How To Bulletproof Your Hamstrings With The Single-Leg RDL

Quick Summary:

  • Single Leg RDL’s (Romanian Deadlifts), are hard, but a necessary exercise if you want to optimise sports performance.
  • Following a correct progression makes sure you get the chance to progress safely and get the most out of the drill.
  • The Single-Leg RDL builds hamstring and glute strength, single-leg balance, and trunk and midline stability.

The Single-Leg RDL (Romanian Deadlift) is an ego-destroyer for athletes. It’s also a critical drill that should helps form a bulletproof foundation for sports performance.

That’s why a lot of athletes avoid it — because they usually have to take a few steps back to go forward, they prefer to turn a blind eye at the expense of their symmetry and performance.

It’s a tough exercise to master, even for athletes who might can squat and deadlift a large amount of weight.

Every day, we see new athletes enter our program who have great bi-lateral leg strength (two legs on the ground), that fall apart when trying to produce force and stabilise on just one.

Ironically, sport is usually performed in a split stance, or, while one leg is off the ground (running, kicking and changing direction to name a few).

For that reason, we encourage our athletes to eat humble pie — the drill builds tremendous strength in the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings); improves balance, hip control, and midline (core) stability.  As you can imagine, each of those traits is essential for an athlete.

So why are Single-Leg RDLs so difficult? The primary movement falls under the category of the hip hinge. The goal is to shift your load back behind you, loading your hamstrings and glutes and tipping your waist forward. The end result should feel like your hamstrings are on ‘pull’.  When you’re on one leg, it requires a coordinated firing of the muscles in your working leg (the leg in contact with the ground) to keep you stable and, your hips and trunk to stay square (as little rotation as possible). If one of these areas doesn’t fire correctly or is weak, you won’t be able to perform the exercise correctly — you’re likely to make one of the following mistakes:

  • Rotating your upper back: Your back should be as square as possible. You normally see your working arm ‘drop’ toward the floor.
  • Rotation of your hips: Just like your back, your hips should stay square, too. You normally see the opposite reaction here — the hip rotates upward toward the sky.
  • Bending forward as if doing a toe touch. Your first movement should be to sit your hip back, not folding forward.
  • Losing tension in the hamstring: The goal of the drill is to optimally load your hamstring and glutes — going too low and losing tension shifts the load undesirably to the erectors of the lower back.
  • Losing balance during the repetition. Losing balance is common. It’s usually an indication that you need to regress, the exercise because the exercise is challenging your capabilities outside of your body’s ability to maintain proper posture. This is when you know you need to take a bite of humble pie. 

We progress our athletes to single-leg RDL’s after they have technically mastered the double-leg RDL. A great intermediate option is a staggered stance RDL — where both feet are on the ground, but in a split stance position. For athletes that are ready for a single-leg RDL, here is our 5-step progression. But before we share that with you, here are the general cues that apply to all variations of the RDL:

  1. Kick the free leg BACK behind you, as if you were reaching for a wall behind you.
  2. Keep your shoulder blades back and down.
  3. Push your bum back.
  4. Push the foot into the floor as you drive up.
  5. Squeeze your glutes hard at the top.

RDL – Landmine (SL + Band Assistance)

Our first progression starts with band assistance — as the band stretches, it encourages the athlete to kick the free leg back — engaging the hamstring and glutes toward hip extension, which is the goal. If you don’t have a landmine, a kettlebell or dumbbell is a great alternative.

RDL – Landmine (SL)

After you’re executing the band-assisted RDL well, progress to the non-banded variation as shown in the video. All the same rules apply.

RDL – Landmine (Static Hold + Row)

This isn’t a true progression per se — rather, an addition if you’re trying to get extra work on a single leg done. Here, Seaton is demonstrating a static hold alongside a single-arm row. The movement of the upper body forces the hips and trunk to stay stable as the arm performs a dynamic action.

RDL – Landmine (Front-On)

The front on variation is a greater balance challenge for the athlete. Use this variation after 4-6 weeks of mastering the drill from the side on set-up.

RDL – Landmine (Zercher)

By this stage, the athlete is ready to handle a lot of load on one leg. The zercher variation that’s shown in the video allows the athlete to load up, and ensures that the athlete stays braced through the trunk by maintaining a flexed trunk.

Summary: As a note to athletes, don’t forget that you’re eating humble pie here. You won’t be a weapon at this the first time you try. That’s OK. Be patient, and you’ll soon bulletproof your posterior chain with this great drill.