Single Leg Deadlifts: Do Them or Else

by Max Shank on February 6, 2013

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Though initially I thought it was unnecessary to explain the ridiculous benefits of single leg deadlifting, I am finding that many people are still not convinced of its amazing power. There seems to be many people who dismiss it as being too light or for ladies only.

This should dispel that lack of understanding:

When done properly, the single leg deadlift can be loaded up to truly impressive amount of weight, that which lifting will require an impressive blend of strength, balance, and athleticism.

Athleticism? Yes athleticism. Think about what stance most sports assume; either single leg or split stance—that is, one hip in flexion and one in extension. Own this position under load and you will become instantly more athletic. Run faster, jump higher, hit harder.

When it comes to kettlebell training the posterior chain has one obvious ballistic movement: The Swing. I don’t need to convince you all of the benefits of the swing, but we should recognize that is has its limitations in posterior chain strength. The load is simply not heavy enough, even with a pair of beasts at 212 lbs. That’s a measly 106 per leg. Grab the same pair of bells for some single leg deadlifts and we are now approaching some serious posterior chain strength.

If swings are power work for the posterior chain, then single leg deadlifts are the strength work. These two moves, used concurrently, will yield massive strength, athleticism, and improve your overall movement quality.

Quick tips on how to perform the exercise:

  • Set up with the weight as close to your midfoot as possible.
  • Reach the free leg up and back and make your spine long
  • Maintain a straight line from your crown to your free foot throughout the exercise
  • The standing leg should bend at the bottom, straighten at the top (just like a swing)
  • Go Heavy!

Better every day,


Max Shank, Master RKC: Max Shank is not only an extremely gifted teacher, but one of the most well-rounded and capable athletes in the world. From excelling in Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu to performing impressive feats of strength in weightlifting and gymnastics, Max has the ability to do it all–and do it well. Choosing to lead from the front by his own example, he has dedicated his life to Strength and Health.

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  • Right on Max! The Single Dead Lift is an incredible exercise! It’s an all time favorite of All-Pro kick returner Leon Washington. He highlighted the exercise in the Sports Illustrated story done on him in 2008. Great move – my students do them all of the time.

  • Nice! You know I had forgot about this one for the most part and never worked on it with a barbell (cause as you said the kettlebells are too light) but I’m going to add it into the mix.

  • Roger

    would you suggest doing double kettlebells or singles for the “single leg” deadlift. I’ve read about both, and watched a youtube vid by a gentlemen named Dan. Your thoughts? Thanks for all you do.

    • Doubles are going to give you the most strength. But holding a KB in the opposite hand can be good for patterning.

  • Great vid! I also believe single arm (suitcase) deadlifts are underrated. It creates a great contraction on the waist to keep the body straight and not lean over toward the weight.

  • Joe

    Excellent! Have been doing single KB heavy lifts on a wobble board to help my running balance. I didnt know if I could go straight bar and heavy safely. That video answered that! Thanks. I think single leg deads are the best lift a runner can do to affect their performance positively. Forces the foot to balance properly. Maybe mention they need to be barefooted or in vibram to get those toes spread out. Awesome stuff

  • It creates alot of stabilizer activity for me, ready to go heavier working towards the Beast.

  • SLDL are my favorite. Especially heavy 2 bell version… But alot of people find the single bell version harder in a different light because of the counter rotation. Love them both nice post

  • Tania

    Impressive! Thanks for this very useful reminder.

  • Marc

    What should I use as a progression for single leg deadlifting? I do not deadlift normally, I work out at home by myself, have not lifted heavy for a couple of years. Thanks, Marc

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