Happy Wednesday! It’s time to go back to the basics, so today we’ll be featuring a barbell exercise (and a pretty important one at that) to get the ball rolling. Behold the RDL!
THE MOVE: Romanian Deadlift
MOVEMENT PATTERN AND MUSCLES WORKED: Hinge pattern: posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes) and grip.
WHY DO IT: We’re going back to the basics with this MotW, and since we’ve been talking a lot about hinges, pulls, and deadlifts recently courtesy of Staff Coach Ross Curtis, I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add another one to the fire. The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is indeed a hinge, and one that we like a lot for everyone from the beginner to the expert. For the beginner, this is great as one of the first hinge movements we’ll teach with the barbell; for the expert, this movement really fires up the hamstrings and glutes and has great loading potential.
The reason for these benefits is because the RDL is essentially as pure a hip hinge as you can get. There is no knee bend like in the conventional or trap-bar deadlift; this allows the trainee to focus entirely on the way his/her hips are moving and the corresponding activation of the posterior chain. The only knee bend, if you can call it that, is a soft “unlock” of the knee to allow you to keep your shins vertical and hinge naturally.
Without the knee bend seen in other variations of the deadlift, we don’t have to worry about whether someone’s deadlift is more squat or more hinge, or how the hips are positioned relative to the knees. As far as the RDL is concerned, it’s 99.9% hinge. Finally, as a barbell exercise, the RDL has great loading potential and great for building grip strength, too. I will warn you though that if you go this route you’ll also be feeling your hamstrings for days, but only because you’ll be stronger as a result of it.
HOW TO DO IT: I’ve heard many times throughout my time in the fitness industry about athletes using the RDL in their training in order to buffer against hamstring strains, which are very common in sports where sprinting is necessary (football, soccer, and of course, the 100m). I can’t speak for Usain Bolt, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he uses the RDL in the weightroom.
This makes sense, as with the RDL, you’re basically building your hamstrings’ tolerance and strength at increasing muscle lengths. That soreness you feel is from the eccentric control you need in this movement to hinge and lengthen the hamstrings.
For this exercise, load up a barbell and set up in a tall position with the barbell in your hands. Your joints should be stacked; hips over knees over toes, shoulders over elbows over hands. Now brace your core and unlock your knees. Hinge by slowly sitting your hips back, letting the tension build gradually in your hamstrings, and allowing the bar to descend as you hinge. Your shins should remain vertical throughout this movement. Don’t let your back round and think about keeping your ribs down but your chest up, maintaining a neutral spine. You’ll know something is wrong if you feel this in your lower back, and not the hamstrings.
Go as low as you can tolerate in the hamstrings, which should improve with time. With your balance at your heels now, drive up and squeeze the glutes to fully extend the hips and finish the movement.
For the RDL, I’d recommend 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps, depending on how you would like to use it. You can go heavy as a main lift, and in this case sticking closer to 4 sets of 5 might be better. As an assistance exercise, sticking closer to 3 sets of 8 should be sufficient. Whether you’re a newbie or a gym vet, if you’re looking for a good way to work on the hinge pattern that will really light up the hamstrings and glutes, look no further than the RDL. Let us know what you think on Twitter or Instagram @halevylife !
by Jeremy Lau
Jeremy Lau is a Senior Staff Coach at Halevy Life.
Jeremy graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BSc. in Biomedical Engineering and is currently pursuing his M.Ed. in Exercise Physiology at Columbia University. In addition to his academic accolades, Jeremy is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Jeremy completed a coaching internship at Cressey Sports Performance, where he coached both amateur and professional athletes, among whom were many professional MLB baseball players.
As an athlete, Jeremy has played baseball competitively for most of his life.’