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How To Do A Single Leg Deadlift For Stronger, More Toned Hamstrings & Glutes

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES. PN-L1

how to do a single leg deadlift

Learning how to do a single leg deadlift with dumbbells is one of the best exercises you can do to improve your hamstring and glute strength, while also improving your stability and balance.

How to do a single leg dumbbell deadlift

When learning how to do a single leg deadlift, you want to master the technique before you start adding weight.  Just like you need to master how to squat before putting a bar on your back, the single leg deadlift is the same way.

To learn the movement, practice the single leg hip hinge reach.  I learned this from Mike Boyle, one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the world, and I start all my new clients with this exercise.

Form breakdown for single leg deadlift with dumbbell:

  1. Standing straight up, hold one dumbbell on your thigh while you slightly bend the knee of the opposite leg.
  2. Begin your hip hinge by pushing your butt back towards the wall. As you do this, the leg that is on the same side of the dumbbell should start kicking back.
  3. The dumbbell should be going in a straight line down as you hinge your hips.
  4. As you hinge, keep your back flat and don’t let your  upper back round to get deeper.
  5. Once you’ve reached a point where you feel a stretch in your hamstring and you can’t go any further, start pushing your hips forward and bring your leg back vertical so you are standing in a straight position.
  6. That’s one rep!

It’s very important to keep your back flat during a single leg deadlift and to not rotate your hips as you hinge to try and get deeper.

The biggest problem I see clients do with one leg deadlifts is they round their upper back to try and get deeper.  Get in a habit of only going until you feel the stretch in your hamstring and then going back.

The 3 best single leg deadlift dumbbell variations

Once you’ve mastered the single leg deadlift, try these other variations to test your strength, balance, and stability.

Ipsilateral single leg deadlifts

This one is very similar to the one leg deadlift you learned above, but now I want you to hold the dumbbell on the side of the planted leg.

This is called ipsilateral.  Holding the dumbbell on this side will work your inner thigh slightly more than the previous example.

Hand supported one leg deadlifts

A great variation of single leg deadlifts that will take out the stability and balance portion of the movement is this one.  By holding onto something while you do the deadlift, you’ll be able to really load up the weight.

Typically with my clients we will do an increase in weight of between 25 - 30% more than what they do on traditional single leg dumbbell deadlifts.

Single leg deadlifts + reverse lunge

Now we’re having fun with the variations.  Try combining two exercises in one with this exercise!

You’ll do the single leg deadlift you learned above and pair it with a reverse lunge.

There’s nothing special about this exercise but the added exercise will help improve your work capacity.

What are single leg deadlifts good for?

The single leg deadlift is an amazing exercise that combines strength and stability.  Since you’re on one leg, you get tested with your balance and stability.  Holding the dumbbell and hinging gives a great stretch on your hamstrings and glutes so you can build muscle and tone those areas.

If you want to learn more exercises to target the hamstrings, check out The Best Hamstrings Exercises You Can Do With Dumbbells.

Which hand holds dumbbell in single leg deadlifts?

There are two ways you can hold a dumbbell during singe leg deadlifts.  Holding it in the opposite hand of the planted foot is called contralateral and will allows for extra work on the outer leg of the planted foot.  Ipsilateral means you hold the dumbbell on the same side as the planted foot, allowing for more inner leg activation.

How long should I do a single leg deadlift?

Since you have to do both sides on a single leg deadlift, you don’t want to stress your body with high reps.  Do 2 - 3 sets of 6 - 8 reps on each side.  Take around 90 seconds - 2 minutes of rest after each set.

Want to try these incorporated in a leg day workout? Check out The Best Dumbbell Only Leg Workout.

How do I progress with single leg deadlifts?

  1. Single leg hip hinge reaches
  2. Single leg deadlifts
  3. Ipsilateral single leg deadlifts
  4. Hand supported single leg deadlifts
  5. Two hand single leg deadlifts

That is a good progression from beginner to advanced. 

How to do a single leg deadlift recap

The single leg dumbbell deadlift is a versatile exercise that not only targets your hamstrings and glutes but will improve your stability and balance.  Form is always important with any hinging exercise so master the single leg hip hinge reach before earning the right to use dumbbells.

Once you’ve got the movement pattern down, add a dumbbell and do 2 - 3 sets of 6 - 8 reps on each side.  From there, progress into harder variations like the ipsilateral single leg deadlift and hand supported one leg deadlift.