The Single-Leg RDL is a tough exercise to master, even for athletes who might be able to squat or deadlift hundreds of pounds. I’ve seen people who can lift massive amounts of weight have trouble performing this move with only their bodyweight. I regularly see clients needing to backtrack in order to perform the move correctly.
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While humbling, Single-Leg RDLs are important for athletes to perform. The move builds tremendous strength in the glutes and hamstrings, and also improves balance, hip and core stability. Each of those traits is essential for an athlete.
So why are Single-Leg RDLs so difficult? The primary movement is the hip hinge, where you shift your hips back and bend at your waist to initiate the lift. When you’re on one leg, it requires a coordinated firing of the muscles in your working leg and hip along with your core to keep you stable. If one of these areas doesn’t fire correctly or is weak, you won’t be able to perform the exercise correctly.
Here are some common mistakes:
- Rounding your back to lower the weight. Your back should always be flat, no exceptions.
- Bending forward as if doing a toe touch. Your first movement should be to sit your hip back.
- Keeping your working knee completely straight. Your knee needs to bend slightly for a proper hip hinge.
- Lowering beyond your range of motion. If you feel your hamstring stopping the movement, it’s OK if you can’t lower as far as you’d like.
- Losing balance at the top of each rep. Keep your core tight and squeeze your glute at the top of each rep.
You should think about performing Single-Leg RDLs only if you have mastered the hip hinge, a Dumbbell RDL and a Barbell RDL. These exercises set the stage for a successful Single-Leg RDL, because you are training a similar movement pattern, except with two feet on the ground.
However, the single-leg component often exposes problems on the hinge because of balance or coordination issues. I’ve been noticing more coaches using the Staggered-Stance RDL to account for this. This involves performing a Single-Leg RDL but with your non-working foot just touching the ground behind you. In my opinion, this is not a wise choice choice, because it creates a poor hip hinge and puts a Band-Aid on a bigger issue. Instead, I prefer to use the following two exercises, inspired by the work of Michael Boyle, to teach the Single-Leg RDL.
Each of the following recommended exercises is demonstrated in the above video.
Valslide Single-Leg RDL
By using a slider and a box surface, you can easily reinforce the single-leg hip hinge. This move is super simple. Place a knee-high box behind you and put your foot on a Valslide, then proceed to perform the same movement as a Single-Leg RDL with the goal of pushing the slider backward. This teaches the movement by forcing your hips back, but adds some stability to the exercise.
Foam Roller Single-Leg RDL
This unique regression of the movement calls for holding a long foam roller between the foot and hand of your non-working side. This helps isolate the hip hinge and creates the necessary tension in your upper body to properly execute the movement. If you can perform this correctly, you are probably ready to perform a proper Single-Leg RDL.
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