check out my deadlift tutorial if you’re not sure what the difference is.

It should be noted that single leg deadlifts can be done with weights once you get the hang of the movement pattern. However, using just your bodyweight can be challenging if you do enough reps and pay careful attention to your form.

Watch the video below for more:

22 thoughts on “The Single Leg Deadlift

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  • By Daledykes -

    This movement is actually more challenging for me than the pistol as I get pain in the region of the biceps femoris attachment. An ortho says it’s most likely tendonitis. A PT says it may be sciatic nerve friction. In any case, I am beginning to make some progress by reaching forward with my arms as I bend.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.  Glad to hear you are making progress!  Keep up the good work.

  • By Daledykes -

    Al –

    Thanks for your encouragement and the good example you set. On the off-chance that I stall a bit, given that my hamstrings are EXCEEDINGLY stubborn – would you advise something like increasing ROM over time by touching a stack books, for example, and gradually working to lower elevations ? This is one exercise I’d like to eventually nail.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Good plan, Dale!  Put those books on your shelf to use!

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  • By Matt Swider -

    I’m not sure but it looks like your standing leg is slightly bent during the movement.  Is this correct?  

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Good observation, Matt.  My standing leg is slightly bent, though people with very flexible hamstrings will be able to do this with their knee locked.  I’m glad you brought this up – I probably should have mentioned it in the article!

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  • By Anonymous -

    Stumbled on your site…great stuff!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks!

  • By Bill -

    i love that you called it like a “drinking bird”…thats how i always refer to it with my patients

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks!  That’s just what it looks like, right?

      • By Bill -

        completely!

  • By Michelvandenhoek -

    Putting the other leg backward creates a counterweight. The only thing you train with this is balance. You have to use a heavy barbell or dumbbell to make it a challange.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Yes the back leg acts as a counter weight, but if you go slowly you can get a lot from this exercise without adding weight.  Reread the last part of the article. 

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  • By Chiropractor -

    Doing these daredevil stunts requires you to have a fit body. Exercise is important to keep a healthy and fit body and you should also maintain a balanced diet to help.

  • By Sean -

    Haha sweet site man! I’m a college HPE student, love body weight work outs especially in the beginning phases of lifting for all my peers (guinea pig’s) that I train.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks! Always best to learn to move your body before adding weights!

  • By Gabe -

    Nice, i use these quite a bit. I take the leg that swings back and add a leg lift at the ‘top’ of the deadlift. Nails the opposite glute nicely. Sometimes i do these stiff-legged, others with a deeper bend in the knee. Loading with weight has plenty of options too, single dumbell (contra or ipsi- lateral load) bar, sandbag (zercher is rough if held ‘high’), could also use a jumpstretch band by looping it around the neck and standing on it. Good stuff, Al. I like bodyweight alternatives. Aside from the balnce/mastery part of it, it gives clients no excuse NOT t train if they are on vacation, etc. Keep posting good stuff!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Gabe!

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