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Romanian Deadlift: The King of Posterior Training

The Romanian deadlift is an awesome (and awesomely underrated) exercise for building your back side.

Let me give you a little advice: If someone with big quads and no ass ever tries to give you lifting advice run as fast and as far as you can. He’s probably not fast enough to catch you, and he will most likely pull his hamstring in pursuit.

A lot of people unknowingly create serious muscular imbalances between the anterior chain and posterior chain (the posterior chain is made up of the muscles on the back side of the body—hamstrings, glutes, back). A large proportion of leg exercises you see performed in the gym — squat and leg press, for example — are very quad dominant and, therefore, anterior chain moves. These people add some seated leg curls to their programs and think they’re sufficiently hitting the posterior chain. Note even close.

The muscular imbalances created by quad-dominant lifting can have serious negative effects from pulled hamstrings and knee pain, to the inability to fill out the backside of your jeans.

Others knowingly create this imbalance because they like the look of big quads; it’s one of the first things somebody notices as you are walking towards them. Big quads are impressive — but only if you have the backside to match! All too often we see the local gym-rat “bro” with nice quads but his pants are falling down because he has no ass to keep them up.

No exercise works the entire posterior chain more effectively than the Romanian Dead Lift (RDL). Your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes will all be thoroughly activated in this lift.

Whether you’re an elite athlete who wants to run faster, jump higher or prevent injury, or you’re a soccer mom who wants a backside that’s the envy of the neighborhood, the RDL is the best lift you can add to your program.

If you’re an Olympic lifter the RDL should be a critical part of your training plan. Not only does it build a strong posterior chain, but it also closely mimics the position of the first pull and transition phase of the clean and snatch. If you’re not strong in this position you have no chance completing your lifts.

How To Perform The RDL

A lot of lifters have trouble keeping an arched back in the squat, this will not only negatively affect how much weight you can lift, but it will also get you closely acquainted with your local orthopedic surgeon. The RDL helps build the lower back muscles necessary to stay arched during your squats.

However, the RDL is commonly performed incorrectly. We’re going to explain step-by-step how to correctly perform this lift:

  • Grab a barbell with a pronated (overhand) grip. Hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent (10–15 degrees)
  • Keep a slight arch in your back, chest up and scapulae retracted. This position must be maintained throughout the entire lift.
  • Take a breath and tighten your abs and lower back, then push your hips back as you lower the bar, keeping it close to your body.
  • Your weight should be on your heels, and the arch in your back and knee bend should remain constant.
  • Continue lowering the bar close to your body until right before you reach the point where you can’t hold your arched back position any longer.
  • Reverse the direction of the bar by squeezing your glutes and pushing your hips through.

Beginners commonly make the mistake of rounding their back. This makes you susceptible to injury and needs to be avoided. Lower the bar as far as you can while keeping your back arched and scapulae retracted. For beginners this may mean you start out very light and only go down to mid-thigh. As you get stronger through your posterior chain you will be able to add more weight and will be able to lower the bar further.

This lift can be done heavy as long as you maintain the strong, arched position of the back. The arch creates stability, and isolates the hamstrings and glutes like few lifts can. The RDL is such an effective lift to train the much-neglected posterior chain, and very few other lifts can match the results you get from doing a correctly performed RDL.