This RDL Variation Will Work Your Hamstrings Without Hurting Your Back

This simple tweak to the Single-Leg RDL will help you maintain balance and proper form.

Ask 10 strength coaches for their favorite posterior chain exercises, and the majority will have some variation of the Romanian Deadlift as their go-to move.

The problem is that some athletes, especially those with existing lower back issues, complain about lower back pain as soon as they start loading the movement.

Switching to Single-Leg RDLs tends to take care of that, since they're less stressful on the low back. But going from a bilateral movement to a unilateral movement increases instability. And in this case, that reduction in stability can seriously impact the quality of execution.

Especially when fatigue kicks in toward the end of a set, maintaining your balance can become very difficult for certain athletes. Some of them start swaying their hips like a bunch of runway models at a Victoria's Secret show. Now they're more focused on not falling over rather than getting the desired training effect from the movement.

Sure, some experienced lifters will be able to course-correct on the fly and finish their set with good form. But when you're dealing with high school or other less-experienced athletes, some of whom have considerable trouble standing on one leg without any external loading, more instability equals less strength gains.

The solution?

Something I call the One-Leg DB Romanian Deadlift with Rack Hold.

When you use your free hand for balance, you can bang out more reps in a set without having to worry about turning this from a strength and muscle building exercise into a stability exercise.

On top of that, lifting lighter loads in this manner is just as effective as moving bigger weights with conventional Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts, if not more so. Guys normally using 200-plus pounds on Single-Leg Barbell RDLs will get a great stimulus from the One-Leg DB Romanian Deadlift with Rack Hold with just from a 70- or 80-pound dumbbell. Many of my athletes have remarked how they feel this movement a lot more in their hamstrings than traditional Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts.

How to Perform the One-Leg DB Romanian Deadlift With Rack Hold

  • With your right leg on the ground and left hand holding a dumbbell, grab an upright in a power rack or cable stack with your right hand.
  • Slightly bend your right knee to start. Maintaining the same knee angle, push your hips back.
  • You will feel a nice hamstring stretch as the dumbbell moves below knee level. This is what we're looking for in this exercise. The purpose is to make the right muscles do the work, not to simply move weight from point A to point B.
  • Reverse the movement and finish with a strong hip extension by contracting the glutes at the top. To keep constant tension in the hamstrings and experience even more awesome hamstring pumps, stop just shy of full hip extension, like the athlete in the white t-shirt does in the video above.
  • Recommended sets and reps: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps on each leg.

Add this exercise into your leg workouts this week. There's a good chance that over the next day or two, you'll experience hamstring soreness like you haven't felt in a long time, and without any lower back issues.