Then you can start adding some weight, says Miklaus, starting with a light bar or dumbbells. Stick to a modified range of motion at first, bringing the weights down only to your knees as you get the movement down. When you can do the move with proper form—no rounding of the back or hunching of the shoulders—you can increase the weight to what feels challenging to you, and bring the weight down to a full range of motion, which is midshin for most people, he says.
Quick tip: When you start to add weight to the move, you don’t want to think of lowering the weights down with your arms, say Gentilcore. Doing so can cause your shoulders to round. “The only way the weight gets down is because you are hinging your hips back,” he says.
Try this balance drill first.
A simple balance drill can help you become more comfortable with not only the movement pattern but also the unstable feeling of standing on one leg, says Miklaus.
Stand about two feet from a gym bench (or a similar object that’s roughly 18 or 19 inches high). With your weight on your left leg, lift your right leg up off the ground behind you, and hinge forward at your hips to tap the bench in front of you. Repeat for a few reps to get the feel down, and then switch to the other side, he says.
Once you can complete that without staggering, you’ll move farther away from the bench. When that starts to get easy, you’ll swap the bench out for an object that’s a little lower—say, a dumbbell standing up, and then after that, maybe a traffic cone.
“As we get further away, you have to hinge further forward, and your torso has to lower further,” Miklaus explains. This leaning and tapping progression works on increasing the range of motion you’ll need for the single-leg deadlift, and it will also help fine-tune your balance.
Choose your equipment intentionally.
You can use nearly any kind of weight to perform a single-leg deadlift, from a barbell to a kettlebell to a dumbbell (or a pair of them, if you choose to go the kettlebell or dumbbell route). It all comes down to personal preference, but some may be better than others if you struggle with balance.
For me, performing the exercise holding only one dumbbell is a sure way to make me keel over, fast. And there’s a reason for that—holding one weight puts a different challenge on your balance.
“If you are standing on your left leg and holding a dumbbell in our right hand, that’s a rotary force that you have to fight against, so you need to stabilize your core a little more so you don’t tip over,” Gentilcore says. Some people also tend to hold dumbbells or barbells unevenly, says Miklaus, which can shift the weight around, displace your center of gravity, and throw you off balance.
The answer for me is a single kettlebell, which I grip by the handle with both hands letting the kettlebell lower in front of and past my knees as I hinge. The weight is unlikely to shift, which keeps me steady.
“Whatever you are holding on to, that keeps you the most centered, that keeps you the most level, that will be the one that works for you,” says Miklaus. As for how much weight you should use for a single-leg dead? Start with about a quarter to a third of how much you’re lifting with a two-leg deadlift, and build up over time as your comfort grows.
Incorporate some single-leg deadlift modifications.
The idea with modifications is that you’ll begin with a more stable position and gradually increase the instability as you become more confident with your balance, Gentilcore says. He likes to start his clients with a staggered-stance deadlift, also known as a kickstand deadlift or a B-stance deadlift.