by Sean St.Onge
Wait, clean up my WHAT???
The Single Leg Romanian Deadlift, or "SLRDL" for short, might be one of the toughest drills to nail down because it's a weighted balancing act. This unilateral (one legged) version of the deadlift definitely challenges the lifter's balance, core stability, and strength.
This is, unfortunately, a drill that can get butchered by lack of focus or strength, or most of all, a misunderstanding of the purpose of the drill. We, all too often, see this drill rushed, which turns lifters off from attempting it properly or with appreciable load to enhance their efforts that can provide benefits in a traditional bilateral (two legged) Romanian Deadlift variation.
The "Cirque du Soleil" tightrope balancing act is what gives exercisers the hardest time. This is where the exerciser has a hard time maintaining the proper form of the lift due to weak lower leg stability from the musculature in the feet, calves, hamstring group, and glutes in conjunction with their core muscles to stabilize the torso.
And we also see the "yo-yo" version, where the lifter crashes with the weight to the floor fast. The lifter then loses core, lumbar, and thoracic (lower and upper back) stiffness, so they end up using their back muscles instead of their legs.
We know many lifter have trouble with this great drill so here are three drills to practice in progression to safely become better at it.
1. Foam Roller Assisted Single Leg Hinge
I stole this awesome nugget from fellow Boston native and strength coach, Matthew Ibrahim. By loading one end of the foam roller to the non-working foot and supporting it by the same side hand, apply force between the non-working foot and hand pretending to sandwich them together while bracing your abdomen and squeezing your armpit tight.
Then, hinge back, forcing your hips and rear to the back wall SLOWLY with the non-working foot skimming the floor as you attempt to lower your chest to become parallel to the floor as your non-working heel rises.
2. Barbell Val-slide RDL's
I stole this one from former New Englander and now L.A. Super Trainer to the stars, Ben Bruno. This version is helpful to those whom have trouble in the lower back when performing SLRDL's. By using a Val-Slide (you could also use a slideboard) this variation provides physical contact to the floor so the rear foot does not leave the ground while still simulating the single leg stance. This drill also provides physical feedback as to "where the lifter should feel it" on their body and which muscles are to be engaged.
With the barbell snuggly dragged down the thigh to knee to shin of the working leg, there should be a straight line from the back of your head to your heel of the foot on the Val-slide. If you use poor form the lifter will notice the path of the bar and Val-slide change as well as pressure in the lower back. Once you have slid the Val-slide back and shifted your weight to the working leg (not on the Val-slide), "scissor" your legs together and push the working leg's heel hard into the floor- to stand back up. As the barbell (you could use a dowel or body bar to start) descends down the thigh be sure to keep your abdomen and lats tight to avoid any upper and lower back rounding.
3. Dead Stop Kettlebell RDL's
Stole this doozy from fellow coach Tony Gentilcore. I enjoy this variation because it acts as "freeze frame" shot of start and finish of what the drill is supposed to be. It also recruits the legs and glutes to contract to get the weight off the floor. With the weight on the floor the lifter must pack their armpit (lats) and brace their abdomen first. Then, initiate the lift by driving through their heel and pushing their hips forward while swinging the non-working leg along with it and finishing by squeezing their glutes. Finally, this drill provides a built in "reset button" for the lifter allowing time to do a physical and mental checklist before restarting, which is paramount for most lifters who do these drills too fast.
So if you are one of the many that suffers from these issues I covered while performing a Single Leg Romanian Deadlift please give these a go.