Anatomy of

Single-Leg Deadlift

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Part 2 of our “Anatomy of” series covers the single-leg deadlift. You can find part one covering walking lunges, HERE.

Another Great Lower Body Exercise

If you want to target your hamstrings, improve your balance and tighten/lift your booty, the single-leg deadlift is the exercise for you! A lot like walking lunges, single-leg deadlifts are modifiable and extremely effective. They’re also easier on the back than traditional deadlifts. They’ve been referred to as the “non-surgical butt lift”.

Why and What

Deadlifts target practically every muscle of the posterior chain. The Hamstrings are composed of three muscles in the back of your thigh (Biceps Femoris, Semitendinosus and the semimembranosus). They are required for walking, running and jumping. Single-leg deadlifts will strengthen those muscles allowing us to run faster, jump higher and have excellent balance!

“Erin, tell me more about this non-surgical butt lift that you mentioned…” Oh, of course!  The movement involved in the single-leg deadlift activates the glutes and has been proven to tighten, strengthen and YES even lift your booty. *Insert peach emoji here* Why pay money for a great butt when you can build one yourself?! This exercise will also strengthen your lower back, spinal erectors, lats and traps. A strong low back now, will save you from back problems in the future! Are you convinced yet?

Before We Begin

The single-leg deadlift is overall, a very simple movement. You’re bending over like you’re picking something up. It’s not a squat, but a bend. Because of this, proper form and lifting technique is crucial. We don’t need any injuries. Make sure you’re cleared with a doctor to exercise before you begin.

-If you’re just starting out, don’t hold any weight. Get the movement down first.

-Always stand back up completely, after every rep.

-You’re going to focus on one leg at a time. [Example: Complete all 10 reps on the left leg and then switch to the right.]

-The “working side” will be the leg that is planted.

-The “resting leg” will be kicked out behind you.

-VERY IMPORTANT: I want you to feel for your hip bone. THAT is where I want the crease. THAT is where you are to bend. NOT at the waist (we DO NOT want a rounded back- as seen below)

-If you (in the mirror) or your spotter (if you have one) notice a rounding of your back, make sure to straighten out by either “sticking your butt out” or bending your planted knee.

The Nitty Gritty

During the entire movement, keep your:

  • Head neutral
  • Shoulders back
  • Spine straight (no excessive curvature)
  • Core tight
  • Knee bent slightly (if needed)
  • Foot planted flat (barefoot if possible), pushing into the ground
  • Grab the kettlebell or dumbbell

…..and PULL.

  • Remember to stand up all the way to complete the movement
  • Squeeze your glute at the top of the movement
  • Keep ALL of these things in mind as you lower back down

Here’s a step by step:

#1- Standing straight up, looking forward, hands down at your side. (Everyone, say hi to Scout!)

#2- Begin to bend forward at your hip bone with a neutral head and spine.

#3- Bend your knee if you feel your back start to bend. Think “shoulders back, core tight, butt out.”

#4- The bottom of your movement is when your back is flat like a table top. Keep a neutral head as you stand back up to the starting position and squeeze those glutes!

…and you’ve completed your first rep!

Modifications for the Single-Leg Deadlift

  • Flexibility is a huge part of this exercise. Be sure to warm up for at least 10 minutes beforehand and stretch your calves, hamstrings and lower back. If you’re not able to bend down all the way you can start with a step or box in front of you. When you get to the bottom of the movement you won’t have to reach as far. As your flexibility improves you can remove the step.
  • It’s okay if you need to hold on to something at first with the opposite hand of the working leg. Balance will come in time.
  • Once you know the motion, you can add a bit of extra weight. If you’ve advanced past that and need to increase the difficulty even more so, you can stand on an unbalanced surface like a BOSU or Terra Core.
  • I’d like to reiterate that you WILL feel this exercise in your lower back. Many of my clients have had concerns about this in the past. This is not a bad thing however, it is important for us to understand the difference between a working, fatigued muscle and a strained one. A fatigued  muscle will feel a bit tight or even give a slight burning sensation while you’re working it. A muscle strain (what we don’t want) will feel sharp or stabbing and may pulse down your leg. If you feel this at all, discontinue the exercise and consult your doctor. This will not happen with proper form.

Tying it All Together

Now that we’ve covered the why, what, and how we can put it together into a workout! You can choose to do the single-leg deadlift on either your back or leg day. It’s really just a matter of preference. I choose to do them on leg day because I always feel them in my legs and glutes the next day! Instead of giving you another leg workout, I want to give you a list of other exercises that you can do for your entire posterior chain. Enjoy!

Interested in a training program? Click HERE.

Until next time…


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I'm an NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist. I worked in a gym setting back in Florida for over 2 years, training one-on-one clients and leading group fitness classes. I absolutely loved it, but once we moved across the country to Colorado, I decided to take the opportunity to pursue a slightly different career! My obsession with exercise and love for writing collided, which is how I became a fitness lifestyle writer.


  1. Dad

    December 6, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    That’s another great post Erin ! Except scout stole the thunder on this one 🙂
    You should get her to pose for some of the exercises…

    • Chinups_and_Cupcakes

      December 8, 2017 at 12:52 pm

      Thanks! Yeah… she loves attention

  2. lindamiller4428

    December 8, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    I am loving this blog! Thank you!

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