Last week I wrote about Split Squats and how awesome they are, today I want to talk about another one of my favorite single leg exercises, the Single Leg Straight Leg Deadlift (SL StrLDL) or Single Leg Romanian Deadlift (SL RDL).
This is another staple in my programs because of its diversity. It can be used as a strength, mobility, and balance exercise, and can be used in various stages of a program. It is a difficult movement to master, but there are several regressions to teach the correct movement pattern. The SL StrLDL targets the glutes and hamstrings, but with ideal emphasis on the glutes. To do that we will actually bend the knee slightly, so the name can be contradicting.
The hip hinge can be difficult to teach because many have a hard time dissociating the hip and the lumbar bar spine. The single leg hip hinge, which is essentially the SL StrSLDL, is even harder to teach. There are several ways to teach and cue the hip hinge, it can be done standing or kneeling. But, I like to try keep it as functional as possible and keep the athlete or client standing. The movement starts in a standing position and the hips are driven backwards into hip flexion with a slight knee bend, the torso should remain stiff with a slight forward lean and neutral spine. To cue this I often tell the client to pretend he or she is about be hit in the pelvic region and they have to avoid being hit without moving their feet. From this position, the hips are thrusted forward into hip extension. One successful cue I have here, is have the athlete or client imagine there is string attached to their belly button and someone is pulling it forward.
Tim Anderson from Original Strength does a great job teaching body weight swings (which is a fast explosive hip hinge) in this video. And I have a great success teaching the hip hinge with this regression.
Now the single leg hip hinge is just a hip hinge on one leg. But, when we move to one leg in this exercise we incorporate ankle stabilization, hip stabilization and core stabilization, making this exercise much harder. An athlete or client with poor ankle or foot stability will initially have a hard time balancing with the SL StrLDL. Someone with weak hip rotators and stabilizers will have a hard time keeping the knee from caving in and preventing excessive lumbar rotation. Weak core musculature, in the transverse abdominous and obliques, will make it difficult to stabilize the lumbar spine, which could also cause increased lumbar rotation during this lift.
To teach the single leg hip hinge, after they have mastered the double leg hip hinge, I like to move to a bench assisted body weight SL hip hinge. In this regression, I have the client start in the hip flexed, slightly bent knee position, with their finger tips on the bench. I will bend the knee in the none working leg to activate the glute and instruct the person to keep a straight line from their ear to their knee. From here, I will instruct the client or athlete to perform a standing hip thrust, using the string in belly button cue. I find that many people struggle with the initial hip flexion movement, I like to start them in that position, with the assistance of the bench it also takes away some of the procprioception demands of a free standing SL StrLDL. Limiting the ROM of the movement aids in maintaining a neutral spine, with hopes that it will transfer with each progression.
Once the subject can perform this movement, I will progress to a bench assisted bilateral dumbbell load. This helps reinforce a movement pattern while eliciting a strength training effect.
From here, I will begin going through the full ROM of the lift, without weight, because of course we must master a movement pattern before adding load. I will also incorporate a walking SL StrLDL in a dynamic warmup, for mobility and to reinforce the movement pattern. The body weight component can be done with arms reaching out (anterior reach) or with arms down, remembering to always set the shoulder blades.
Once the movement is ready to be loaded, I will place a weight in the contra lateral side of the working leg, this reinforces our bodies functional diagonal pattern.
We are now ready to add more load and make this a true strength exercise, I will do this by placing weights in both hands or using a straight bar. The straight bar is the final progression and will allow you to load and lift more weight. You can go as heavy as you want with this as long as your form is correct.
If you notice in the last two videos, I performed two reps with a straight non-working leg and two with a bent non-working leg. I bend the leg to decrease the lever arm and to elicit glute activation on both legs. Right now, I believe either technique is fine, I am currently programming both techniques for myself, athletes, and clients.
A couple things to remember when performing the SL StrLDL:
- Bend the knee of the working leg 10-20 degrees, but be careful not to go into a single leg squat pattern. We bend the knee to make it a glute dominant hip hinge, not a squat.
- Do not allow the knee of the working leg to cave medially. Think about pushing your knee laterally (away from midline of the body) to activate your hip abductors and rotators.
- Set the shoulder blades down and back. Do not allow the arms to assist in the movement.
- Keep a rigid and neutral spine throughout the lift. Keep a straight line from the head to the knee of the back leg.
- Do not allow the back leg to cross the midline of the body. If this occurs you will see the lumbar spine rotate towards the working leg. To combat this cross over, I will stand behind the subject, just at their midline, and instruct them not to touch me with their back leg.
- Keep hips, pelvis, and shoulders square throughout the lift. This is where core stabilization plays a huge role in the SL StrLDL.
Anyone looking to improve their glute strength, balance, and core stability will benefit tremendously from working on the variations of this lift. The level of regression or progression will depend on the subjects goals and fitness levels.
Comments, question, and suggestions are welcomed below…