The Romanian deadlift (RDL for short) is a top-down hinge movement, that is perhaps the best representation of true hinging mechanics.
Hinge movements are movements that predominantly work hip extension, with truer hinge movements isolating this extension through reduced movement at the knee joint.
RDL’s are a great example of this as they limit movement at the knee and focus primarily movement at the hips.
Whilst all deadlift variations will utilise hinging mechanics (as will squat variations and numerous other exercises), very few train the hinge pattern quite like the RDL.
Basically, if you’re looking for an exercise to consolidate your hinging capabilities and strengthen the whole of the posterior chain, then look no further.
Why The RDL?
Unlike other deadlift variations, the RDL starts from a standing position with the load in hand, with the bar never actually touching the floor (apart from starting and ending the exercise).
The primary movers of the RDL are the Hamstring group and Gluteus maximus (to a lesser extent).
The reason RDL’s are so effective is that it encourages isometric contractions of pretty much the whole of the posterior chain and core musculature.
This includes involvement of the Latissimus dorsi, Erector spinae group (Multifidus included), Quadratus lumborum, Trapezius, Transversus abdominus and Pelvic floor muscles.
This list isn’t exhaustive and even muscle from the calves to rotator cuff will be doing something during this lift to stabilise the movement.
Why You Should Do Them
Essentially, RDL’s enable you to load the posterior chain through one of the key foundational movement patterns (the hinge) in its truest form.
Hinging is required for everyday life, and it’s a movement pattern that has fundamentally been forgotten by the population.
Anytime you pick something up off the ground you should be hinging to do it.
Hinging ensures that you’re loading and moving through the hips, and not the lower back.
Whilst the lower back is more resilient than people think, like any part of the body it only has a certain number of poor movement cycles before problems start to arise.
By strengthening your hinging functionality with RDL’s, you are also strengthening the whole of the posterior chain which will translate into your everyday life as well as performance in the gym.
The Posterior Chain
The muscles of posterior chain are what keep you upright and stabilise movements in the anterior chain (front of the body).
It’s not just the individual strength of these muscles that matter, it’s how they interact with each other during movement to stabilise the body. Hence why the RDL is so effective.
I like to think of the posterior chain as the roots of a tree.
The stronger and deeper the roots of the tree, the taller and stronger the tree can grow.
Ultimately, your posterior chain provides you the foundations of a strong and sustainable body, one that is resilient to injury and primed for performance.
How To Do The RDL
Stand with your feet hip width apart, load hanging tight to the body at arm’s length.
Ensure that your shoulders are rolled back and down (it’s probably better to do this prior to lifting the weight to the start position).
Throughout the movement, keep your shoulder blades in this position to ensure they do not drift forward. At the same time, do not excessively squeeze them together.
Think of holding something in between your armpits throughout the movement.
From here, take in a breath and brace your core as if someone is about to punch you in the stomach.
With your heels firmly in the ground and feet flat, soften your knees and drive your hips back with a neutral spine, bringing your chest towards the floor.
Think of being buried up to your knees in sand, the knee joint shouldn’t move over the toes as you descend.
Keep the bar close to the body throughout and lower yourself to the point at which you can maintain a neutral spine.
The mid-shin is a good target point, but those with less mobility or strength (or simply new to the movement) may prefer to stop higher up.
You can always improve your depth, so it may be better to start conservative.
From the bottom, pull up through the hips to a standard position and squeeze your hips into the bar (finishing hip extension).
Do not excessively extend as you may end up using the lower back instead.
The movement should primarily be felt in the hamstrings.
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