Ask anyone who knows fitness, and they’ll tell you the true “powerhouses” of the body – areas that act as the hub of all strength and injury prevention – are your core and your glutes. That means they need to be the two highest-priority areas for both athletes and average Joes alike. That's why deadlifts are so popular these days: They strengthen the entire posterior chain (lower back muscles, glutes, and hamstrings), and they work more core than you think too.
But adding another dimension to deadlifting comes in the form of doing them single legged, using a dumbbell. And yes, this will smoke your abs as well.
The single-legged deadlift is already a popular move. It's frequently done with the load in one hand, on the side that’s most comfortable for the lifter. The hip joint is where you move from, hinging it backwards as you lower your torso. Keeping a flat spine and proud chest are integral for the upper body as the movement progresses. Most typically, the non-working, trailing leg stays straight, and your goal is to keep it in line with your torso. You're aiming for a pendulum, or seesaw effect. Done correctly, this can shred your abs.
The Problem with Single Leg Deadlifts
The strength of the single-leg deadlift is that it brings serious posterior chain benefit while also challenging your balance and core stability. But that can also frustrate plenty of lifters.
Whether it’s an annoying old ankle injury, poor spatial awareness, or a stability issue from one side of the body to the other, many people can’t get all the benefits of the single leg deadlift as a hamstrings and glute training tool because they’re too busy fumbling around for positioning which distracts them from being able to focus on the training effect the lift can deliver. It can be difficult to get the full hinge while at the same time making sure to keep the working foot completely grounded, and prevent the body from “airplaning” – or rotating toward the free side. All of these issues can make lifters kick the movement to the curb.
The Fix: Add a Bench to the Single-Leg Deadlift
When you give yourself something you can feel – a tactile cue – it can cause the body to provide some awesome feedback to fix up a lift in a hurry. In the case of the SLDL, banking the non-working knee on a bench can do just that. Place your entire shin on the bench.
This minor adjustment forces the hips to stay at the same level and avoid rotation as the rest of the body goes through the hinge pattern. That solves the balance problem and places the emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes of the working leg, with no rotation. Making sure to focus on a flat spine still applies here, and really go for a deep loaded stretch in those hamstrings.
The effect is somewhat similar to what happens during a Bulgarian split squat: You've alleviated some of the balance headache of a single-leg move, while still getting to zone in on single-leg burn. This will allow you to focus on loading with more weight, and keeping your hips square.
If you’re taller or your bench is too low, feel free to adjust the height for it to fit snugly under your knee by way of adding a block, plate, step platform, or stacked mats to suit your preference. Torching your hamstrings to spark development in one of the most finicky exercises to exist just got a whole lot simpler.
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