The Most Underrated Exercise?

At a certain point, I’ve got to wonder when, if ever, I will get tired of “discovering” new (old?) tricks, tips, and methodologies for my programming.

Lately, I’ve been focusing on Get Up based exercises/movements and anything that helps that particular movement. I came up with a series of exercises last month that were literally because I was too weak, and too locked down in my hips to be able to do what I was supposed to. I have a feeling there are many other people out there in the same boat.

This particular exercise actually makes many of the other exercises in our arsenal that much better.

  • It makes the half-windmill portion of the Get Up easier by “opening” the posterior hip capsule
  • It makes the lunge in the Get Up easier for the same reason as above
  • It allows you to pack the shoulders on the Get Up and the Press easier
  • It promotes reflexive core stability – the ability of your body to fire your core to protect your spine under load without you having to resort to artificial strategies
  • It strengthens all the muscles of the leg, from the plantar flexors in the foot and its intrinsics, all the way to the hip, including the deep hip rotators and the gluteus medius
  • It teaches you how to “link” your shoulders to your hips, via the Lat(s), which is important for spinal stability and increasing pressing strength
  • It allows you to fully load the hips and hamstrings in exercises such as the Deadlift and Swing

What is it?

The Single Leg Deadlift – with contralateral loading.

Here’s a pretty good picture (Sorry Brett Jones fans, couldn’t find a pretty one of him).

And here’s how to perform it:

Pretty Good Contralaterally Loaded Single Leg Deadlift

  • Don’t wear shoes of any kind – barefoot only
  • Initiate the movement by hinging into the hip
  • “Push” the elevated leg toward the wall
  • Keep the chest up and out, with your chin like the guy in the pic
  • Keep the elevated leg from externally rotating and pull the toes toward the hip (active dorsiflexion)
  • Keep the non-working leg close to midline of the body
  • Make sure the Lat is connected to the hip – should feel it contracting the whole time
  • Push foot into the floor the whole time
  • Don’t activate the abs – they should activate reflexively
  • You’ve hit end range when you can no longer keep the lower back flat
  • Reverse the motion and squeeze off the glut to stand up, pushing the foot into the floor the whole time.

When To Use the SLDL?

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think it’s a great exercise to use if you have been screened with the FMS/CK-FMS to increase shoulder flexibility, to improve rotational stability, and to improve your Active Straight Leg Raise. Maybe. It also could be used just for a warm-up. It fires up the ol’ CNS pretty quickly. I am currently using it for reflexive core stability and hip mobility, and pattern work.

Tonight I did a whopping 12kg for a set of 13 each leg and a set of 15 each leg. (Hey, leave me alone with the high reps thing – it’s a corrective exercise…). I was actually able to work up to 24kg for 5,5 on Friday, but it didn’t feel nearly as good as tonight. But that’s ok, I believe it set the “tone” for tonight’s work. So did all the modified SLDL work that I’ve been doing over the past 4 weeks.

I haven’t used them, or really been able to them well, for the last 10 years. I did a variation of them pretty routinely from ’98 to ’01-ish, but not the more effective way that’s shown in this picture. I honestly don’t think I ever got into the hip capsule the way I am now.

So add these in your training program once or twice a week either before or after your main work (Not after a heavy ballistics or metabolic conditioning session.). Start with some low reps and add reps when you’re able to get the movement down. See if it makes a difference. You should feel more “put together.” You will also notice a difference in some other exercises too.

Drop a response and let me know what you notice. I look forward to hearing how you get on with these.

20 comments… add one
  • Max Shank Feb 16, 2010 @ 22:16

    This is a deceivingly difficult exercise, Geoff.
    When I first started I couldn’t do a single rep on my right side (my stronger leg) with a 16kg bell. At the time I still had a respectable 500lb dl and 300lb clean. It’s amazing what is yet to be unlocked. Keep it coming.

    • GEOFFN Feb 17, 2010 @ 21:04

      Max – What’d you end up at and how did it affect your big lifts? I’m feeling great and fully expect to be up too competition shape by mid-year…

  • Mark Cibrario Feb 16, 2010 @ 22:55

    Geoff,
    Good stuff, nice job on the description. Not to split hairs, but this movement pattern is what I call a single leg romanian deadlift. The move in the photo appears to display about a 20 degree knee bend, a great anterior tilt of the pelvis (tipping action), and a scale action or heel to hip height.
    The difference of a dead lift action is a greater crease action at the hip whereas the lower ribcage meets the upper thigh, like the barbell deadlift (with proper mechanics). There is less of the tipping action and less hamstring biased eccentric loading with a true deadlift. There should be more of a buttocks back feel to the exericise and greater knee flexion to 45 degrees or slightly greater. The leg should only lift to about the height of the opposite knee, still a reaching back action while firing that glute.
    Both great options, 20 degee knee bend and higher leg lift (hip height), definately hamstring biased and great hip, ankle, foot stability. Also, if you have any knee dysfunction that you need to reduce knee flexion, awsome. Great for the sling system as well. The true deadlift, 45 degee knee bend with a lower leg lift (knee height), definately buttocks biased, heavier loads for the big bang to the butttocks along with the hammies.
    Let the debates start.
    Kind regards,
    Mark Cibrario

    • GEOFFN Feb 17, 2010 @ 21:08

      Hi Mark – Thanks for stopping in and for your detailed critique of the SLDL. As far as my stance on the RDL (pun intended), I just use the old USWF article written by Lynn Jones (c.1992), the USA’s coaching director at the time: Shins perpendicular to the floor, back flat. The same holds true I think for the single leg version. Regardless, it’s a great a exercise and I know I’ve been remiss in not using it.

  • Mark Snow Feb 16, 2010 @ 23:00

    Great post Geoff! We are planning on introducing this to our bootcamp class this week. The exercise has so many upsides to it due to the dynamic hip mobility/stability, shoulder stability and rotational /trunk stability. I am suprised that more people aren’t working on it.

    • GEOFFN Feb 17, 2010 @ 21:12

      Thanks, Mark. I hope you and Nikki are doing great in Nebraska. I honestly don’t know how many people are using this puppy, but I know that more should! I look forward to reaping the benefits!

  • Philippe Feb 16, 2010 @ 23:29

    Simple. Simply brilliant. And well-timed for my needs!

    • GEOFFN Feb 17, 2010 @ 21:12

      Thanks, Philippe. Hope everything else is well with you.

  • chris Feb 17, 2010 @ 1:45

    I am really needing to work on flexibility since I pulled a muscle in my lower back/ butt yesterday doing regular DL’s. I did this exercise and I can really feel the tension on the muscle I pulled. Oh yah, this is pure evidence to do what Pavel sais and only what pavel sais….I was competing in a power lifting tournament on friday, did some pretty heavy deadift although I did not stretch, after the last lift I felt pain in my back and just thought I will ice it and relax over the weekend….I did so, on monday I did DL’s with low weight low reps and pulled the muscle!!! I could barely walk…what I’m saying is that pavel says to take a week off while always stretching during your free time and start back on light weight; well I started back on light weight but didn’t stretch and suffered the consiquences.

    • GEOFFN Feb 17, 2010 @ 21:13

      Chris – Yup, it’s good to listen to those who have walked the path you’re currently walking. Makes your trip easier.

  • Zach Feb 17, 2010 @ 10:10

    Geoff
    I assume you could do a light set before C&J of RTK to get the right groove?
    Thank you Zach

    • GEOFFN Feb 17, 2010 @ 21:14

      Zach – I see no reason why not. Try it and report back.

  • Brett Jones Feb 17, 2010 @ 11:20

    Geoff,
    I’ll get you a pic later today (can’t disappoint the fans).
    Call it SLDL, Aunt Jackie, Uncle Bob, or the Sports Deadlift (as Gray and I refer to it) – just do them.
    In Russia the exercises don’t actually have “names” but rather the description is the name. Or so I’ve heard from some Russian Guy…

    Chris – are you near a CK-FMS or FMS trainer to get screened?
    Check dragondoor.com for CK-FMS instructors and functionalmovement.com for FMS trainers.

    • GEOFFN Feb 17, 2010 @ 21:15

      Brett – gotta watch out for those Russian guys…

  • Joe Johnson Feb 17, 2010 @ 12:02

    Good stuff here Geoff. One of the things I’ve found from the Secrets of the Shoulder DVD is raising the bell off the floor on a short platform helps. Too often taking a client through this they feel like they need to take the bell to the floor. They either lose their balance or just drop the bell to the floor very quickly. Also their back leg tends to tail off and not stay “attached.” I myself struggled with the SLDL when I first started trying them. In fact I gave up on them until I saw the Secrets DVD & started using a platform.
    Just make sure when Brett sends you the picture he is barefoot, unlike the current pic!

    • GEOFFN Feb 17, 2010 @ 21:16

      Joe – That’s a great DVD. Lots of good meat in there that many people are ignoring. I actually started with a platform myself. Glad they’ve worked for you.

  • helen Feb 17, 2010 @ 15:20

    grunt grunt, oh Geoff just what i needed for breaks when sitting so much at work.. though i am hanging on to the side of the desk with heavy duty stapler in other hand… interesting how one side is stronger than the other… needs work (yes, my butt thanks you, ha ha)
    ~ thank you! muchos 🙂 h

    • GEOFFN Feb 17, 2010 @ 21:17

      No problem, Helen. Glad you are able to use the info!

  • Russ Feb 19, 2010 @ 18:46

    Yesterday – 2 x5 piecework roll to press, press to elbow w 24kg
    Followed by 61 rounds of 7 swings 15:15 w 24kg.

    Today –
    2×5 piecework roll to press, press to elbow w 24 kg and drills
    10 rounds of 5 snatches 15:15 w 24 kg.

  • Tim Roess May 12, 2010 @ 1:27

    Hey Geoff,
    December 30, 2006, I was in a head on collision. I broke my neck(rebounding forward, then back, then forward again), and broke my back, right where the seat belt hits the waist.

    I went the chiropractic, massage therapy, accupuncture route to overcome the injury, and fully rehab. I literally fell in love with the idea of helping others, after seeing what was being done for me. I avoided all surgeries, and healed. One of the movements that was introduced to me was this one. I did it mainly with little to nothing, as far as weight; simply to awaken the hips, and the spine and strengthen the core. Adding weight, became the goal, which I eventually did.

    Its a stabilizer of the highest order. I think its also a great “childlike” movement. I have three kids, and they seem to perform this movement, like you and I breath and walk. Ahhh, to be “gumby like”, well, this seems to get me there. It is a great warm-up, and great transition exercise from one to the next.

    It also is a powerhouse exercise if hitting a golf ball a long way is the goal. I can really crank it out there, knowing I am stable and cat like.
    Very cool.

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