The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is what I consider to be an essential exercise for athletes of all ages and experience levels, but has certainly developed some confusion around its effectiveness and safety as a lift.
With the rising popularity of non-Deadlift posterior chain work, it seems like many of the Deadlift variations are starting to fade away.
The RDL is actually one of the only deadlift variants I still program. Other than Trap Bar Deadlifts, this is one of our most utilized bilateral hip hinge variations at PACE.
Why Do RDLs?
Some of the most sought-after adaptations can be found in the RDL. First and foremost, you can get a massive amount of hamstring and glute engagement due to the hip-dominant nature of the lift. Building a strong and resilient backside is something that can benefit all humans, not just competitive athletes.
Many athletes strain or tear hamstrings due to load exceeding capacity. In other words, their hamstrings are weak, and their sport demands more strength. Other athletes always feel “tight” in the hamstrings due to their weakness or postural imbalances. Strengthening the hamstrings is usually a great place to start when trying to navigate your way through those two issues.
Secondly, this is an exercise that not only builds strength in hip-dominant positions, but also enhances the technique simultaneously. Used in a progression series, the RDL can really help athletes lock in their hip hinge technique and transfer it to other lifts or athletic competition.
I love the Trap Bar Deadlift, but if you plan to eventually get to a Clean variation, the trap bar will not serve as a great progression tool. It’s an entirely different bar. An RDL still uses a barbell, so the transfer to Olympic lifts can be much smoother. Hint: Use both!
Additionally, there are some built-in demands like bracing and grip strength that cannot be exceeded by the load on the bar. This helps athletes stay humble with the lift because those two things can become limiting factors in adding load. If your grip isn’t strong enough or you can’t breathe efficiently, you won’t be able to ego-lift your way to a new RDL PR.
For those reasons, I love the RDL as either a main lift in a progressions series or an auxiliary lift to help boost your other main lifts. Unfortunately, there are some common mistakes that can negate all of those benefits. Sometimes, finding these and tweaking them can help athletes maximize the lift and ultimately push their training forward.
Mistake 1: Bad Bar Path
To avoid this mistake of letting the bar drift away, engage your lats, retract your scaps and move the bar up and down on a linear path.
This will ensure that you place the proper tension in the legs, rather than compensating through the lower back due to altered leverages and angles.
Mistake 2: Squatting a Hinge
Simply put, if you want to squat, go squat.
Overly squatting a deadlift variation puts you in compromised positions and doesn’t allow you to get the full benefits of the lift.
Keep your feet rooted in the ground, push the hips back and load up those hamstrings and glutes by initiating the movement through the hips, not the knees.
Mistake 3: Excessive Lockout
Remember the infamous Leon Lett Super Bowl snafu? The 6-6, 290-pound Cowboys defensive tackle recovered a strip sack in the Super Bowl, ran 60 yards downfield, started to celebrate about 10 yards too early, and got stripped before he could score the touchdown.
This is what you get when you don’t finish strong.
Finishing the RDL strong is a key component that many people fail to cash-in on. In fact, many people mistake back extension as a way to finish a rep, when really we want hip extension. Instead of excessively leaning back to get the feeling of a finished rep, just attack the bar with your hips and squeeze your glutes to finish a clean rep in an upright posture.
Hopefully these tips help you out in executing a great Romanian Deadlift and unlocking some powerful potential with a monster posterior chain.
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