How to Do a Kettlebell Single Leg Deadlift: Muscles Worked, Benefits, and Alternatives

Uncover easy-to-follow steps for performing a kettlebell single-leg deadlift. Improve your stability and functional strength with this unilateral kettlebell deadlift variation.

Kettlebell single-leg deadlift is one of the best unilateral posterior chain exercises that also builds real-world functional strength. Not only is it great for enhancing your lower body balance and stability, but it will also reduce the chance of injuries and improve your overall athletic performance.

Single-leg deadlifts with a kettlebell are considered an advanced lower-body exercise, but you can definitely learn them with proper coaching cues, tips, and form instructions. That’s why I decided to create a step-by-step guide for performing kettlebell single-leg deadlifts.

Let’s start with the exercise guide and then proceed with the muscles worked, benefits, tips, most common mistakes, and best variations and alternatives.

How to Do a Kettlebell Single Leg Deadlift – Step-By-Step Guide

Here is how to do a kettlebell single-leg deadlift to avoid injuries and maximize performance.

Step One — Assume the Starting Position

Start by picking the kettlebell of the appropriate size. I suggest picking the weight that will allow you to do between 6-8 reps per leg. Assume the standing starting position with your feet hip-width apart.

Hold the kettlebell in your right hand. Slightly bend your left knee and keep it fixated in that position throughout the entire movement. Lift your non-working leg off the floor.

Pro Tip: Contract your core and hip muscles already at the beginning of the exercise for better balance and stability. Make sure your back is neutral, and your eyes are looking right in front of you or slightly down.

Step Two — Bend Your Hips and Lower the Kettlebell

Slowly bend your hips to lower them towards the floor. At the same time, lift and extend your non-working leg backward and up. Make sure your hips are in a neutral position, your back straight, and your eyes are looking straight ahead or slightly down towards the floor.

When the kettlebell passes the level of your working knee, hold that position for one second. Also, make sure you strictly bend from your hips, and your working knee is fixated since we want to target the posterior chain muscles mostly.

Pro Tip: Aim to lower your body towards the floor with utmost control through slow eccentrics. I suggest you choose a tempo between 2 and 4 seconds for optimal time under tension, deeper fiber stretch, better intensity, and improved mind-muscle connection.

Step Three — Extend the Hips

Quickly extend your hips to return to the standing starting position. As you move your trunk upwards towards the starting position, make sure to equally lower the non-working leg previously extended and lifted behind you.

Pro Tip: To target your fast-twitch fibers more, I recommend you perform the concentric phase as fast as possible. This will result in better recruitment of fast twitch muscle fibers and will increase the overall intensity of the exercise.

Kettlebell Single Leg Deadlift Muscles Worked

The primary muscles working during kettlebell single-leg deadlifts are:

  • Hamstrings
  • Gluteus maximus
  • Erector spinae

Also, the secondary muscles working are:

  • Adductors
  • Quadriceps
  • Core muscles
  • Forearm muscles

Kettlebell Single Leg Deadlift Benefits

Here are the most notable kettlebell single-leg deadlift benefits you should be aware of.

Stronger Posterior Chain Muscles

Kettlebell single leg deadlifts are excellent for building stronger posterior chain muscles. These include your gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus, but also your hamstring muscles, such as biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. Strengthening these muscles is key to better injury prevention and learning how to absorb forces, especially during athletic movements.

Improved Balance

Kettlebell single-leg deadlifts are especially useful for improving your overall balance. You will effectively teach your body to use core muscles properly for whole-body stabilization.

Improved Unilateral Strength

Single-leg deadlifts are one of the best exercises for improving your unilateral strength. Unilateral strength plays a critical role in team sports, especially sports like basketball, football, and handball. I can confidently say that unilateral strength isn’t just mandatory for injury prevention but for better athletic performance in modern sports.

However, that’s not all because unilateral training yields many other not-so-obvious benefits.

One of the studies found on PubMed Central suggests that eccentric training of the non-immobilized limb can preserve the size of the immobilized contralateral homologous muscle and strength across multiple contraction types [1].

This further proves the effectiveness of unilateral training even during the times when one of your limbs is injured and immobilized.

Better Core Stability

Almost all free-weight unilateral exercise variations will activate your core in one way or another. This is why you see more and more unilateral variations of traditional exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and bench presses.

Unilateral exercises such as single-leg deadlifts are exceptionally good for challenging your core to stabilize your body during the actual lift.

Developing Functional Strength

Improved functional strength is one of the main reasons I implement kettlebell single-leg deadlifts with my clients. Also, in terms of building lean muscle, losing fat, and improving cardiorespiratory fitness, my clients are simply in love with the kettlebell before and after results.

Not only will this exercise transfer nicely to your field of action, but it is also good for improving your daily activities such as carrying groceries, bending to clean the dirty floor, or similar.


In my experience, there are more than a few things you can do to improve your kettlebell single-leg deadlift performance and reduce the chance of injuries. Here are some of the best things I often implement with my clients for a more target and injury-free workout.

Contract Your Core Musculature

The first mandatory thing you should be conscious of every time you do any sort of unilateral exercise is to immediately contract your core musculature. Contracting your core muscles will enable you to execute the movement with better precision, stability, and balance.

Contract your abdominal muscles such as rectus abdominis, obliquus internus, obliquus externus, and transverse abdominis. Also, contract your adductors and gluteus medius to stabilize your body in the frontal plane of motion.

Keep Your Hips Neutral

Make sure to keep your hips neutral throughout the entire movement. This will ensure you target the desired posterior chain muscles without any compensatory movements.

It will also prevent all sorts of risky gym injuries while also maximizing every bang for your buck in terms of your energy. Remember, you have a finite amount of macronutrients that can synthesize ATP in your body, and you want to use it wisely.

Mimic the Seesaw Movement

This is the single best coaching cue and tip I give to my clients. I always instruct them to mimic the seesaw movement. It means lowering your contract and lifting the non-working leg backward and up at the same phase. Mimicking the seesaw movement will ensure you primarily target your hamstrings and glutes.

Most Common Mistakes

Here are the most common mistakes to be aware of during kettlebell single-leg deadlifts.

Poor Balance

Having poor balance will prevent you from targeting the desired muscle groups and getting the most out of this exercise. This is why it is so crucial to contract your core muscles properly during the entire movement. Contracting them will stabilize and fixate your body and prevent additional compensatory movements.

Rounded Back

The rounded back is a classic mistake during not just single-leg deadlifts but with a myriad of other exercises. You must ensure a straight back throughout the entire movement to avoid any serious gym injuries.

Bending Your Working Knee

The knee of your working leg must be fixated during the entire single-leg deadlift movement. This is primarily to isolate your posterior chain and avoid dynamic contraction of your quadriceps muscle. Slightly bend your knee at the beginning of the exercise and keep it fixated afterward throughout the entire movement.

Lifting Too Heavy

Always start with a lighter weight if you perform the exercise for the first time. This is because lifting too heavily can lead to serious injuries, and you will also learn poor form and technique. Learn about the core principles of strength training, such as progressive overload, to ensure proper training stimulus without injuries for each following workout.

Looking Down

You shouldn’t look down during the single-leg deadlift, as this can lead to severe back injuries. Aim to position your neck and head in line with your spine. Imagine your head and neck position during your normal standing stance, and make sure you follow the exact same pattern throughout the entire exercise.

Kettlebell Single Leg Deadlift Variations

Here are some of the best kettlebell single-leg deadlift variations to consider.

Double Kettlebell Single Leg Deadlift

Double kettlebell single-leg deadlift is a more advanced variation, and you can put more external resistance for better strength and hypertrophy gains.


  1. Pick two kettlebells of appropriate weight so you can perform at least 6 reps without making a pause.
  2. Assume a hip-width stance with your feet and ensure your back is flat throughout the entire movement.
  3. Lower both kettlebells towards the floor as you extend backward and upwards your non-working leg.
  4. Hold the bottom position for one second.
  5. Extend your hips and lower your non-working leg to return to the starting standing position.

Pro Tip: Slightly pinch your shoulder blades at the beginning of the exercise to avoid the excessive kyphotic curve of your thoracic back. This can often happen if you use too much external resistance.

Ipsilateral Kettlebell Single-Leg Deadlift

Ipsilateral kettlebell single-leg deadlift will ensure better loading of your working leg while also challenging your whole-body stability even further.


  1. Hold the kettlebell on the same side of your working leg.
  2. Bend your torso forward to lower the kettlebell towards the floor while also driving your non-working leg backward and up.
  3. Reverse the motion to return to the starting position and repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Pro Tip: Make sure to contract your abs and hip muscles at the beginning of the exercise to prevent your hips from shifting laterally.

Kettlebell Single-Leg Deadlift With Both Feet on the Floor

This is a regressive exercise that is excellent for beginners experiencing difficulties with stabilizing their body throughout the entire movement.


  1. Assume the same starting position as with the regular kettlebell single-leg deadlift, but keep your non-working leg on the floor.
  2. Slightly move your non-working leg’s foot behind you and only touch the floor with your toes.
  3. Now, perform the same bending motion with your torso but with your non-working leg on the floor, which will help improve your overall stability during the movement.

Pro Tip: As you progress with this double-leg variation, try to reduce the contact with the floor with your non-working leg. This will ensure you progress incrementally before transitioning to a regular kettlebell single-leg deadlift.

Kettlebell Single Leg Deadlift Alternatives

Here are the best kettlebell single-leg deadlift alternatives to consider adding to your lower body workout routine.

Dumbbell Single Leg Deadlift

The dumbbell single-leg deadlift is a very similar exercise to the kettlebell single-leg variation. However, in my opinion, kettlebells are a more functional piece of fitness equipment compared to dumbbells, which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t implement both in your workout routines.


  1. Perform the same steps as for the kettlebell single-leg deadlift variation; just this time, pick the appropriate dumbbell instead of a kettlebell.

Pro Tip: Feel free to rotate the dumbbell so it is parallel to your body. Some of my clients have better stability when they adjust the dumbbell this way.

Barbell Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

The barbell single-leg Romanian deadlift is an excellent posterior chain exercise that can significantly increase your posterior chain strength.


  1. Place the barbell on the floor and load it with appropriate weight.
  2. Grip the barbell around your shoulder width and lift it from the floor.
  3. As you lower the loaded barbell towards the floor, equally extend your non-working leg behind you.
  4. Hold the bottom position for one second and reverse the motion to return to the starting position.

Pro Tip: Experiment with the width of your grip for a more nuanced targeting of your posterior chain muscles and slightly different range of motion.

Bodyweight Single-Leg Deadlift

The bodyweight single-leg deadlift is a great beginner unilateral variation that will allow you to master the proper form before loading more external weight.


  1. Assume the standing starting position with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. As you lower your torso, make sure to extend your back leg equally.
  3. Also, feel free to experiment with the placement of your arms by keeping them close to your body, on your hips, or abducted for 90 degrees.

Pro Tip: Make sure to implement a slower tempo, such as 2-2-2, to increase the overall intensity of the exercise and form a better mind-muscle connection.


Is Single-Leg Deadlift Harder?

The single-leg deadlift is considered harder than the traditional deadlift due to the added balance and stability required. It challenges the muscles and coordination more than the standard deadlift.

Does Single Leg RDL Grow Glutes?

The single-leg Romanian deadlift (RDL) is effective in growing the glutes. It targets the gluteal muscles along with the hamstrings and lower back.

Is It Better to Deadlift With Kettlebells or Dumbbells?

Whether it is better to deadlift with kettlebells or dumbbells depends on personal preference and specific training goals. Kettlebells offer a more comfortable grip and natural movement for deadlifts, while dumbbells provide a more balanced load.

Is Single-Leg Deadlift Better Than Staggered Deadlift?

The single-leg deadlift is not necessarily better than the staggered deadlift; it is different. The single-leg deadlift focuses more on balance and unilateral strength, while the staggered deadlift targets stability and allows for heavier lifting.

How Many Reps of Single-Leg Deadlift Should I Do?

The number of reps for a single-leg deadlift should be based on fitness goals and experience level. Generally, 6-12 reps per leg is a good range for building strength and muscular endurance.

Wrapping Up

Implementing the kettlebell single-leg deadlift can drastically improve your unilateral and posterior chain lower body strength. Also, you will effectively teach your body to use core stabilizers, which are crucial for performing the exercise with maximal effectiveness and the least chance of injury.

Also, one of the best tips for performing kettlebell single-leg deadlifts is to mimic the seesaw movement with your trunk and non-working leg. In the comments below, let me know your thoughts on the kettlebell single-leg deadlift and how you incorporate it into your lower-body workout routine.


  1. Andrushko JW, Lanovaz JL, Björkman KM, Kontulainen SA, Farthing JP. Unilateral strength training leads to muscle-specific sparing effects during opposite homologous limb immobilization. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2018;124(4):866-876. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00971.2017

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