Abducted Single-leg RDLs courtesy of Bret Contreras

Bret Contreras is a smart guy (and a nice one too), so I usually watch or read when he puts out new stuff. Last week, while going through Ben Bruno’s “For Your Viewing Pleasure“, a great weekly collection of fitness videos, I saw Bret’s new video showing a variation of the SL RDL (that’s single-leg Romanian Deadlift) that intrigued me.

I’m a big fan of the SL RDL because it’s a fantastic hip dominant (read: glutes and hammies) exercise. Or at least it is a great glute exercise for those who have the mobility, stability and movement quality to do them properly. Because it is a single leg exercise, it requires full body stability. And because it involves holding heavy weights (as you get stronger) while standing on one leg, I think there is potential for it to be a dangerous exercise if done by people who do not have the ability to control it. I think that is true of any exercise, but my point is that the SL RDL is harder to do well than many other exercises. That means that for many people, it is not a very good option.

But it looks like Bret has found a solution – the single-leg abducted deadlift. It’s basically the premise of a rear foot elevated split squat but applied to RDLs instead of single leg squats.

For those who aren’t familiar with the SL RDL, here’s what they look like (did I mention that I love this lift partly because I’m pretty good at it? :) ):

Now here’s Bret’s video showing the single-leg abducted deadlift:

As Bret explains, he uses the other leg to provide a little bit of support during the movement. But as you can see, the leg needs to be out to the side to maintain some degree of tension so that it remains an effective version of the exercise (Bret explains this in the video).

As soon as I saw it I thought it would be a great option for the many clients I have who seem to have trouble with the SL RDL movement. So I decided to try it out so that I can know whether and how to use it with clients.

I tried it out yesterday with just my body weight, using a box of similar height to the one Bret uses in the video above. It was okay, but I actually found it a bit uncomfortable. Now I’m sure it would be fine for most, but I have sub-optimal hip anatomy (FAI and a labral tear that was corrected surgically but with residual arthritic damage), so for me, it was not very comfortable. So I decided to try it again with a lower box – about a foot high. Jackpot: it felt great. So I tried it again this morning during my workout, when I was conveniently doing SL RDLs anyway. I did my sets normally, finishing up at 6×145 on each leg, and then I did a set with the other leg abducted on the box. It felt pretty good! There were two things I noticed:

  • I did feel it a bit more in my quads than I typically do with SL RDLs
  • It helped me to stay centered.

Now the latter point has me kind of excited. I’ve noticed that I tend to have a bit of a lean to the side when I do SL RDLs on my right side, and I end up feeling a bit of extra tension along the lateral (outer) hamstring (note – I think this is an issue that goes beyond the SL RDL and am working on it!). When I did the single-leg abducted version, however, that feeling went away. As Bret says in his video, the single-leg abducted version does mean that your other leg takes some of the weight, but from what I felt this morning – it does so in a good way. It helped me to stay aligned. I would guess that I only put about 10-15% weight on the abducted leg, but by having it out there, I was able to maintain better alignment than I did just doing the SL RDL on one leg.

Does this mean I plan to stop doing SL RDLs and just do these instead? No. Or at least that’s not my plan. But it means that after trying it out, I now think that there are two great uses for this exercise:

  • as a single-leg hip dominant exercise for those who do not have the movement quality to do a loaded single-leg Romanian deadlift (the trial confirmed this for me)
  • as a support exercise for the SL RDL. I am not 100% sure yet how I will incorporate this, but my current thought process is that, for clients who are lifting heavy weight with the SL RDL, I will have them spend one week every month doing this version instead of the SL RDL. I have a feeling it will help them stay stable and move forward. In some cases, I see it as correcting little imbalances (as in my case), and for others, I see it as a way to try slightly more weight with confidence before moving to that weight unaided.

I will take a couple of videos in the next week for more…In fact I may even do one with the single-leg on a scale to see how much support the abducted leg gives.

If you’re interested in following more of Bret’s thoughts, you can check out his blog here: http://bretcontreras.com/.

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada.

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