One-Legged Barbell and Kettlebell Deadlifts

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
I have, for years, done one-legged _kettlebell_ deadlifts: same hand and foot (unilateral), opposite hand and foot (contralateral), and both hands (using two kettlebells). But every time I tried even a very light one-legged _barbell_ deadlift, I could not manage it, always failing to get even a single rep on either leg.

I've been doing a few more one-legged kettlebell deadlifts of late, primarily because I've been doing them while teaching and demonstrating. And I don't know what inspired me to try the barbell again, but more likely it was that someone before me had left it loaded to only 115 lbs (about 50 kg). Eureka, I got a single on each side.

I've got lots to say about what I think made the difference, but I'm curious as to how others have fared with regard to these lifts, in particular how you find your one-legged kettlebell, one-legged barbell, and normal barbell lifts in comparison to each other.

Thanks in advance for your replies.

-S-
 

Chrisdavisjr

Level 7 Valued Member
I fooled around with these a while back when I had a knee injury (although not for very long as I was then concerned that I might ruin my healthy knee as well). I have an Instagram video of a rather unsteady 70kg/154lb single leg barbell deadlift. I think that's as far as I dared go.

I did a decent amount of single leg KB RDLs as part of the rehab for my knee as well (KB in the opposite hand from the working leg).

I've also done single leg power cleans with an empty bar (20kg) as part of my early lockdown training, which involved a lot of volume and variety at low weights. I don't think I filmed any of those though!
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
I have, for years, done one-legged _kettlebell_ deadlifts: same hand and foot (unilateral), opposite hand and foot (contralateral), and both hands (using two kettlebells). But every time I tried even a very light one-legged _barbell_ deadlift, I could not manage it, always failing to get even a single rep on either leg.

I've been doing a few more one-legged kettlebell deadlifts of late, primarily because I've been doing them while teaching and demonstrating. And I don't know what inspired me to try the barbell again, but more likely it was that someone before me had left it loaded to only 115 lbs (about 50 kg). Eureka, I got a single on each side.

I've got lots to say about what I think made the difference, but I'm curious as to how others have fared with regard to these lifts, in particular how you find your one-legged kettlebell, one-legged barbell, and normal barbell lifts in comparison to each other.

Thanks in advance for your replies.

-S-

You use both hands on the barbell, right?

I've never noticed a big difference between a single kettlebell or a barbell with the single leg deadlift.
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
You use both hands on the barbell, right?

Yes.

I've never noticed a big difference between a single kettlebell or a barbell with the single leg deadlift.

With a kettlebell, I can get away with my knee coming forward a bit, and that's something I also do on my normal conventional barbell deadlift. But with the barbell, I found I really had to push back into my hips and lift the weight that way, IOW, much less quad involvement in breaking the bar off the ground.

-S-
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
Yes.



With a kettlebell, I can get away with my knee coming forward a bit, and that's something I also do on my normal conventional barbell deadlift. But with the barbell, I found I really had to push back into my hips and lift the weight that way, IOW, much less quad involvement in breaking the bar off the ground.

-S-

Yes, I prefer to think of the single leg deadlift as more of a pure posterior exercise, like the stiff leg deadlift or Romanian deadlift.

I once had a nasty injury which made it impossible to do single leg deadlifts on my other side. I would just lose balance.

Do you have experience doing lunges, do you have any kind of problems with them?
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
Yes, I prefer to think of the single leg deadlift as more of a pure posterior exercise, like the stiff leg deadlift or Romanian deadlift.

Yes, but there is posterior and there is posterior. I have seen a lot of single-leg kettlebell deadlifts done with hamstring strength and not hip strength - they look like a stiff-legged deadlift or what we sometimes call a "drinkie bird" swing. I don't do my swings or deadlifts that way, I really sit back into my hips, and I try to do the same with a barbell.

I usually start a one-legged kettlebell deadlift with the bell inside or outside my foot but not in front, and I feel this facilitates making it a hip driven movement for me. Perhaps it's just that I don't have the hamstring strength to do a stiff-legged deadlift - I've never done those either because my focus has always been to try to involve my hips as much as possible. (Even when I haven't succeeded, that's still what I'm trying to do.)

Do you have experience doing lunges, do you have any kind of problems with them?

I have never had them in my program. I cannot touch my back knee to the ground without pain - very little patella cartilage, if any, remains. I was given a diagnosis of chondromalacia patella within a few months of starting jogging in my 20's, and I continued to run for another 25 years. :(

-S-
 

North Coast Miller

Level 7 Valued Member
I'll have to come back to these.

In the past I found that as the load increased the need to counterbalance with the trailing leg and pull the weight in close to the working leg, felt as though it robbed the lift of a lot of its focus on the glutes that you can feel when doing bodyweight SLDL or bilateral hinge patterns.

I ultimately swapped them for kickstand DL and then to Good Mornings, but have been considering taking another look at SLDL.
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
In the past I found that as the load increased the need to counterbalance with the trailing leg and pull the weight in close to the working leg, felt as though it robbed the lift of a lot of its focus on the glutes that you can feel when doing bodyweight SLDL or bilateral hinge patterns.
Very interesting - as you might surmise from reading my conversation with @Antti, my experience, or at least my understanding of my experience, has been just the opposite - getting my glutes more into the lift resulted in success where I had none before.

-S-
 

North Coast Miller

Level 7 Valued Member
Very interesting - as you might surmise from reading my conversation with @Antti, my experience, or at least my understanding of my experience, has been just the opposite - getting my glutes more into the lift resulted in success where I had none before.

-S-
To me it doesn't make sense, but in the past as I loaded it up to something in a challenging rep range the focus seemed to shift off my glutes every time.

But I also noticed when doing a lot of digging with a shovel, if I go across my body (lead hand on shovel is over the opposite foot) I get a great sensation of glute activation as I come up, and this is basically the same mechanics. So....I think there must be some subtle cue that I'm missing. At low load it feels perfect, maybe a balance vs bracing issue as the load increases.
 

Philippe Geoffrion

Level 6 Valued Member
I’ve done both. Balance is the biggest issue with the barbell as placing yourself ‘centered’ on the deadlift is a little trickier. I feel, actually, centered with a single leg deadlift with the bar would have you shifted off center a tad, ie, your working foot is not exactly on the bars middle point.

with the kettlebells, your knees aren’t impeded from forward movement allowing the fulcrum of he hip and knee to collude more efficiently.

Kettlebells allow the ‘sides’ to be closed more since they can be pulled further back towards the body such that the lats and obliques can be tightened more than on the barbell this allowing stability.

If one has trouble with the barbell, it may bejoove them to start in a rack and perform eccentrics to find their right starting position and alignment.

I’ve done quite a bit on a single leg DL, more so than half my regular deadlift. I think my best was 275 lbs for a double. The back leg actually acts as a counterweight in a way and bringing it forward on the concentric seems to give the lifter some leverage and extra weight behind the lift.
 

wespom9

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
I find it very harsh on my knees when I attempt to go heavy on single led deadlifts, anything over 135 causes some pain.
I perform them hips back, not the stiff leg "drinkie/tippy bird" style". I like them alot as a backoff to DL' s or swings, or done lightly as a warmup.
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor

Erik Hournou

Level 6 Valued Member
Thank you very much, Erik.



I have no idea whatsoever. I really don't think muscles very much. I do know it targets the smaller glute muscles because it has made mine really sore, but that's about all I can tell you.

-S-
Thanks, my physiotherapist recommended I strengthen my external quads on my right side and I'm figuring out what exercise I can use, I'll have to experiment around and see what happens!
 

SamB

Level 2 Valued Member
Do you think this is a good exercise to strengthen the vastus lateralis?
As always, experimentation can lead to unexpected results. But the lateralis doesn't cross the hip so it should not get much out of these. Come to think of it, it stabilises the knee so if your balance is poor it may do more for you. Might be a rare occasion for doing this movement lighter on a less stable surface.
 
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