Single Leg Romanian Deadlift - How to

The single-leg Romanian deadlift works your balance, core, and posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and upper back) unlike any other exercises you've ever done - especially if you add in an overhead reach. Learn how to progress to one in a stepwise fashion here.

The single leg dumbbell Romanian deadlift is also referred to as the single-leg RDL, one-legged Romanian deadlift, SLRDL, and DBSLRDL/BBSLRDL/KBSLRDL (if you use dumbbells, a barbell, or kettlebells).

There are a few variations of the single-leg Romanian deadlift covered in this article, but you probably came for the basic one so that's the first thing you'll find below.

In the rest of this article, you'll find:

  • The benefits of performing SLRDLs.
  • Other unilateral hip hinge exercises (with videos) that you can use to build to or vary the single-leg hinge pattern.
  • Common mistakes people make while learning to hinge.
  • Directions on weight to use and how many sets of single-leg deadlifts you should do.
  • How to add single-leg RDLs to your workouts.
Steven Mack performing the Reaching Med Ball Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

Here's how to Do a Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift:

To get more feedback to your brain from the nerves in your feet, you can perform the single-leg RDL barefoot.

  • Start by standing tall with your feet underneath you and your weight at your side. You can carry the dumbbell on the same or opposite side of the leg you're about to hinge with.
    • If you hold the weight on the opposite side, your glute will need to work harder to stabilize your hips.
  • Contract your lats or the muscles of your back by squeezing your armpit and trying to push your weight towards your hips.
  • You may keep a "neutral spine" with your chin tucked and ribs stacked over your pelvis or slightly arch your back - just be sure that your posture does not change under load.
    • A common mistake is keeping the eyes up as opposed to tucking the chin and looking down.
  • Draw a breath in through your nose, down into your stomach, sides, and lower back.
  • Unlock or slightly bend your knees and pull your toes towards your shin on the leg that will be going back, flexing your ankle.
  • Try to keep your weight over the center of the foot that will be remaining on the ground. This is your center of gravity where you will be strongest and safest.
  • Begin your hinge by kicking your foot back, keeping the leg straight and the glute squeezed on that side.
  • Aim to keep your shoulders, hips, and toes facing forward, or try not to let your hips rotate towards one side.
  • You can "replace" the foot of the leg that is going back with your weight to stay close to your center of gravity.
  • Keeping your hips "high", push them back as you continue to kick until you cannot move any lower without losing a neutral posture or arch.
  • Some kick too high; what we're aiming for here is a straight line from head to toe like those pink flamingo toys.
  • Reverse the move by pushing yourself away from the ground, squeezing your glutes, and aiming to bring them forward like you would in a hip thrust or glute bridge.
  • Breathe out at the top or on your way back up as you pass the most difficult portion of the move.
  • Perform all of your repetitions on one side before switching sides, matching the total number of reps on each side.

The Benefits of Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

You don't need access to heavier weights

How can you deadlift at planet fitness? The single-leg RDL is perfect for the occasion, requiring less overall weight but working each leg more.

For example, if you perform a barbell Romanian deadlift with 135 pounds on a barbell, you can reasonably assume that each leg does about 67.5 pounds worth of work.

If you performed a single-leg RDL with a 70-pound dumbbell, you're using more weight per leg.

In bullet form, it looks like this:

  • Barbell Romanian deadlift with 135lbs
  • 67.5 lbs per leg
  • Dumbbell Romanian deadlift with 70 lbs
  • 70 lbs per leg

If your goal is to give your lower back and hands a break from heavy lifting then the single-leg RDL is your friend.

Alternatively, if SLRDLs still leave you feeling beat up, try single-leg hip thrusts or feet and shoulder-elevated single-leg hip thrusts.

SLRDLs work your butt and hamstrings but the most difficult portion of the exercise is at the bottom where those muscles are stretched and in a less favorable position. With glute bridges and hip thrusts, those muscles will be in a shortened, stronger position at the most difficult part of the exercise (the top).

Balance and coordination

Your feet and ankles will work to keep your weight from shifting away from your center of gravity. Your glutes and core will need to work hard to prevent your hips from rotating or shifting to one side. Developing stability in your body is important if you hope to increase your mobility.

Flexibility and range of motion

Our bodies aren't built in perfect ratios. You may have a difference in flexibility and mobility on your dominant and non-dominant sides. By performing unilateral exercises, you can fully take movements through joint ranges with comfort and control.

Fun and confidence

Working up to perform new and challenging exercises can help to build your confidence and keep training fun. Competence is an important part of staying motivated so be sure to start with a variation that's not too hard. No one wants to feel like they suck at everything.

Exercises You Can Use to Build to a Single-Leg RDL

You may want to find some variations that help you build to SLRDLs or some that you can perform in their place. What the following all share in common is that they're all unilateral hinging exercises, which means they work one side of your body at a time.

Increasing in difficulty from 1 to 6, they rely less and less on support and progressively challenge your balance.

1. B-Stance Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

While not a true "single-leg" exercise, aim to keep ~70% of your weight over one foot while performing the B-stance DB RDL.

A common mistake is shifting your weight back onto your back foot. Be sure to start with your weight underneath you like you would in a normal RDL before kicking your foot back, keeping your weight in the same place.

2. Rear Foot-Elevated Dumbbell Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Elevating your back foot forces you to shift more of your weight onto the leg that will be working than you did in the B-stance - closer to what you'd do in a true one-legged exercise.

3. Braced Dumbbell Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

This exercise is truly one-legged and the most load friendly of all the variations as you're able to use a rack or support to stabilize.

4. Reaching Med Ball Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

There are several benefits to performing this with a medicine ball and an overhead reach. Firstly, the medicine ball will act as a counterbalance, reducing the balance required as you tilt your center of mass. Secondly, when you reach overhead, you turn on your upper back and the rest of your posterior chain.

5. Ipsilateral (Same Side) Dumbbell Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

This variation is a bit more challenging than holding weights in both hands but not as difficult as holding one weight on your opposite side.

6. Contralateral (Opposite Side) Dumbbell Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

By holding a weight on the opposite side of the leg that's working, you force your obliques and glute medius to work harder to keep you upright and stable.

How to Add Single-Leg RDLs to Your Workouts

If you want to learn a complicated exercise like the single-leg RDL faster, you can take a couple of approaches:

  • Find a way to perform the exercise frequently, in this case as often as 2-3x per week.
  • Break the move down into its components and practice those or a similar pattern but with the same goal.

In exercise, you'll get better at what you practice the most. It may not be optimal for you to start all of your workouts for the rest of the year with SLRDLs, but you could try it until you get the move down.

The number of times you perform this exercise each week will ultimately depend on four foundations of a sound strength training program:

  1. Selecting the right goal and making sure you're training in a way that supports it. Ex.: lifting heavy if your goal is to build strength, or focusing on your balance if you play sports.
  2. How many sets you're doing or the "dose" you need to make or keep gains.
  3. How hard (or heavy) your sets are. More stressful sets are harder to recover from and take more time.
  4. The frequency of how often you lift or how often you train each muscle group.

You can't do a lot of something very challenging super frequently. Volume, intensity, and frequency need to be balanced with one another.

How much weight should you use for a single-leg deadlift?

Start conservatively and use something 10-15% lighter than you would for a DBRDL with two legs. For example, 17.5 lbs. if you perform RDLs with 20 lbs. in each hand.

The number of reps by goal:

  • If your goal is strength, you can load up in the 6-8 range.
  • If you're looking to give your back and grip a break while training your hamstrings and glutes, opt for a lighter rep range. Perform sets of 10-15 or so reps.
  • You can build muscle at all rep ranges.

Match your rest times to the goals of the move; heavier sets need longer breaks.

  • For strength, rest for 1.5 - 3 minutes.
  • If you're using lighter weights, you can rest for 1-1.5 minutes.

How to Get the Most out of This Move:

Vary your focus depending on your goal

When you perform an exercise, sometimes it's better to focus on what you're doing instead of what you're feeling.

For example:

  • If you were performing a squat, you should think about pushing yourself away from the floor.
  • When performing glute bridges, it makes the most sense to focus on feeling each rep in your butt.

Strength coaches call this external vs. internal cueing. A cue is an instruction we give you to perform an exercise.

Tweak your form depending on what you want to work on most

  • If you want to feel this exercise most in your glutes, you can take a soft knee.
  • If you want your hamstrings to do most of the work, straighten your legs out a bit.

Try to avoid shifting your weight forward onto your toes or backward onto your heels.

Focus on what your body is doing, not where the weights are

This can help you ensure that you're only going as low as your body allows, not enforcing arbitrary form rules on how low you can go.

Make sure you warm up before you start loading up

Your body communicates better with your central nervous system when you're warm. This means that you'll notice an improvement in your balance and control.

A Full-Body Workout for Strength and One for Balance


  • Perform dynamic exercises or light cardio for 5-7 minutes.

After your workout:

  • Don't forget to stretch all your major muscle groups while you're still warm.

Workout A: Strength

  • 1. Braced Dumbbell Single Leg Romanian Deadlift 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps
  • 2a. Barbell Back Squat 3 sets of 6-12 reps
  • 2b. Negative Push-Up 3 sets of 5-12 reps
  • 3a. Barbell Hip Thrust 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • 3b. Bent Over Dumbbell Row 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • 4. Band Seated Hip Abductions 2-3 sets of 20-30 reps
  • 5. Side Plank 2 sets of 30-60 seconds

Rest 2-3 minutes between paired sets 2 and 3.

Rest 20-30 seconds between sets on the 4th and 30-45 seconds on the 5th.

Workout B: Balance

  • 1a. Contralateral DBSLRDL 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • 1b. Dumbbell Bench Press 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • 2a. Barbell Glute Bridge 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • 2b. One arm Dumbbell Row 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • 3. Single Leg Glute Bridge 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • 4. Dumbbell Reverse Fly 2 sets of 10-12 reps
  • 5. Side-lying hip abduction 2-3 sets of 20-30 reps

Rest 1-2 minutes between paired sets 1 and 2 and on exercises 3 and 4.

Rest 20-30 seconds on the 5th exercise and 30-45 seconds on the 6th.

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Steven Mack is founder and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at the private training studio, Simple Solutions Fitness. He consults for Stronger by Science, a leader in fitness research dissemination, and is a former Mizzou football walk-on. Steven dedicates his professional life to helping people through his writing, speaking, and role as a personal trainer.