Common mistakes made on the Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian Deadlift.
How often do you execute this movement and feel it in your lower back and not in your hamstrings?
If the answer is quite often then you are not alone.
It’s extremely common through having a lordotic curve and where people haven’t learned how to recruit and engage the hamstrings effectively. This leads to the load being pulled through the lumbar in the concentric loading phase pulling up with the lower back.
After a long time of having these issues myself my back finally had enough which lead to injury and time off the gym which forced me to go back to the absolute basics and learn how to effectively hip hinge. It really is a hard lesson to learn, which is what motivated me to write this blog and try to help you avoid the mistakes I made.
Loading through your lower back doesn’t mean you have an issue with your back. Instead, it’s an indicator that you’re failing to hinge effectively through the hips. If you’re getting the feeling (and any pain) in your lower back, this stems from extending and flexing the lower back and not placing enough tension through your hamstrings and glutes.
This movement is complex one to grasp but too often, we’re a little too eager to run before we can walk and get weight on the bar before learning the movement from body weight and lighter loads.
Okay, so if you struggle should you avoid it altogether?
I’d suggest not.
The Romanian Deadlift has a multitude of benefits and sure, if it’s an absolute no-go for you and there are genuine issues there that cannot be resolved then there are alternatives but don’t throw in the towel just yet.
The benefits of the Romanian Deadlift and why you should perform this movement
The RDL, when performed correctly, has the potential to significantly increase muscle mass in the hamstrings, glutes and lower back. Due to the semi-locked out knees the emphasis primarily relies on the posterior chain to shift the load on the bar.
- Increased Deadlift Performance
Mastering the RDL and in building strength in this lift will aid you in other deadlift variations. Having learned how to hinge at the hips and in understanding how to perform the movement and how the muscles appropriately will create a great platform for the deadlift and strong pulls in this lift.
- Injury prevention and greater hip flexibility
Many sports rely on powerful hip extension and posterior chain strength such as running, sprinting, jumping and squatting to name a few. The RDL can increase muscle mass and the use of these muscles and enhance these movement patterns. Once strength and been built in the lower back, hamstrings and glutes as well as the foundations have been learned to create a rigid spine this, will prevent injury in sports and lifts.
The importance of mobilisation and activation of the hamstrings
Before moving into big lifts always ensure you’re warm, mobile and the muscles have been switched on. Perform some stretches to stretch the hamstrings, glutes and lower back such as standing or reclining hamstring stretch, hamstring walkouts, hurdler stretch, leg swings and pigeon pose.
As well as some activation drill exercises such as leg curls, single leg RDL’s, frog pumps, glute bridges and kickbacks to get ‘switch on’ the muscles before heading into your warm up sets.
What about exercise set up?
A great way to ensure you set this exercise up is to:
- Make yourself as solid and state from the ground up
- Grip the floor as hard as you can by screwing in your heels
- Tuck your tummy in to brace the abs tucking your pelvis under contracting your glutes to create a straight back
- Contract your hamstrings as hard as you can as you break at the hips and lower the weight down keeping the weight close to the body
- Create the stretch by resisting the load with your hamstrings on the way down.
- Once you have come as far as you can maintaining excellent form contract your hamstrings and glutes and stand with the bar by drawing up using the hamstrings and glutes. Don’t just use the lower back or stand the torso back up using momentum.
Regression often leads to greater progress
Sometimes allowing our egos to take a knock is the best way to move things forward in the direction we want. I knew I felt a lot of loading in my back but it was ‘normal’ for me and I had accepted ‘it was the way it was for me.’ If you struggle to engage the correct muscles in any movement there is no real benefit in continuing to push heavier loads while the basics are being missed.
Your progress is limited so I always recommend in these situations to strip the load right back and focus on real muscle recruitment, engagement and learning explicit form. Continue practicing the hip hinge and only once you have this nailed progress on to shifting loads.The benefit in stripping everything back to basics is invaluable which will set you up to making fantastic progress from this point.
A way to work up and to check your form would be to hold a stick in the centre of your back and as you hinge ensure your back remains straight still touching the stick. This is an excellent way to check how you move and what is affecting the breakdown of this lift and where so you can then work on fixing this. Once you have this nailed you can then use the stick to act as a bar at the front of the body so you can practice the movement as if holding the bar to prepare for the next progression.
If you struggle with this advanced movement it would be a great idea to work with a knowledgeable personal trainer or coach who can teach you and help you also build confidence. For many this seems like a sign of weakness but it’s actually smart and is a positive to your training. You wouldn’t think twice in hiring a ski coach to teach you how to ski so why is weight training any different?
I know from experience my confidence was knocked and I wanted to avoid this exercise due to fear of hurting my back again but persevere, the progressions and loads I’m now lifting I never thought I would reach.
This is an excellent exercise but only if you can effectively hinge at the hips and load the correct muscles.
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