Deadlift for Golf Performance Part 3: The Single-Leg Deadlift, ‘King of Golf Lifts’

Deadlift for Golf Performance
Part 3: The Single-Leg Deadlift, ‘King of Golf Lifts’
Chris Hook, TPI-FP3, StrongFirst Certified Team Leader, FMS



Before I get into the Single-leg Deadlift, I thought it would be a good idea to take a quick sidebar and explain why the Barbell Deadlift is not going to be our focus. I love the barbell deadlift and it will have a place in my training for the rest of my life. I have deadlifted nearly triple my bodyweight (missed it by 4kg). I even held the California State deadlift record in my Age/weight class for 5 years. There was also a point in time when my swing speed with driver averaged 135mph. Building strength deadlifting played a huge role in developing that kind of distance. I have a great appreciation for the barbell deadlift, it is the ‘King of Lifts’ after all. Golfer’s can benefit from building more strength and amateur golfers have the most to gain from learning to deadlift in all of the variations in the first two parts of this post and at some point with a barbell too. I have a feeling there will be a multi-part post on the barbell deadlift in the future;) However, the Single-Leg Deadlift is very approachable for just about everyone, there is minimal equipment required, and it offers many benefits to a golfer. 

The Single-leg Contralateral Deadlift is ‘The King of Golf Lifts’.

On a macro level, strength is the master quality. All things being equal the stronger player will always win. The deadlift and hip-hinging movements are anti-chair movements. Deadlifts open your hips and engage your glutes because they require hip extension. Sitting is hip flexion. A life built on sitting will make your glutes sleepy; your hip flexors tight, and put you in a position of spinal flexion/rounding. These three things can not only make you more likely to get injured, but also cause inefficiency in your golf swing. 

The Single-leg Deadlift (SLD) is a neglected movement because it is hard. There is a great challenge in SLDs to fight rotation. Remember you want to be able to control rotation if you want to be able to produce rotation. The same muscles in your body that create rotation are the same ones that prevent rotation. So, when you work on anti-rotational movements like the SLD you are actually strengthening your muscles that produce your turn in your golf swing. Anti-rotational exercises like the SLD are spine sparing. Rotation is hard on the spine. If you are going to practice, play, and then go into the gym and do more rotation; you are probably working on an overuse injury. Anti-rotational movements are more nourishing to the spine than more rotation. Sure, it doesn’t look like golf, but it doesn’t have to, to increase performance. Remember the most golf specific exercises are the ones that increase performance for you, PERIOD.

Restore Symmetry and Reduce Your Risk Of Injury

One of the great benefits of the SLD is its power to restore left and right symmetry. This is an important benefit to our asymmetrical force producing golfer. The tour players have to assume the risk of making thousands of swings in one direction each week. Developing the musculoskeletal asymmetries that come with being a professional golfer is just part of the deal. Of course tour players work to have less of a glaring asymmetry in their mobility and flexibility, but it is going to happen and it can expose them to a higher risk of injury over time. For us amateurs, it is a good idea to restore symmetry to our bodies in our golf training. We are not tour players and we want to feel good when we play and avoid injury. Golf is a lifelong endeavor, you can enjoy the game for a lifetime, and if you move well you can enjoy the game even more.

Opposite Side Strength and More Power. 

Restoring symmetry not only reduces your likelihood of injury, but it can increase your ability to produce power. In the deadlifting variations in Part 2, they all required the use of both legs, meaning a bilateral stance. Sure, the golf swing is performed with both feet on the ground in a bilateral ‘square’ stance. But, working on each side of the body will build strength on your opposite side. Building opposite side strength is one of the ways that you produce power in your golf swing. There are actually four ways that you produce power and we each use all of them to varying degrees based on our athleticism, injury history, and athletic background. 

Hand Speed is how power is produced from the active use of the hands through impact, this is a difficult power pathway to develop. Rotational Speed is another power pathway, you can train it but it tends to be a short lived adaptation. Ground Force (also known as Vertical Force) is another power pathway. This is a power source that can built, developed, and maintained forever. Lastly, there is Opposite Side Strength. You see the funny thing about the golf swing is that it is not a matter of how hard you can accelerate into the ball that creates power. It is a matter of how fast you can decelerate. The golf swing is a whipping motion. For energy to transfer from one segment of your body to the next each segment has to stop to send the energy from the ground up the chain and eventually through your hands into the clubhead. Imagine running and trying to throw a ball versus running and then planting your forward foot to send the energy through your body and into the ball. There is a segmental deceleration of each segment of your body to throw the ball. It is the strength of your opposite side that produces this deceleration. Developing strength on both sides of your body can help you to hit the ball farther, but when there  is an obvious asymmetry (more than 10%) from side to side; you have some low hanging fruit to collect as far as distance goes. 


This is still a hinge, so all of the same principles apply as deadlifting in Part 2. The thing that is changing is that the bell is going to go in your right hand and your are going to reach your right leg back, hinging on your left leg to get down to the bell. You are going to have to get tight to make this movement look deliberate and graceful. By holding the bell in your right hand and reaching your right leg back you are essentially making a “hole” underneath the moving kettlebell. What has to happen to prevent the kettlebell from pulling your right side down or making your body twist around? That’s right! You have to resist rotation! You have to create a connection from your right shoulder through your abs to your left hip, so you stay square with your chest and hips. In your backswing you have to make a connection from your trail hip to your lead shoulder through your abs. In your downswing you have to connect your lead hip to your trail shoulder through your abs. The Single-leg Deadlift is giving you the strength you need to create these cross body connections you need to make a great swing. 

Hip Strength

And, the hips play a huge role in how you are able to resist all of the rotation that happens in the SLD. The glute and hip muscles that you are using to stabilize the rotational forces of this movement are the same muscles and strength that you use to create power. They are also the same muscles that produce hip rotation and they prevent excessive lateral motion in your swing in both directions. When you deadlift with a bilateral stance your ‘stronger side’ has the opportunity to carry your ‘strong side’ through the sticky spots. With each hip/leg responsible for its own work you can develop great lead side and trail side hip strength. 

Limited selection of Kettlebells? No problem! The SLD can make a light kettlebell mean something. The SLD can be done heavy but for now use a “medium” weight. Medium meaning a weight that forces you to engage your grip, lats, abs, and glutes, but not so heavy that it pulls you apart. Avoid failure. Use a mirror or better yet a video of yourself to check your posture and the quality of the movement you are making. Make excellent reps but be at the edge of your ability. You also want to avoid making it so light that you are not gaining anything. Shorten the range of motion if you cannot get to the floor smoothly. A step, a block, or any other stable surface can be useful in abbreviating the range of motion to one that you can control. In the video there is an example of shortening the range of motion. 


Click on this link for a video tutorial, we will talk you through the whole thing.  The Single-Leg Deadlift 

Click on this link to see some reps for your reference from a couple of different angles. Silent video, no talking, promise;)  The Single-Leg Deadlift (silent)

Add Single-Leg Deadlifts into your training. Use a medium weight and do 4-5 sets  of 5-7 reps on each side. Rest as needed to make excellent reps. 

A couple of key points:

  • Keep your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles lined up so your leg is not crossing your body at the bottom of the movement. Think Railroad tracks.
  •  Get tight across your body from the leg that is planted to the shoulder/arm that is holding the bell. Connect your shoulder to your hip through your abs.
  • Push the working foot into the floor and  grip the ground with your toes. Be rooted into the floor
  • Move your body in one piece. If your ear moves, your ankle moves on the reaching leg side of your body. So, your chest and moving leg should show up at the top together. 
  • Make smooth, graceful, and deliberate reps. Make it look easy but be challenged. 
  • Avoid Failure, so your body learns something useful. 
  • Use a range of motion that you can control. 

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