5 Single Leg Deadlifts for Stability and Balance

September 17, 2016 by VAHVA Fitness

Intense multi-axis single leg deadlift variations to build strength, stability and balance in the legs and core.

When it comes to building stability and balance, the single leg deadlift is the ultimate exercise for the job. 

Most trainees see the single leg deadlift in a very narrow scope: they see it only as a movement that goes up and down on one axis. The reality is that the single leg deadlift is way more versatile than that.

With just minor tweaks you can turn the one leg deadlift into a new kind of beast that will strengthen your legs and core immensely well.

One of the great things about the single leg deadlifts is also the fact that you don't need heavy weights to do it: just relatively light dumbbells from 20 lbs to 40 lbs will suffice. You can get very good results with lighter weights.

This makes the single leg deadlift a phenomenal posterior chain exercise to do at home - just use your kettlebell or a dumbbell and you are all set.

Single leg deadlift is THE EXERCISE to do if you want to improve your balance for sports or martial arts. If you are a mixed martial artist, working on one leg deadlifts will improve your takedown defense very well.

Single leg deadlift is also beneficial for overall fitness because you will target many parts of the legs while also working on ankle mobility and core strength/mobility.

As a result, the single leg deadlift is a great mobility exercise. Good levels of mobility is the key to high performance and health. Working on these single leg deadlifts can help with knee and hip problems.

Barbell Single Leg Deadlift

one leg barbell deadlift

Keep your supporting leg straight or almost straight. Bend over until the bar is close to the floor. Before the bar touches the floor, pull yourself up with your hamstrings, glutes and lower back.

Barbell is a great tool to use (if you have access to it) because it actually makes balancing a bit easier due to the fact you can use the barbell and both arms for balance.

Beginners can use their other leg for assistance and balance.

In the beginning you can keep the assisting leg behind and use your toes for balance. Once you get better, try not to use the other leg for balance or assistance.

Multi-Axis Deadlift

one leg deadlift
one leg deadlift to left side

Multi-axis deadlift is the best single leg deadlift variation you can do to improve your balance and to ensure the structural balance of the legs.

When you move the center of mass by bending to different sides, many parts of the legs need to work hard to stabilize. 

You will feel a burn in your inner and outer thighs (abductors and adductors). The stimulus on your hamstrings and glutes will also be very different.

You will also work the different parts of the lower back and even obliques.

Multi-axis deadlift is the deadlift variation you have to do to get the most out of single leg deadlifts.

Dumbbell Single Leg Deadlift

1 leg deadlift

Grab a dumbbell in your one hand and do the single leg deadlift as usual. The beginner variation is to use the other leg for assistance and balance.

Dumbbell is the best tool to use for one leg deadlifts because it allows the most freedom of movement. 

The possibilities are nearly endless. You can vary the place of the dumbbell similar to the multi-axis deadlifts. You also adjust how far or close to your supporting leg you place the dumbbell.

One interesting multi-axis deadlift variation is the static hold at the bottom where you move from side to side while balancing on one leg. You can see it on the video.

Cross Deadlift

cross deadlift

In the cross deadlift you take a hold of the dumbbell with your opposite side. For example, if you are using the right leg as the supporting leg, you grab the dumbbell with your left arm.

Cross deadlift will target the lower back and leg muscles from the opposite side which makes the exercise very different.

It's also harder to balance this way which makes some of the inner and outer thigh muscles work a bit harder.

When you bring the dumbbell close to your supporting feet, you should feel a really nice burn in your glutes. This also targets the obliques the most.

Lateral Single Leg Deadlift

side deadlift

Lateral single leg deadlift will also target the hamstrings and glutes, but compared to the other single leg deadlifts, the lateral single leg deadlift will emphasize more of your obliques. 

You will also improve your side bending flexibility with the lateral single leg deadlift. This is good for kicks and skills like cartwheels.

Whether it's the side bend or any other single leg deadlift variation, you should aim for maximal control and do the movements in a slow tempo. 

Start the deadlifts with light weights and work your way up. You want to develop stability and balance, not explosive twerking strength.

You can do every single leg deadlift variation for 5 to 10 repetitions for 2 to 3 sets per exercise.

Train hard, stay safe.


samuli jyrkinen

About the author 

Samuli Jyrkinen

Samuli is the ninja behind the scenes (photography, videography, websites, program platforms and more). He has been training religiously for over a decade and has a firm grasp of physical and mental fitness. You will find our story here.

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