Dumbbell Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

The deadlift is well-known to be the king of mass building when it comes to strength and power development. It often forms the basis of most strength, power, and hypertrophy-based lifting programs.

However, less is known about its different variations. The dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift is a challenging deadlift alternative. It uses one side of your body and offers several useful benefits that make it worth doing.

Because of this, we’ve done a deep dive to give you everything you need to know. We’ve discussed the correct form, programming, muscles worked, and many benefits below.

How To Do

  1. Find a suitable home or commercial gym space away from equipment.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells and set yourself up next to them.
  3. Assume a narrow stance and pick both dumbbells up off the floor. Ensure you lift with a neutral back position.
  4. Keep the dumbbells by your sides with both arms relaxed.
  5. Take a deep breath in and engage your core. Pick your leg up from the ground and balance using your other leg.
  6. Start to push your hips back. Keep your chest up and your head facing forward.
  7. Whilst keeping your knees slightly bent, bring your raised leg back and up. At the same time, lower the dumbbells to the floor whilst maintaining a neutral back position.
  8. Ensure you hinge at the hip like you would in a normal deadlift, but with the main focus on one side of your body. You should feel a stretch in your other hamstring as you come down to the floor.
  9. Pause briefly as the dumbbells come near the floor to feel the stretch.
  10. Contract your hamstring and glute in the ground leg. Bring the dumbells up in the reverse movement path. Keep a controlled pace, exhaling at the same time. 
  11. Switch legs once you’ve performed the desired repetitions.

Tips From Expert

  • Before you begin the hip hinge, ensure your body is correctly balanced. If you’re off center, you’ll shift your center of gravity and reduce the target muscle engagement.
  • Whilst eccentric training is great for muscle growth, don’t lose control of the concentric phase. Controlling the concentric using slow movements provides more time under tension.
  • The dumbbell single-leg deadlift doesn't need to be heavily loaded. Use a lower weight and slower movement pattern for an added challenge. As a unilateral exercise, ensure you keep your core braced at all times. Your back should remain neutral with your chest out as you lower the dumbbell.

Optimal Sets and Reps

Use the table below to find the ideal sets and reps for your training goal.

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 3–5 4–6
Hypertrophy 3–4 8–10
Endurance Training 3–4 12–20
Power Training 3–5 1–3

How to Put in Your Workout Split

The dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift is a unilateral, lower-body movement pattern. This means that it uses one side at a time. More specifically, it targets your hamstrings, glutes, and erector spinae.

The main movement pattern involves a hip hinge. Because of this, the dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift is great when programmed in multiple ways. Use the options below depending on your training focus.

  • Option 1: Strength and Power training - As a strength and power athlete, your main focus will be on developing the main powerlifting movers. Program the dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift as an accessory exercise. Perform it after your compound movements. 
  • Option 2: Bodybuilding training - The best way to program it will depend on your split. As a lower-body pulling exercise, it can be programmed into a lower split, dumbbell leg workout, or pull split. Use it alongside a quad-building exercise such as a hack squat.
  • Opinion 3: General training - When programming it for general fitness and health, perform in the middle of your session. This allows you to devote more energy to your main movements without being too fatigued.

Decide your exercise intensity based on your one repetition max (1RM). This is the amount of weight you can lift for one repetition. The suggested intensities for each training goal are as follows.

  • Strength Training — 80% to 100% of your 1RM.
  • Hypertrophy Training — 60% to 80% of your 1RM.
  • Endurance Training — 40 to 60% of your 1RM.
  • Power Training — 80% to 100% of your 1RM.

Primary Muscle Groups

Hamstrings

Muscles located at the back of your upper leg, below your glutes and above your calves. Consists of three muscles.

Hamstrings 

Your hamstrings are made up of three muscle groups that sit at the back of your upper legs. These are your semimembranosus, semitendanosus, and biceps femoris. Each of these performs two primary functions which are hip extension and knee flexion.

During the dumbbell single-leg deadlift, your knee stays slightly bent in the same position. Due to this, your hamstring doesn’t perform knee flexion. Instead, it extends your hips as you as you bring the dumbbell up from the floor.

Being a primary mover, the dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift is great for developing size and strength in your hamstrings. As a unilateral exercise, this is done one leg at a time.

*Expert tip - As you bring the barbell down, contact your hamstring to maintain a controlled movement. At the top position, squeeze your glute before the next repetition.

Secondary Muscle Groups

Gluteus

Large, superficial muscles located at your buttocks just below your lower back area.

Erector Spinae

Muscles that span the entire length of your spine on either side.

Gluteus

Your glutes consist of three muscle groups; your gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. These combine to make your buttocks area. This is located above your hamstrings and below your lower back.

The main function of your gluteus muscles is to perform hip extension, which is where the angle between your hips and pelvis gets shorter. They also assist when rotating your hips in different glute exercises.

Your glute muscles are strong hip extensors. This means that they help to bring the dumbbell up as you rise from the bottom position. They function as a secondary mover alongside your hamstrings. Because of this, the dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift is also good for developing muscle size and strength in your glutes.

Erector Spinae

Your erector spinae is a group of several small muscles that run down the length of your spine. They are classed as part of your core musculature alongside your transverse abdominis and obliques. 

The primary function of your erector spinae muscles is to flex and extend your back. They also contract isometrically (without moving) to maintain a stable trunk position as you move. 

When performing a dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift, your erector spinae contract isometrically to maintain a stable trunk position. They allow your back to flex forward as you lower the dumbbell. They also help your back to extend as you bring the dumbbell up again.

Equipment

Dumbbells

Dumbbells

You can use these for a wide range of unilateral and bilateral exercises. Avoid using momentum to lift. Ensure a secure grip to prevent drops.

Variations

Exercises that target the same primary muscle groups and require the same equipment.

Alternatives

Exercises that target the same primary muscle groups and require the different equipment.

High Knees

Cobra Stretch

Seated Forward Bend

Bodyweight Single-leg Deadlifts

Butt Kickers

Jump Rope

Standing Forward Bend

Dynamic Hamstring Stretch

Seated Hamstring Stretch

Hurdler Stretch

Who Should Do?

Strength And Power-based Athletes

Strength and power athletes focus on using progressive overload with compound, functional movement patterns for the majority of their training. This means that their training variables should be progressed frequently. It also means that the exercises should use movements similar to daily life and involve multiple muscle groups.

Similar to the normal Romanian deadlift, the single-leg variation uses multiple muscle groups to perform the correct movement. The main difference is that it uses one side of your body at a time.

It helps to develop functional hip hinge strength and power using one side of your body at a time. This movement pattern transfers well to most sporting events and daily activities. Examples include in the normal deadlift and when picking something up off the floor.

It’s a perfect deadlift variation for strength and power-based athletes to use alongside their main movements.

Bodybuilders

Muscle building, also known as muscular hypertrophy, requires a well-organized resistance training approach. As part of this, training intensity and training volume are two big contributors.

As a bodybuilder, building a well-rounded physique requires both of these for optimal muscle building. When stepping on stage, both the front and back half of your body need to match up.

The dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift is great for bodybuilders for several reasons. It trains three different muscle groups, effectively isolates your hamstrings, and develops core strength. 

What this means is that it’s a great way to isolate your hamstrings to build a well-rounded physique. It also helps to develop your core and uses a compound movement pattern. For these reasons, it ticks all the boxes when looking to accomplish these goals above.

Functional Fitness Athletes

As a functional fitness athlete, your main aim is to develop strength and power using functional, everyday movements. With this, your training should consist of a number of functional movements that challenge both sides of your body.

The dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift is a unilateral exercise. This means that it works on each side of your body separately. Because of this, it’s a great way to develop a functional hip hinge when using only one side of your body.

Adding dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlifts into your functional fitness training alongside bilateral movements provides a balanced approach. These are movements that use both sides of your body.

Who Should Not Do?

Novices or Beginners

The dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift is a challenging exercise with a host of benefits; many of which we’ve described below. However, the unilateral hip hinge movements take practice and skill to develop correctly.

As a novice or beginner, the majority of your training should focus on developing a solid foundation to work from. In this case, it would be better to develop the traditional deadlift before moving on to more challenging variations.

Once you’ve perfected or mastered the traditional deadlift, it’s time to move on to harder variations.

*Expert tip- When looking to progress your lifts, use the help of a personal trainer if unsure. They’ll be able to advise you on your suitability for different exercises and help you with the correct form. 

Those with Lower Back Pain and Issues

Performing a hip hinge in the dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift places a lot of stress on your lumbar spine. As you flex and extend your back, your erector spinae work hard to ensure you maintain the optimal lifting position.

With correct performance, the dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift strengthens your lower back. However, additional lumbar stress is not a good idea if you already have lower back issues. Any form deviations will place a large amount of unneeded stress and potentially make existing injuries worse.

In this case, follow a lower-intensity rehabilitation program, strengthening your core first before progressing. Use the help of a trained healthcare professional who can assess your suitability to perform a hip hinge. 

*Did you know? Acute lower back pain is one of the most commonly reported issues to healthcare professionals. It’s estimated that by 2050, 800 million people will suffer from lower back pain.

Benefits Of The Dumbbell Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Muscular Strength And Endurance

To build muscular strength and endurance, you need two things; mechanical damage and metabolic stress. This means that you need high-intensity exercise that causes your body systems to work hard during performance. 

The dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift variation isn’t easy to perform. It isolates your hamstring and glute on one side of your body. This causes a large amount of both mechanical tension and metabolic stress.

Because of this, the dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift is a great exercise for building muscular endurance and strength specifically in these areas. As mentioned above, it also works your core; specifically your erector spinae which will also get a smaller training stimulus.

Enhanced Balance And Stability

To perform the dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift correctly, you need a large amount of core strength. When coming down, your erector spinae provides stability and helps you balance. This ensures you don’t move from the optimal lifting position.

Because of this, single-leg training which includes the dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift is great for improving balance control. Alongside being great for sports performance, it’s also especially important as we age. This is due to the natural decline in postural balance control.

Improved Athletic Performance

Resistance training is already well-known to enhance athletic performance. Whether you’re a strength and power-based athlete or a general sports performer, you can benefit from the single-leg Romanian deadlift.

It uses a hip hinge, which is a fundamental movement pattern used in most sports. Examples include Olympic lifting, martial arts, and CrossFit. 

Performing the dumbbell single-leg deadlift helps to develop a unilateral hip hinge, allowing you to move more efficiently in daily life and sports performance. This effect of unilateral training seems to be sports-specific, meaning that it primarily benefits unilateral sports movements.

Muscle Symmetry

The dumbbell single-leg deadlift is a unilateral movement pattern. This means that it works one leg at a time. It also means that it requires one half of your body to work together whilst the other relaxes.

Regular performance of bilateral exercises, where you use both sides of your body, can lead to muscular imbalance issues, As you get used to the movement pattern, the stronger side of your body tends to take over.

Therefore, using a unilateral movement such as the dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift can prevent this from happening. Each side of your lower body needs to work at the same intensity to perform the movement correctly. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the single-leg Romanian deadlift good for?

The single-leg Romanian deadlift is a great functional exercise to target your hamstrings. It can also help to improve balance, stability, and sports performance when applied correctly.

Are dumbbell Romanian deadlifts effective?

Dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlifts are effective as they isolate your hamstrings using a unilateral movement. To perform them effectively, you need to focus more on balance and muscle activation.

Should you do single-leg RDLs with one or two dumbbells?

The single-leg RDL can be done with a single dumbbell or two dumbbells. However, using a dumbbell in each hand helps to maintain better balance and focus.

What is the difference between B stance and single leg RDL?

In a dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift, both your legs are in a neutral position. When using a B stance, you use a staggered position which places more emphasis on your front leg.

Resources

  1. Burgos-Jara, C., Cerda-Kohler, H., Aedo-Muñoz, E. and Miarka, B. (2023). Eccentric Resistance Training: A Methodological Proposal of Eccentric Muscle Exercise Classification Based on Exercise Complexity, Training Objectives, Methods, and Intensity. Applied sciences, [online] 13(13), pp.7969–7969. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/app13137969.
  2. Dong, K., Yu, T. and Chun, B. (2023). Effects of Core Training on Sport-Specific Performance of Athletes: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Behavioral sciences, [online] 13(2), pp.148–148. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/bs13020148.
  3. Nuzzo, J.L., Pinto, M.D., Kazunori Nosaka and Steele, J. (2023). Maximal Number of Repetitions at Percentages of the One Repetition Maximum: A Meta-Regression and Moderator Analysis of Sex, Age, Training Status, and Exercise. Sports medicine. [online] doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-023-01937-7.
  4. Schoenfeld, B.J., Grgic, J., Van, D.W. and Plotkin, D.L. (2021). Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports, [online] 9(2), pp.32–32. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/sports9020032.
  5. Rodgers, C.D. and Raja, A. (2023). Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Hamstring Muscle. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546688/ [Accessed 10 Jul. 2024].
  6. Khalila Liyana Koderi, Tan, K., Mohamad and Ali Md Nadzalan (2020). The effects of stance width on muscle activation and performance during Romanian deadlift exercise. [online] ResearchGate. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342275204_The_effects_of_stance_width_on_muscle_activation_and_performance_during_Romanian_deadlift_exercise [Accessed 10 Jul. 2024].
  7. Adel Elzanie and Borger, J. (2023). Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Gluteus Maximus Muscle. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538193/ [Accessed 10 Jul. 2024].
  8. Neto, W.K., Soares, E.G., Vieira, T.L., Aguiar, R., Chola, T.A., Sampaio, V. de L. and Gama, E.F. (2020). Gluteus Maximus Activation during Common Strength and Hypertrophy Exercises: A Systematic Review. Journal of sports science & medicine, [online] 19(1), pp.195–203. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7039033/ [Accessed 10 Jul. 2024].
  9. Henson, B., Kadiyala, B. and Mary Ann Edens (2023). Anatomy, Back, Muscles. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537074/ [Accessed 10 Jul. 2024].
  10. Taylor, E.W., U. Chris Ugbolue, Gao, Y., Gu, Y., Baker, J.S. and Frédéric Dutheil (2023). Erector Spinae Muscle Activation During Forward Movement in Individuals With or Without Chronic Lower Back Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Archives of rehabilitation research and clinical translation, [online] 5(3), pp.100280–100280. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arrct.2023.100280.
  11. Duchateau, J., Séverine Stragier, Baudry, S. and Carpentier, A. (2020). Strength Training: In Search of Optimal Strategies to Maximize Neuromuscular Performance. Exercise and sport sciences reviews, [online] 49(1), pp.2–14. doi:https://doi.org/10.1249/jes.0000000000000234.
  12. None Krzysztofik, Wilk, N., None Wojdała and None Gołaś (2019). Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. International journal of environmental research and public health/International journal of environmental research and public health, [online] 16(24), pp.4897–4897. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16244897.
  13. Schoenfeld, B.J., Contreras, B., Krieger, J., Grgic, J., Delcastillo, K., Belliard, R. and Alto, A. (2019). Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, [online] 51(1), pp.94–103. doi:https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001764.
  14. Kim, B. and Yim, J. (2020). Core Stability and Hip Exercises Improve Physical Function and Activity in Patients with Non-Specific Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Tohoku journal of experimental medicine, [online] 251(3), pp.193–206. doi:https://doi.org/10.1620/tjem.251.193.
  15. Frizziero, A., Giacomo Pellizzon, Filippo Vittadini, Davide Bigliardi and Costantino, C. (2021). Efficacy of Core Stability in Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain. Journal of functional morphology and kinesiology, [online] 6(2), pp.37–37. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/jfmk6020037.
  16. Javier Muñoz Laguna (2024). Global Burden of Disease Estimates of Low Back Pain: Time to Consider and Assess Certainty? International journal of public health, [online] 69. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/ijph.2024.1606557.
  17. Conrado, M., Gerosa-Neto, J., Nelo Eidy Zanchi, Fabio Santos Lira and Fabrício Eduardo Rossi (2017). Role of metabolic stress for enhancing muscle adaptations: Practical applications. World journal of methodology, [online] 7(2), pp.46–46. doi:https://doi.org/10.5662/wjm.v7.i2.46.
  18. Chun, R., Chung, D., Ng, M., Sin, S., Tze, J. and Kit, M. (2023). Effects of loading positions on the activation of trunk and hip muscles during flywheel and dumbbell single-leg Romanian deadlift exercises. Frontiers in physiology, [online] 14. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2023.1264604.
  19. Marcori, A.J., Monteiro, P.H.M., Oliveira, J.A., Doumas, M. and Teixeira, L.A. (2022). Single Leg Balance Training: A Systematic Review. Perceptual and motor skills, [online] 129(2), pp.232–252. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/00315125211070104.
  20. Guilherme Carlos Brech, Tatiana Godoy Bobbio, de, K., Patrícia Mota Coutinho, Regina, L., Mochizuki, L., Jose Maria Soares-Junior, Edmund Chada Baracat, Luiz, Maria, J. and Angélica Castilho Alonso (2022). Changes in postural balance associated with a woman’s aging process. Clinics, [online] 77, pp.100041–100041. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clinsp.2022.100041.
  21. Makaruk, H., Marcin Starzak, Tarkowski, P., Sadowski, J. and Winchester, J. (2024). The Effects of Resistance Training on Sport-Specific Performance of Elite Athletes: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. Journal of Human Kinetics, [online] 91, pp.135–155. doi:https://doi.org/10.5114/jhk/185877.
  22. Weaver, A.N. and Kerksick, C.M. (2017). Implementing Landmine Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift into an Athlete’s Training Program. [online] ResearchGate. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313146837_Implementing_Landmine_Single-Leg_Romanian_Deadlift_into_an_Athlete%27s_Training_Program [Accessed 10 Jul. 2024].
  23. Liao, K.-F., Nassis, G., Bishop, C., Yang, W., Bian, C. and Li, Y.-M. (2022). Effects of unilateral vs. bilateral resistance training interventions on measures of strength, jump, linear and change of direction speed: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Biology of Sport, [online] 39(3), pp.485–497. doi:https://doi.org/10.5114/biolsport.2022.107024.
  24. Gonzalo-Skok, O., Tous-Fajardo, J., Suarez-Arrones, L., José Luis Arjol-Serrano, José Antonio Casajús and Mendez-Villanueva, A. (2017). Single-Leg Power Output and Between-Limbs Imbalances in Team-Sport Players: Unilateral Versus Bilateral Combined Resistance Training. International journal of sports physiology and performance, [online] 12(1), pp.106–114. doi:https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2015-0743.