The Rear-Leg Abducted Single Leg Deadlift

Here is a new type of deadlift that I came up with after watching a Dean Somerset blog where he showed a dumbbell version which is slightly different. Dean’s dumbell version is excellent for beginners because you can move the load in between the hips, closer the the center of mass. For more advanced individuals, the barbell version becomes necessary.

 

Basically, the Bulgarian deadlift has never felt right for me. I feel that the stance tampers with the exercise’s biomechanics and impairs the natural deadlifting motion (at least for me).

Many people love the single leg RDL. This is an amazing exercise but I’ve never felt stable when I go heavy.

With the rear-leg abducted single leg deadlift, you put your non-working foot on a bench to the side of your body. You actually position your leg slightly behind the body as the barbell will be just in front of the bench which prevents you from purely abducting your non-working leg. This is easier to see in the video.

 

 

I apologize in advance for the rotated video – I’ll film another soon – but for now I just wanted to get this out there. I haven’t mastered my I-Phone and didn’t realize that it would turn out this way. I should also mention that my deadlift form isn’t the best form out there to mimic. I do best with high hips and a slightly rounded upper back. For my clients I usually utilize a strong arch in the t-spine and l-spine and recommend slightly lower hips. At any rate, this vid will definitely allow you to get the gist.

Click Here to Watch the Video

I love this variation because I finally feel like I can get my all out of a single leg deadlifting motion. Whenever I’d try 275 lbs or higher on a single leg RDL, I’d usually get off-balance and have to put my non-working leg down on the ground for stability or I’d wobble around considerably. The other day I worked my way up to 295 lbs on this version and felt completely balanced and the lift felt natural for the working leg – hammies at the bottom, glutes to lock it out.

Since I can single leg deadlift around 300 lbs and can only deadlift around 550 lbs, this suggests a couple of things:

1. The deadlift is limited by core strength, not hip extensor strength

2. The bilateral deadlift is better for core strengthening (especially erectors)

3. The single leg deadlift is better for hip extensor strengthening (hamstring and glute)

I haven’t tested this exercise in EMG, and based on prior experience single leg lifts don’t outperform double leg lifts even when more load is used, but biomechanically speaking it makes sense that the single leg version would yield more hip extensor activation while the double leg version would yield more erector activation.

Both the bilateral and unilateral versions of this exercise are excellent and should be utilized to varying extents depending on goals.

14 Comments

  • Max says:

    Interesting. Maybe you get more “stability” due to some glute med activation preventing you from tipping over toward the abducted leg?

    • Bret says:

      Max, I figure the stability comes from the abducted leg being grounded to the bench (two points of contact rather than one). I hadn’t thought of your suggestion.

      We’re not all sensorimotor freaks like you who can bust out 315 on one leg with no energy leaks! 🙂

  • Wooohooo!!! Go Bret Go!! I’m going to give this one a shot later this week. Glad to inspire, and thanks for the inspiration!!

  • Steve says:

    Sounds good (I look forward to the better video).

    Hey, Brett, does this mean that you’ve recovered from your biceps surgery?

  • mike heidinger says:

    Not trying to be a hater but after watching the video a few times, it looked like you had a hard time starting the movement from the hips. Again don’t hate me looked like the movement started from the back and then finished up with the glutes. You have some amazing stuff you put out there and i am a fan .

    • Bret says:

      Mike, the adducted leg is there for stability and it stays stable the entire time. If you try this with the “Bulgarian-style” method the rear leg helps with stability initially but as you descend into the lift slack in the leg occurs and you have no added stability.

      That said, it’s still hard to balance for me, especially when going heavy. And you want to maximize the load on the working leg and just use the abducted leg for some stability, so you still need to concentrate on balance.

      If you think it looked hard for me with this version you should see me try the single leg RDL way where the rear leg moves into the air! I suck at that when going heavy.

  • Neal W. says:

    Bret, is there a bilateral deficit with glute bridges/hip thrusts?

  • Dawn says:

    I’m interested in trying this one as I have issues with the single leg dl as well. I feel a lot of clicking in my low back when I do the one side which I’m sure is due to some core/low back weakness. This might help me be more stable, thanks Bret.

    • Bret says:

      Don’t be afraid to use just bodyweight for a while until your sensorimotor control improves. Do the reaching version where you reach forward with your arms as you descend. This counterbalance puts more load on the hips.

      • Dawn says:

        Thanks for the suggestion, sometimes one has to swallow ones pride for the sake of safety! 🙂 I will try the BW version for a while first to get things firing properly.

  • Jessica Jane says:

    Do you think that the same observation about single-leg DL and a bilateral DL can be said for the squat and lunge? I can lunge 100 pounds but can only squat 115 pounds… Do you suspect the “weak link” are the erectors and core? (DLing in general makes my whole thoracic region ache, regardless of form…)

    • Bret says:

      Jessica, this deserves its own blogpost. The answer is, “it depends.” It really does. Some individuals have a bilateral deficit and some have a unilateral deficit with squatting motions. Great question! I could explain this very technically but it would require a lot of explanation.

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