how did we get here?
If you haven’t heard, glutes are the new abs. That’s right! (Cue viral sensations of cake check or lying barbell booty challenge and the recently trending “booty handle squeeze rows.'') I want to talk about an exercise that can help you both get ahead in the dumptruck department AND drastically increase your fitness and performance. Don’t be the guy or gal who sleeps on this exercise then cries about their poor, frumpy peach and lousy state of fitness. Let’s dive in.
I want to talk about Romanian Deadlifts, aka RDL’s, why I love them for fitness, performance and glute gainz, why you should too AND how you can incorporate them when you suit up to train TODAY.
my rdl love story.
There was a time when I honestly believed RDL’s were invented as the preferred movement Roman soldiers used to lift dead bodies off of the battlefield! In reality, by most accounts the RDL was named by Romanian weightlifting legend, Nicu Vlad, during a 1990 clinic in San Francisco. During the clinic Nicu cleaned and jerked 500+# then proceeded to perform a mysterious deadlift-like exercise working up to 550+# for sets of 3 reps. He claimed this was key to his Olympic-level success in weightlifting! When asked what the mysterious lift was called, Nicu paused, shrugged and remarked, “Let’s call it the Romanian deadlift or RDL for short.” And thus, the RDL was born!
Pick whichever story you like, either way trust me when I say the RDL is the grand-daddy of developing Olympic-Gold caliber strength and size in the backside and posterior chain.
TLDR: when performed correctly, the RDL is a fantastic way to teach lifting from the hips and legs instead of the back. In fact, there are very few exercises better at building size, strength and power in the legs and butt- erector spinae, gluteus maximus, hamstrings and adductors (all underdeveloped areas for most folks). The movement itself is a hip-hinge, driven by pelvis-on-femur hip flexion and extension with the feet in a closed-chain position on the ground.
Ryan Tomanocy here: Movement Nerd, Bacon Aficionado and Intramural Champ. I’m super happy to be sharing this with y’all. I’ve been coaching and training for 10 years and am a disciple of the iron temple. In weights we trust. This is the way. Okay, I’ll stop. But really, I’m a coach, trainer, avid snowboarder, soccer player, swimmer, mountain biker and gym rat. I love training to be strong, fast, go long, any and everywhere, in any situation. RDL’s have been a staple in my training since my collegiate rowing career at Ithaca College, where I competed in 8x and 4x men’s heavyweight boats against crews from across the US, including Syracuse, Cornell, Navy and others, and rowed a personal best 6:35 2k on the ergo at 170#.
Much of my love for training was born out of my time rowing crew. RDL’s were a massive piece of that, and I’ve continued to incorporate them in my training regimen since. Fact, last year I worked up to 405# for 5 reps on the RDL and my legs have never been thicker, my hamstrings denser, nor my hops higher. My wife calls me “Rock Butt.” Thank you RDL-gods.
here's how it should be done.
Yes, this is long and detailed for good reason. If you don’t approach training with the intent to move well with quality first, then imminent injury will force you to do so later. “Do not pass go and do not collect $200.” Caveat: I typically have beginners start with a bodyweight RDL hold for time, today let’s get straight to the meat and potatoes using a barbell.
my rdl progression.
RDL’s can be done with dumbbells, kettlebells, a sandbag, a gallon of milk, heck even bodyweight RDL’s can provide a potent stimulus for beginners and in certain training scenarios (memorably, I used a small red resistance band for about 80 reps and was waddling-no-stairs-toilet-ouch sore). Again, I like to start folks with a Bodyweight Single Leg RDL Hold for time. Even strong girls and boys will feel some type of way after 30+sec of holding! I typically progress folks as follows:
RDL Holds → Walking RDLs → KB RDLs → KB Single Leg Contralateral RDLs → BB RDLs
From there we introduce more advanced variations like Ipsilateral RDL’s, Around the World RDL’s, BB complexes, incorporate tempo, band resistance, etc. As with any exercise, we can manipulate a variety of factors to either add complexity and continue driving adaptation or reduce complexity and scale back the stimulus.
to prevent injury.
Always prioritize a neutral spine position (refer back to the bullets above on “how it should be done” and “Common errors”). Also, consider your level of preparation prior to plugging these into your programming. For example, you should have sufficient “core” strength before attempting to perform these with progressive loads. Ensuring safety of the spine is going to be most important here.
Start with identifying your current training focus (general hypertrophy, building a big booty, maximizing your deadlift, preseason strength for rugby, etc). And honestly, I could write a whole post on this subtopic alone. For our purposes today I’ll keep things brief and tactile so you can incorporate RDL’s in your training session ASAP!
Here’s the gist. If your current training focus involves having a bigger and stronger backside then you should be doing RDL’s (*cough* 99% of you). If yes, follow these steps.
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You can find me @tomanocy on Instagram and through my site here at exploreperformancehq.com. Subscribe for future content in the sidebar above or below the post on mobile. I'll be posting a new blog every 3 weeks. Don't hesitate to reach out to me for any training, nutrition or coffee talk and make sure to tag me in any pics of your pups, good-boi’s, sweet-gals, aka doggos. I would love to see ‘em. Cheers & Happy Training!