What's a Physical Therapists Favorite Exercise?

Hi! I’m Tamara Kas, DPT and I’m a physical therapist at our Grand Rapids City Clinic. If I had to pick my absolute favorite exercise, it would be the SL RDL (Single Leg Romanian Deadlift).

Why?-  Because it works SO many different things at the same time and can be used in rehab for several different purposes! It can be modified to make it easier or advanced to include an upper-body component for an extra challenge. I like to be creative and adapt it to the personal goals of the patient and what they want to get back to doing.


SL RDLs Top 3 Benefits:

  1. Functional Core Stability
  2. Glute and Hamstring Strengthening
  3. Dynamic Balance


  1. Functional Core Stability essentially means using your core in the same way it should work during any sort of functional, everyday movement. The SL RDL replicates the daily task of bending to reach for something or picking something up from the floor safely.
  2. Glute/Hamstring Eccentric Strength: Lengthening a loaded muscle, or in other words, stretching it while contracting it, allows the muscle to produce more power during the movement, which equates to gaining more strength. Hinging at the hips with the SL RDL exercise puts the Glutes and Hamstrings on stretch while they are still loaded with your body weight. This is called “Eccentric Loading” and is an effective way to help muscles get stronger AND more flexible at the same time.
  3. Dynamic Balance: Performing a Balance Exercise with the challenge of some movement. Controlling both the Eccentric (lowering) and Concentric (return to standing) phase of this movement challenges the body’s vestibular or balance system.

Here are 4 variations of the Single Leg RDL exercise. Feel free to modify to a Bilateral Deadlift, with both feet on the floor if needed. Give them a try and let us know which is your favorite!

1. Single Leg RDL to Chair:

Demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsJ3rK9ld9c

Position: Begin by balancing on one leg with a level pelvis with a chair positioned in front of you. Movement: Hinge forward at the hips with your weight mostly in the standing heel to midfoot. Bend your standing knee as much as needed for comfort, but make sure the movement is mostly happening at the hips, not a single leg squat. Keep your back as flat as possible. Tip: Keep looking up at the chair to help maintain a flat back. Slowly work your way down to a horizontal position, gently tap the chair and then slowly return to the starting position. Try to maintain your balance on one leg for the entire set.


2. Single Leg RDL with Dumbbells:

Demonstration: https://youtu.be/zSeYpc5pglo

Position: Begin by balancing on one leg with a level pelvis with dumbbells in hands.


3. Single Leg RDL with Single Arm Row:

Demonstration: https://youtu.be/ib01IK5Tc84

Position: Begin by balancing on one leg with a level pelvis with a band attached to a door or with a cable machine. Hold the band in the opposite hand of the leg you are standing on. Slowly lower down towards the door or cable until you are at an approximately horizontal position with your back. Next, return to the starting position as you squeeze the opposite shoulder blade on your back with a single arm row. Try to maintain your balance on one leg for the entire set.


4. Single Leg Step Up, RDL with Reverse Lunge:

Demonstration: https://youtu.be/vNBX5tOE30g

Position: Start by placing your whole foot on a step. Lean forwards and primarily use the top glute to slowly push you up and not momentum. At the top of the step, perform a SL RDL. Next, shift weight backward and slowly lower down, and finish by stepping back into a reverse lunge. Repeat as directed one side at a time or alternating. Option: Hold dumbbells.


I’ve used this exercise to successfully rehabilitate ankles, knees, hips, low back, and even shoulder injuries. Give it a try, and be sure to follow up with a Hulst Jepsen Physical Therapist if you would like some additional guidance!

Are you in pain but not sure how to manage it? Call 616-256-8679 to schedule your FREE consultation today and learn how physical therapy could help you. For more information please visit any of our Hulst Jepsen Physical Therapy locations or check out our website at www.hjphysicaltherapy.com.

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Tamara Kas, DPT