As I always state, it is essential that you be able to go through a good range of motion with each of these exercises PAIN FREE.
If you are in pain during these or any other exercises, and using sound technique, I beg you, please go see a medical professional (neither I, nor any other personal trainer or massage therapist is qualified to diagnose your pain).
Today I’ll be breaking down the Romanian Deadlift, or RDL for short.
The Romanian Deadlift is one of my favorite deadlift variations, and has great carry over not just for beginners but intermediate and advanced lifters as well.
The RDL is one of the most effective exercises for:
- Increasing Mobility of the hips and hamstrings while under load
- Teaching people to Hip Hinge properly from a standing position
- Helping to teach a neutral spine position during hip hinging exercises
How to perform the exercise:
Gripping the barbell tightly with both hands (this exercise can also be modified to be done with, Dumbbells, kettlebells, or even a trap bar) and standing tall with your glutes contracted, you’ll begin this exercise not by bending over, but by pushing your hips and butt back.
More often than not people think of this exercise in the context of up and down since that is the direction the weight is traveling, rather than back and forth which is the direction in which your hips move throughout the exercise.
It may sound like I’m nitpicking here, but this simple change in thought process can greatly alter you hinge and decrease (or increase if you’re doing it wrong) the Joint Shear force on your lumbar spine. That equals bad news bears for your back.
As your hips and butt travel backl you should have a very soft bend in the knees. The knee bend is done so that you keep your shins as close to vertical as possible throughout the exercise, and keep your weight distributed over your feet the same way the entire time. This will also allow you to push your hips back further while still creating tension in the hamstrings, there by maximizing the work your glutes must go through.
As the bar descends and your reach back with your hips, you should feel your hamstrings really garnering a lot of tension. When you get to the point where you feel the greatest stretch in your hamstrings, you have reached the bottom position. Most people will reach the bottom anywhere from just below the knees to mid shin.
At the bottom position the midline of your feet, the barbell, and your shoulders should all be stacked on top of each other, in one straight vertical line.
From the bottom position, begin to return to the top by driving your hips forward towards the bar and squeezing your glutes while keeping your spine stiff and your upper back tight.
You should be driving your hips forward forcefully, as if you were trying to push them through the barbell.
The Cues I like to give people to help them with the RDL are:
- Stand tall at the top squeezing your glutes
- Keep your spine stiff
- Push your hips and butt back
- Keep the middle of your feet, barbell, and shoulders all in line with each other.
- Feel for a big stretch in the hamstrings
- Drive your hips through the bar
- Finish Tall
When done correctly it should look like this:
Again, like most of the exercises I’ll be debuting in this series at first, the Romanian Deadlift has great carry over no matter what your fitness level is like.
For the beginner I really love this lift because most people now a days have woefully weak (and often very stiff) hamstrings, and it helps on both fronts there. It also continues to teach how to properly hip hinge while maintaining stiffness in the spine.
This might sound blasphemous, especially coming from a powerlifter himself, but I often find it easier to teach this exercise first to new beginners than even the traditional deadlift, although I’ll often have other variations of the traditional deadlift built into their program as well, so they get lots of exposure to them all.
For the more advanced lifter, we generally use this as an assistance exercise or a secondary exercise if you’re doing a total body day. The set and rep scheme will vary depending on what your goals are. For example, a powerlifter would usually perform this exercise on Deadlift day or occasionally Squat day, for 3-4 sets of anywhere from 5-8 reps, with quite a bit of weight, where as a bodybuilder would perform this exercise with less weight but more volume (something along the lines of 4 sets of 8-12 or even 15 reps if you’re feeling extra spicy that day).
No matter who you are and what your goals are, you’d be leaving a lot on the table by missing/skipping this exercise despite how sore they leave you the next few days.