RDL – The best exercise you’re not doing - foundry Personal Training Gym

Romanian Deadlift (RDL) – The Best Exercise you’re Not Doing

The Romanian Deadlift, or RDL, is one of the most underrated and underutilised exercises in the fitness world. Despite its potential to transform your strength and stability, it often takes a back seat to more popular squats and traditional deadlifts.

When performed correctly, the RDL is nearly unrivalled in enhancing the strength of your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes. These muscles are crucial for improving your performance in other lifts, increasing your running speed, and significantly reducing the risk of injury.

However, it’s essential to understand that performing the RDL incorrectly can do more harm than good. Poor technique can solidify bad movement patterns, weaken the posterior chain, and place undue strain on the lower back. This undermines your fitness goals and increases your vulnerability to injuries. Therefore, mastering the correct form is crucial in reaping the full benefits of this powerful exercise.

  • Strengthen Muscles

The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is a powerhouse exercise for targeting the key muscles in your posterior chain: the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes. Focusing on these areas helps the RDL build a strong, stable foundation essential for overall strength and mobility. The low back muscles are engaged throughout the lift, supporting the spine and maintaining proper posture. The hamstrings and glutes work together to control the movement and provide the power needed to return to an upright position. Strengthening these muscles enhances your physical capabilities, improves your posture, and reduces lower back pain.

  • Enhancement your Performance

Incorporating the RDL into your workout routine offers substantial carryover benefits to other exercises and athletic activities. The increased strength in your hamstrings and glutes translates to better performance in squats and traditional deadlifts. These muscles are crucial for the explosive power required in these lifts, making the RDL an excellent complementary exercise. Additionally, athletes can benefit from improved sprinting speed and jumping ability, as the RDL strengthens the muscles involved in these dynamic movements. Enhancing your posterior chain strength, the RDL helps you lift heavier, move faster, and perform more efficiently in various physical activities.

  • Prevent Injury

One of the advantages of the RDL is its role in injury prevention. A strong posterior chain protects against injuries, particularly in the lower back and knees. By reinforcing the muscles that support and stabilise these areas, the RDL reduces the likelihood of strains and sprains. Proper execution of the RDL also promotes better movement patterns, ensuring that you use your muscles correctly and avoid compensatory movements that can lead to injury. As a result, regular practice of the RDL can keep you safer during workouts and everyday activities, allowing you to maintain your fitness regimen without setbacks.


So What is a Good RDL Technique?

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

At this point, you are lengthening the hamstrings and glutes. 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.

Now that we know the ideal let’s look at the key points to get us there.

  • Start Position

To correctly begin the Romanian Deadlift (RDL), stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding the barbell in front of your thighs with a pronated (overhand) grip. Your grip should be slightly wider than shoulder-width. Distribute your weight evenly across your feet, focusing on the mid-to-back portion of your foot. This balanced stance helps maintain stability throughout the lift.

  • Upper Body Position

In the starting position, it is crucial to keep your chest up and shoulders pulled back and down as if trying to hold a pencil between your shoulder blades. Engage your abs to create a stable core and maintain a neutral spine. Your knees should be soft, meaning slightly bent, not locked. This initial setup ensures that your upper body remains strong and tense, which is essential for a safe and effective RDL.

  • Maintaining Tension

Maintaining tension in your upper body is critical as you lower the bar. Ensure the bar stays close to your body, almost grazing your thighs. This proximity helps activate your upper back muscles and prevents the bar from swinging away from you. If the bar drifts forward, you lose the assistance of your upper back muscles, making the lift more challenging and less effective.

  • Core Engagement

Keeping your abs engaged throughout the movement is critical to protect your lower back from hyperextension. A strong core stabilises your spine, allowing you to maintain a neutral lower back position. This engagement is especially important when you reach the bottom of the lift, where the temptation to arch your lower back increases.

  • Executing the Lift

To execute the RDL properly, begin by hinging at your hips, pushing them back while keeping your chest up and shoulders back. Lower the bar down your thighs, ensuring it stays close to your body. Your hips should move back as far as possible without extending your knees fully, which should remain slightly bent throughout the movement. This hip hinge motion is fundamental to the RDL, allowing you to effectively engage your hamstrings and glutes.

  • Hamstring Engagement

As you lower the bar and your hamstrings reach their maximum stretch, you will feel tension or “humming” in these muscles. This sensation indicates that your hamstrings are fully engaged and ready to contract. Maintaining your form at this point is crucial, as is keeping your back straight and core tight to avoid any undue stress on your lower back.

  • Completing the Lift

To complete the lift, focus on pulling the bar back up by driving your hips forward, using the power of your glutes and hamstrings. Squeeze your glutes at the movement’s top as hard as possible to ensure full hip extension. Throughout this process, maintain the tension in your upper body and core, keeping your chest up and shoulders back.

  • Final Position

The lift is completed when you return to the starting upright position. Ensure your body is fully aligned, with your hips and shoulders stacked over your feet. Take a moment to reset and prepare for the next repetition, maintaining the same form and tension for each lift. This final position helps solidify proper movement patterns and prepares you for a safe and effective next rep.


Don’t Make These Mistakes

One of the biggest pitfalls in performing the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is developing poor movement patterns due to incorrect form. When the RDL is performed improperly, it can solidify bad habits that negatively impact your technique in other lifts. For instance, if you fail to maintain a neutral spine or let the bar drift away from your body, these mistakes can carry over into your squats and traditional deadlifts. This diminishes the effectiveness of these exercises and increases the likelihood of improper muscle activation, leading to inefficient workouts and slower progress.

Improper RDL form also significantly heightens the risk of injury. A weak posterior chain—comprising the muscles of the back, glutes, and hamstrings—can make you more susceptible to strains and injuries. When the RDL is executed with poor form, such as rounding the lower back or failing to engage the core, it places excessive strain on the lower back. This undue stress can lead to acute injuries like muscle strains or, over time, contribute to chronic conditions such as lower back pain or disc problems. Ensuring proper technique is paramount to protecting your back and ensuring your workouts are both safe and effective.


Mastering the RDL

Mastering the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) requires dedication and consistent practice. Like any complex movement, repetition is key to developing the muscle memory necessary for perfecting your form. Spend time focusing on the technique, breaking down each part of the lift, and gradually putting it together. Consistency in practice helps master the RDL and ensures that the movement becomes second nature, leading to better performance and results over time.

  • Form Over Weight

Regarding the RDL, proper form should always take precedence over lifting heavier weights. Getting caught up in the numbers and pushing for more weight is easy, but this can compromise your technique and increase the risk of injury. Start with lighter weights that allow you to move correctly and smoothly. As your form becomes solid and your confidence grows, you can gradually increase the weight while maintaining impeccable technique. Remember, quality reps with good form are far more beneficial than lifting heavy with poor form.

  • Get Help

Professional coaching can make a significant difference if you’re new to the RDL or struggling to perfect your form. A trainer can provide personalised feedback and corrections, ensuring you perform the lift safely and effectively. They can help identify and correct mistakes, offer tips to enhance your technique, and provide a structured approach to mastering the movement. Investing in a few sessions with a personal trainer can save you from potential injuries and accelerate your progress, helping you get the most out of your workouts.


Perfecting your Romanian Deadlift

Try these Romanian deadlift variations and find your perfect fit.

Barbell RDL

Single Leg RDL

Dumbell RDL

If you have any questions on the above or would like some advice on how we could help you with your fitness goal, don’t hesitate, visit one of our personal training gyms in London and try one of our small group classes.


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