Spoiler: They are not that easy.
The other day, another video of Kate Upton proving that she is an absolute beast in the gym. The model’s trainer, Ben Bruno, recently logged on to Instagram to post a clip of her doing Romanian ground surveys of an 80-pound leg during an intense workout at home.
“This is crazy,” wrote Bruno next to the post. “Kate Upton crushed these single leg RDLs with 80 pounds on the bar. This is not a typo.”
Upton can make lower body training look “easy”, but make no mistake: she and Bruno trained hard to help her lift so much weight on deadlifts, he explained in his post. “She trains six days a week and tries her best every day,” wrote Bruno. “We followed the simple progressive overload and every time I give her the option to keep her weight the same or go up, she wants to go up. Do it consistently for a few years and you end up very, very strong.”
ICYDK, a Romanian deadlift, similar to the conventional deadlift, is a functional exercise that helps to strengthen your posterior chain (read: lower back, buttocks and hamstrings) and your core. A single leg RDL, however, is when you perform an RDL while balancing on just one leg.
As for the benefits of single-legged RDLs, unilateral movement not only challenges your balance, it also isolates and increases the strength of your glutes and hamstrings, explains Beau Burgau, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and founder of GRIT Training Maine . In addition, because single-legged RDLs require control of the entire body, they actually work the stabilizing muscles in your core, he adds. “Essentially, the movement improves unilateral balance, coordination and stability,” he says. “As an added bonus, it’s great for the stability and strength of the ankle as well.”
If you have never tried the exercise, Burgau recommends starting with regular Romanian deadlifts (for example, with both feet flat on the ground) before trying the single leg version. To recap: the difference between a conventional deadlift and an RDL is that during RDLs, your hips don’t go down that far and you don’t bend your knees that much, which means you’re letting your hamstrings do more work. Once you have mastered this movement, you can try RDLs with one leg, starting with a version of the assisted bodyweight movement, suggests Burgau.
How to do Romanian deadlifts with assisted body weight
A. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Transfer the weight to the right leg, the left foot slightly back, balancing on the balls of the feet. Hold a platform, rack or chair with your right hand.
B. Actively press your right leg on the floor and shoot with your left leg back while leaning forward on your hips, lowering your torso until it is almost parallel to the floor. Make sure to keep your hips aligned.
C. Keeping the core taut and the back straight, simultaneously pull the left leg down to find the right leg to stand again, squeezing the buttock of the standing leg at the top.
Burgau suggests starting with 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps on each side. Once you’re comfortable with the assisted body weight version, try single-legged RDLs without help, using only your body weight, suggests Burgau. To progress further, try adding weight with a dumbbell, kettlebell or barbell (like Upton) and get comfortable doing the assisted-weight movement before going without help, says Burgau. “Understand the movement and work to stabilize yourself and improve your balance,” he explains.
To get the most out of this exercise, form is the key, adds the trainer. Your spine should be neutral and your back should remain straight so that you create a straight line from the neck to the heel of the leg that is kicked back, explains Burgau. “You do this by bending your hips with a slight knee flexion on the planted leg,” he notes. “Land your foot so that you have stability and engage your core.”
Synchronizing your movement with your breathing is important to help you stay in control too, says Burgau. He recommends inhaling when bending your hips and lowering your torso and exhaling when wrapping your buttocks to get back up.
Another tip: keep your shoulders back throughout the movement, says Burgau. “Imagine that you are squeezing a pencil between your shoulder blades,” he explains. If your shoulders are rounded forward and your back is no longer straight, you will put a lot of pressure on your lower back, which can cause injuries, he notes.
“Control is important, so don’t rush,” says Burgau. “Really wrap your buttocks and core, not your back, to lift it up.”