Romanian Deadlift Variations

In the words of the glute guy @bretcontreras1 himself “deadlifting oozes strength and functionality. There’s something to bending over, grabbing a hold of heavy weight, and standing up with it that makes you feel like a primal powerhouse.” Deadlift variations are simply loaded hip hinge patterns, which is an essential movement pattern to master not only in the gym, but also in day to day function.
In particular The Romanian Deadlift, or RDL, is one of our favorite variations and we’ll be charing our top 5 favorite RDL variations for [P]Rehab and strength and conditioning goals alike.

Banded Deadlift to Encourage Lat Tension

The RDL is an amazing way to hit the ENTIRE posterior chain. We’re talking more than just the hamstrings and glutes here, but also more proximal (lats, erector spinae, etc) and more distal (calves). If you’re getting stuck in your deadlifts, or feeling deadlifts only in your low back, there is a chance you might NOT be properly engaging your lats. Building proper lat tension will help disperse the forces across the entire back during your RDL.


The lats perform many different motions at the shoulder joint. For our discussion with the RDL, we are most concerned with the lats ability to extend the glenohumeral joint. Thus, a cue many will use to engage the lats is to get that “Chest up and shoulders down”. However, many times these verbal cues aren’t enough, and instead, we need to provide MANUAL cues or reactive neuromuscular training (RNT). By using a resistance band as shown in the video, we can provide an external force that will cause REFLEXIVE ACTIVATION OF THE LATS. The band here will try and bring my shoulders forward, and in order to prevent this, I must recruit my lats and provide an isometric shoulder extension force to maintain a linear bar path. Note, that if you can apply the resistance to the middle of the barbell (instead of the ends) it would better disperse the resistance.

 

The Landmine RDL

The landmine RDL is a great way to develop the adequate balance and proprioceptive control to transition from a normal double leg RDL to a true single leg RDL. The single leg RDL (which we will cover tomorrow) is particularly challenging for many because of the inherent BALANCE required to pull it off. If you’re having trouble balancing during the single leg RDL, then this landmine variation will be perfect for you.


Because the bar with the landmine travels in a fixed arc, you don’t have to worry about proper arm positioning like with a dumbbell or barbell. Furthermore, you can reap the benefits of offset contralateral loading without worrying too much about balance as you are still “fixed” to a stable-ish surface (ie the landmine). The landmine RDL can either be performed with the landmine directly in front (left video) or perpendicular (right video). Personally, I like the perpendicular configuration because it induces a greater anti-rotation component to the exercise. You must increase you glute recruitment and force your hip external rotators to fire HARDER to keep the exercise motion purely in the sagittal plane.

If you don’t have a landmine at your gym, simply place it at the corner of a gym (use a towel to prevent scuffing up the walls).

 

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

The single leg Romanian deadlift is one of my absolute favorite exercises. It’s a whole body, complete, functional exercise that can be used for rehabilitation, as well as strength and conditioning purposes alike. I love this exercise for its ability to functionally work the entire lower extremity posterior chain, while simultaneously challenging one’s balance.

While many might associate hamstring exercises with the leg curl machine, the hamstrings also originate at the hip, meaning hip extension movements also target the hamstrings. Why is this significant? Because throughout normal everyday movements, it is actually hip extension, and not knee flexion, that plays a dominant role in movement and developing power in a host of activities, like walking, running, and biking. Furthermore, functional exercises, like the single leg RDL are easily transferrable to new situations and environments that closely simulate every day tasks, like picking objects off the floor while protecting your lower back.

By incorporating the RDL movement on one leg, you are now additionally challenging your dynamic balance. Exercises that challenge your dynamic balance are more functional and, for the most part, recommended over static balance exercises. It’s your dynamic balance that is relied upon in sports and fall prevention alike!


In particular, the muscles in your calf and foot are largely responsible for making the small, postural foot changes that allow you to maintain your balance. These muscles include the posterior tibialis, peroneus longus, triceps surae muscle group, and the small foot intrinsics. These muscles are commonly weak in individuals with foot and ankle pain like plantar fasciitis. The single leg RDL is a great exercise to strengthen these muscles as they are heavily relied upon for maintaining balance during this particular movement. If done correctly, you will feel a good burn in your foot and ankle, meaning you’re using the right muscles!

 

Foam Roll Assisted RDL

Many of you have asked how to maintain better balance with the single leg RDL and here’s your answer. One of the BIGGEST mistakes people make when performing a single leg RDL is LOOSING HIP CONTROL AND LETTING THE PELVIS ROTATE!! I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve seen people performing a single leg RDL (happy they are doing it) but with poor PELVIC CONTROL!

You must aspire to keep your hips and pelvis level (flat) when performing the single leg RDL. Far too often when people descend in the single leg RDL, they will let their hips turn outward. You can see this if the hips of the back leg (in this example my right leg) ELEVATE higher than my left hip. This is a sign of a lack of hip/pelvis neuromuscular control and/or hip weakness.


To fix this, a coaching cue I like to use first is to tell the client to “keep the back foot pointed down towards their stance leg”. This encourages the client to keep the hips neutral, as letting the foot point outwards to the side is indicative of a loss of pelvis control. Wherever your foot goes your pelvis will follow, and vice versa.

A second great manual cue can be accomplished using foam roller. The foam roller essentially connects your hand to your foot. And by bringing your arm DIRECTLY IN A STRAIGHT LINE BACK, it forces your foot to follow in a similar bath, directly back, in addition to keeping the foot pointed down.

 

Kneeling RDL

Got an athlete non-weightbearing after surgery? Trying to figure out a way to challenge hip stability without ankle contribution? Looking to change things up? Well look no farther than this Kneeling RDL variation. YOUR HAMSTRINGS WILL BE BEGGING FOR MERCY.


The kneeling variation is the PERFECT EXERCISE for challenging the hip musculature/stability without ANY ANKLE CONTRIBUTION. Balance is in large part determined by not only one’s hip stability, but also ankle stability. This variation allows us to completely eliminate any ankle contribution to the SL RDL and completely target the hip.


This exercise is EXTREMELY HARD to pull off with good form! I’m using a slider provided by @6directionstm to give me some help with balance. Even so, I’m not able to control a full downward phase (full hip flexion) as I’m letting my center of mass sink posteriorly (as evidenced by the increase in knee flexion during the descent phase), placing less demand on my hips. Ideally, my hips would stay in place and my trunk would flex forward (ie a perfect hip hinge) in addition to keeping the back leg off the ground. If this variation is still hard, try performing next to a wall for balance. For a more advanced progression, try performing on the blue side of a BOSU!

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