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a woman performs the single leg deadlift

The single-leg deadlift is a powerful unilateral exercise. It emphasizes the glutes and hamstrings while providing the rewards of asymmetric training — improving the strength, mobility, balance, and neuromuscular connections that make our bodies and minds more adept and resilient.

For all its benefits, though, the move can be intimidating.

Other single-leg movements, like lunges and step-ups, offer a sense of security by keeping the nonworking leg on the floor or, at least, nearby. In a single-leg deadlift the back leg is actively lifted off the floor.

Taking the time to establish a strong foundation will make maintaining your balance much easier. Be patient while shifting your weight and centering your body. Make sure that you begin with your shoulders stacked over your hips and with your lower ribs drawn down, not flaring out.

Slightly tuck your tailbone to create length in the spine and keep a slight bend in the planted knee. As your hips hinge, actively engage through your back foot — ankle flexed and toes pointing down.

For added support, lightly place the toes of your back foot on the floor just behind you to serve as a kickstand. Or try placing your back toes up on a box or bench to perform a Bulgarian (rear-foot-elevated) deadlift (see below).

If you want to add weight, try holding a dumbbell or kettlebell on the side opposite your working leg (hard), in both hands (harder), or on the same side as your working leg (hardest).

  1. Shift your weight into your left leg, keeping a soft bend in your knee.
  2. Hinge at the hips to lift your right leg, and lower your ­upper body toward the ground. Extend until the right leg is about parallel to the floor.
  3. Return to the starting position, slowly and with control. Repeat for desired reps, then switch sides.

More on the Move

Bulgarian (Rear-Foot-Elevated) Deadlift

The best exercises you aren't doingPhoto by: Erik Isakson
  • Stand with your back 2 to 3 feet from a bench or an aerobic step no taller than knee height.
  • Extend your right leg behind you and place your foot on the step.
  • Bend your front knee slightly, square your hips and shoulders, and balance your weight between your feet.
  • Keeping your back neutral throughout the movement, bend forward at the hips and extend your hands toward the floor, stopping the movement when you start to lose the natural arch in your lower back.
  • Return to the starting position by pushing through the heel of your front foot.
  • Repeat for desired reps, then switch sides.

For details on the Bulgarian deadlift variation, “7 Best Exercises You’re Not Doing”.

Lead photo by: Chad Holder; Stylist: Pam Brand; Fitness Model: Denise Armstead

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