RDL – The best exercise you’re not doing

The Romanian deadlift, or RDL for short, is probably the most undervalued and underused exercise out there.

The RDL, when performed correctly, is almost unequalled at improving the strength of the low back, hamstrings and glutes, which has a great carry over to everything from improving your squat or deadlift, making you run faster and decreasing your risk of injury.

However, when performed incorrectly it has the potential to undo everything. It will cement poor movement patterns, which will also carry over into other lifts. It will weaken the posterior chain, leading to increased risk of injury and it will put unwanted strain on the lower back – and all know what happens next…

So what is good technique?

The main focus of the RDL is to maintain the natural curve of your lower back, under load, whilst lowering the bar down your thighs.

You are lengthening the hamstrings and glutes at this point. Once they reach their limit, which will vary from person to person depending on their individual make-up, the goal is to contract your glutes and hamstrings pulling you into an upright position, or hip extension, with no movement in the lower back.

So now we know the ideal, lets look at the key points to get us there.

Start position

The start position will have you with the bar in your hands in an upright position. Your weight should be on the mid to back of your foot, your chest up, shoulders back (mum had it right all along), abs engaged and your knees soft (slightly bend).

Get a feel for the upper body position here as we don’t want this to change throughout the lift, the tension that we create must remain constant.

If the bar swings away as you lower the bar you have lost the help of your upper back muscles. If you lose tension in the abs and hyperextend your lower back, you will unduly stress you hips and lower back, which we certainly do not want.

Keep everything tight!

As you lower the bar down your thighs you must keep the bar close to you and your chest up. The goal is to get the hips, or your backside, as far away from your shoulders as possible, whilst keeping them as high as possible. Think of pulling everything back. Your weight should move to the rear of your foot, knees and hips travel back but you DO NOT fully extend the knee, they should always have a little bend in them.

When the hamstrings hum, squeeze that bum!

As you lower the bar and take the hamstrings into a stretched position they will start to let you know by letting off fireworks. At this point, keep everything as is, and pull the bar up your thighs, squeezing the backside as hard as possible.  Rep completed.

I urge everyone to spend time learning this movement, as mastering the RDL will have a huge carry over to everything you do in the gym.

Watch a video tutorial here on how to perfect RDL.