Balance and Coordination - One-leg deadlift

This is from our Peak Fitness column in the Mountaineer magazine. This one focuses on leg strength and balance. It will help you train for your next climb, hike or backpack adventure.
Courtenay Schurman Courtenay Schurman
September 22, 2015
Balance and Coordination - One-leg deadlift
by Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS

One of the most important exercises in my own outdoor-conditioning strength program, and indeed in the program of many hundreds of mountaineers I've trained over the past fifteen years, is the one-legged deadlift. Whether you are 8 or 88, you need balance, coordination, and strength. To go faster uphill on foot, include the one-legged deadlift in your program. It will help your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and balancing muscles around the feet, ankles, hips and knees.


Descent: Stand on one leg with the other foot held behind you, toes hovering above the floor in case you need help with balance. Hold a fairly heavy weight in each hand. Squat down as low as you can on one leg toward the floor, keeping weights parallel to the ground, abs tight, and back flat. 

Ascent: Without rounding through the back, reach for your knees, shins, ankles, or the floor and return to an upright standing position. To target the quadriceps, increase the bend at the knee joint; to target the glutes and hamstrings, bend more at the hip joint.

Once you finish the desired number of repetitions on one leg, repeat for the same number of repetitions on the other. Start on the leg you feel will have the most difficulty and only do on the second leg as many repetitions as you did on the first leg.

Beginner Tips

If you find it hard to balance, try it without extra weight. Relax your feet if you are gripping tightly with your toes. You may want to do this exercise in shoes if you are barefoot — or barefoot if you are in shoes. Try a hard floor if you struggle on carpet. 

If you cannot complete the exercise even with the back foot touching the floor behind you, balance on one leg with no movement until you can hold for a minute.

Advanced Variations

For increased difficulty, try:

1. Stand on an elevated surface (up to 4" high) and try to touch the floor with dumbbells in both hands. This greatly increases the range of motion and challenge for the glutes.

2. As you ascend, propel yourself off the floor one-legged (hop with light or no weight) then land with control.

3. Perform with a heavy weight in one hand, do half the desired number of repetitions, then switch the weight to the other hand (same leg) and complete the set.  Doing so challenges your balance and strengthens the core as you shift your center of gravity. Repeat on the other leg.

4. Pause at the bottom for several seconds so the muscles have to contract longer and harder at the deepest range of motion.

5. Hold one dumbbell in the same hand as the working leg and as you stand, press the weight overhead in a one-leg, one-dumbbell shoulder press.

For more how-to exercises and tips for the outdoor athlete, visit Courtenay Schurman's website at or send her a question at

This article originally appeared in our July/August 2014 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our bi-monthly publication, click here.

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steve mark
steve mark says:
Sep 23, 2015 05:01 AM

The single-leg deadlift with barbell builds leg and back strength while improving core stability, balance, and coordination.