When you are performing the single leg deadlift, and really, any exercise where you are in a standing or half kneeling position, strong and stable feet matter. If your feet are unstable, you do not stand a chance of performing this exercise correctly as you will not be able to maintain your balance. Enter the tripod foot. With the tripod foot, something I talk about a lot, your weight will be on the mid/back of your foot, and you will keep all of your toes in contact with the floor, particularly your big and baby toes. This tripod-like base will give you the stable surface you need to excel at the single leg deadlift, and many other exercises. I like to imagine that I am suctioning or screwing my foot to the ground. Right when I pick up the weight, I will set my foot in this tripod position. Before the start of each rep, I will make certain that my foot is in this position, and will maintain this tripod base for the duration of the exercise.
Here are a few of my favourite exercises for strengthening the feet and lower legs:
In order to perform the single leg deadlift successfully and to strengthen and build your backside, you need to know how to perform a hip hinging movement. When many people deadlift, they perform the ''hinging'' movement by rounding or overextending their spine, squatting, or collapsing their torso, and essentially do everything but hinge their hips. When you perform the single leg deadlift, and any hip hinging movement, you want to initiate the movement with your hips and want to push them backwards. You can imagine that there is a rope around your hips and is pulling them backwards, or that you are trying to press your glutes into a giant wall that is behind you. When you hinge your hips properly, you should feel tension in your hamstrings and glutes, and you want to lower down to your full range while maintaining proper form. Usually, you will feel a stretch in your hamstrings, and when you do, press your body away from the floor, squeeze your hamstring and glutes, and return to the starting position. However, in some instances, you will hit your full range before you feel tension in your hamstrings, and this is fine. Lower does not always mean better. Find a range where you are able to maintain optimal form.
Here are a few of my favourite exercises that will help you master the hip hinging movement:
Once you have picked up the weight, are standing on 1 foot, and are about to execute the hip hinge, squeeze your glutes, and keep them engaged for the duration of the exercise. This will stabilize your hips, and will help prevent them from rotating. With this, and all deadlift variations, you want your hips and torso to be square to the ground and facing ahead for the duration of the exercise. Many people corkscrew when they go to hinge their hips, and not engaging the glutes is one of a few reasons why this happens.
Here are a few of my favourite exercises for strengthening the glutes:
When most people perform the single leg deadlift, they totally disregard their non-working leg and keep it totally relaxed, or at least bend and extend their knee (rather than keep it in a fixed position). In order to execute the hip hinge to perfection, the striding/non-working leg needs to be as rigid and stable as possible. This will help keep your pelvis and torso square to the floor, and will help you maintain your balance so you can focus on executing the hip hinge, rather than fighting to keep your pelvis and spine from rotating. Before each rep, make sure that you dorsiflex your foot and flex your quad and hamstring of the non-working leg, and keep this position for the duration of the exercise. This will make executing the single leg deadlift significantly easier.
In order to reap the benefits of the single leg deadlift, and to keep your lower back happy, maintaining optimal body positioning is important. When many people perform the single leg deadlift, rather than striding directly backwards with their non-working leg, they reach diagonally, and in some instances, even laterally. This flaw in form makes keeping the hips square to the ground, and performing this exercise properly, extremely unlikely. When you are hinging your hips and are striding back with your non-working leg, engage your quad and hamstring, lock your knee, dorsiflex your foot (as discussed in point 3) and aim for your non-working leg to graze against the inner thigh of your planted/working leg. This will help keep your torso and hips square to the ground, and will help you balance, thus improving your ability to perform the single leg deadlift properly.
When you are performing any deadlift variation, the shorter the distance the bar or weight has to travel, the easier it will be to perform the exercise. Ideally, the bar/weight should travel in a short and straight line, versus a longer and inefficient arc. This arc occurs when the bar or weight travels ahead of your body. Your priority should be to keep the bar or dumbbell(s)/kettlebell(s) close to your body, and the distance that the weight has to travel, as short as possible. A longer arc will often occur when the hips aren't hinged properly. If you are using a barbell, the bar should travel along the front of your legs for the duration of the exercise. Or if you are using one or two dumbbells, the weights should travel close to the sides of your legs. This is a good sign that you are hinging your hips properly, versus lowering from the torso or rounding the spine, something that many people are guilty of doing.
Breathing isn't just for your survival. Proper breathing is a tool that will enhance your performance, and will help safeguard your body against injury. Unfortunately, most people do not breathe correctly, and this will compromise their ability to perform the single leg deadlift, and most other exercises. Before you perform each hip hinge, take a deep breath in to your belly. I will often use the term 360 degrees of air around the spine as you want to imagine that you are filling this entire area with air/pressure. Proper breathing will provide your spine with much needed stability. You can either hold your breath for the duration of the rep and reset (exhale and re-inhale) in the top position, or you can exhale as you are returning to the top position, and inhale/reset when you are in the top position. Depending on your experience, and how many reps you are performing, sometimes you can get away with holding your breath for several reps, but when you are starting out, and if you are lifting a greater load, ''reset'' before each rep.
This essentially goes hand-in-hand with breathing, as your breathing, bracing, and rib tuck will be performed in sequence. In order to perform the single leg deadlift as efficiently and effectively as possible, your pelvis and spine need to be stable. This goes without saying. An optimal brace and rib tuck will really make performing this exercise significantly easier, and will help safeguard your body against injury. Before each rep, you want to brace your core muscles (all of the muscles that surround your spine, including the muscles of the anterior core and obliques), and gently tuck your ribcage down towards your hips. In other words, you are trying to close the space on your front side. Not a lot, but enough. Conversely, if you flare your ribcage and hyperextend your lower back, the space on your front will increase. You are trying to achieve the opposite.
In terms of the brace, many people make the mistake of ''sucking in'' or hollowing versus bracing. When you are bracing, you essentially want to flex, or contract your muscles. The intensity and type of brace will depend on how much resistance you are using, what exercise you are performing, and how many reps you plan on doing. For example, a brace for a max deadlift will differ from a brace for a higher rep set. I like to use a scale from 1 to 10. For instance, while the intensity of a brace for a max deadlift would be a 10, or close to it, the brace for a medium to higher rep set might be around a 6-7. In terms of bracing, you can imagine that you are about to be punched in the stomach, or in my case, I will often pretend that I'm about to block a soccer ball with my stomach as soccer is my sport.
I also want to discuss the importance of the obliques. Think of your body as a bridge, and the obliques are the cables that support the bridge. You want these supporting cables to be of equal length and strength. Essentially, the obliques serve as stabilizing pillars on either side of your body. In fact, with the single leg deadlift, the obliques on the side of the non-working/striding side will have to work extremely hard to keep your body square to the ground. I find that when many people do not brace their core muscles properly, and forget to include the obliques as part of this stability producing unit, their pelvis and torso will corkscrew. So while this is an exercise for the posterior chain, the muscles of the anterior core and obliques are of the utmost importance.
Here are a few of my favourite exercises for strengthening the obliques:
As I discussed above, when you are hinging your hips, keeping the weight close to your body is extremely important. No matter what deadlift variation you are performing, keep your elbows straight, drive your arms into your sides, and engage the muscles. You can even imagine that you are crushing something in your armpits. This will help keep your arms and weight close to your body, and from swinging forward. Doing so will make it easier to execute the hip hinge, and will help keep your lower back feeling good.
Many people assume that once they have executed the hip hinge, their job is over, and they completely disregard their lockout. This is a huge mistake. Not only will this make performing the next rep significantly more challenging as the body will be off balance, it will place you at a higher risk of injury. Your lockout matters. A good lockout will help stabilize your entire body, and will make your transition to the next rep much more seamless. After you have executed the hip hinge and are returning to the starting position and are going to lock out, really squeeze your glutes and push your hips forward, extend your knee, drive your arms into your sides, brace your core muscles, tuck your ribcage down towards your hips, and maintain your tripod foot base. Many people make the mistake of locking out by hyperextending their back and flaring the rib cage versus using the muscles of the posterior chain, and using the muscles of the anterior core to keep the spine in the optimal alignment. Be mindful of every single lockout. Before you perform your next rep, ''reset,'' and re-do the breathing, bracing, and rib tuck, squeeze your glutes, and re-establish your tripod base. Be extremely methodical in your lockout.
Now that you have worked on the above pointers, it is time perform the single leg deadlift. Here some of my favourite single leg deadlift variations that you can perform: