- Ideally, the movement will be started from a rack or elevated height to save energy. In this case, setup a bar in J hooks roughly mid thigh or just about ~2-3 inches beneath your fully extended arms when standing tall. Grip should be just outside the thighs. Make sure to wear wrist straps for grip if available.
- Initiate the set by "scooping" under the bar; keep an upright torso, bend the knees and unrack the bar by using quads and glutes rather than hinging. Once standing upright with knees and hips extended, take 2-3 small steps to fully clear the bar of the J hooks.
- Before beginning the actual RDL, take inventory of positioning and ensure balanced distribution of load as well as proper pelvic/spinal alignment. Think about neutrality!
- As the rep begins, hips should push back and the bar should stay tight to the thighs. Keep lats tight. Cervical and lumbar spine should remain neutral (i.e. avoid craning the neck and overarching the low back).
- This is meant to be a "partial" deadlift so the eccentric action should be terminated once the hips can no longer go back any further. Typically, this will be with the bar just below the knee caps or, for those with longer arms, the tops of the shins.
- Because there is no tangible end point to the ROM, deceleration and reversal of direction will be a key feature of the RDL that differs from traditional deadlifts. This will require substantially more eccentric control and full-body rigidity.
- Once reaching this terminal end point and safely decelerating, shift back into the concentric, slowly at first and then increasing power through lockout.
- It's important to note that the shins should ALWAYS be vertical during an RDL. Likewise, there should be no extraneous movement through the trunk or spine.
- After the set is over, carefully walk the load back into the J hooks and replace it the same way it was taken out; by "reverse scooping" and maintaining an upright torso.
- Low Back Pain
- Neck Pain
- Weak Upper/Mid Back
- Weak Abs
- Weak Low Back (Erectors)
- KB RDLs
- DB RDLs
- Trap Bar RDLs
- Smith Machine RDLs
- 45º Hyperextensions
- Cable Pull-Throughs
- Paused Barbell RDLs
- Snatch Grip Barbell RDLs
- B Stance Barbell RDLs
- Barbell Good Mornings
- Up to 5 sets per week
- Up to 4 sets per session
- 6-12 rep range
Applicable Intensity Techniques:
- Supersets (These can be done second in the sequence preceded by a hip extension movement that is non axially loaded. Just make sure to go much lighter than you would normally)
Barbell RDLs are generally not a good candidate for intensity techniques.
I don't think that it would be a stretch to say that Barbell RDLs might be the single, most transformative exercise that can be added to a program.
Sensationalism aside, what makes this relatively simple movement so damn great?
Ability to Overload:
Ok this isn't really that unique of a trait but it is still probably the most important towards fulfilling the vast potential of the RDL. Overloading is, at the core, one of the two principles we ALWAYS MUST abide by (the other is specificity). We can do a lot of really cool and sophisticated stuff, but if what we're doing isn't actually placing a significant demand on the target muscles or pattern, we're doing nothing more than pissing into the wind...and nobody really wants that. With the Barbell RDLs, we are in the fortunate position to be able to train with VERY heavy loads and high intensities while also working within a refined, simplistic ROM.
I think the whole "Time-Under-Tension" fad is pretty overstated in its efficacy towards building muscle, but there is also something to be said for exercises that don't allow you to relax at any point. This is not actually the best for trying to take an individual muscle to local failure. Just imagine a Leg Press set of 20 with 5 seconds spent with locked knees between each rep. That's definitely not constant tension but I would bet that those quads aren't going to be feeling too hot in the next few days. And the reason that would be possible is because of the "rest" taken in the stable lockout position. With RDLs, there is no such luxury. Even just standing tall while holding a heavy load in front of you requires an enormous amount of muscular coordination and effort. Extrapolating this to the extreme could look more like a static hold without actually performing any dynamic hinging. Clearly, this isn't going to be very hypertrophic for the glutes but the entire posterior chain will be engaged just to maintain positioning. Merging this thought experiment with the actual RDL motion allows us to clearly see how impactful it can be just to maintain structural integrity against large external forces.
Ok so this is counter to everything I love and stand for, but hear me out because I'm going somewhere with it...The primary goal of the RDL is to overload the hinge pattern like we discussed in the cues above. Most people are going to have pretty compact hinges with a rare few being a bit more Gumby-like in their hip mobility and balance. In order to properly train the hinge (and in some ways, isolate it), we're going to want to limit extraneous motion and energy expenditure as much as possible. This is expressed distinctly through the refined ROM that we see. Pushing it further while maintaining vertical shins is going to quickly call upon the hamstring to lengthen and thus restrict our hip power expression. Trying to extend that ROM but this time allowing some forward tibial translation is going to shift tension anteriorly into the quads. The sweet spot that we want to operate within is one that will maximize power from the hips and glutes while minimizing reliance on other muscle groups or patterns that could be weak links.
In a somewhat paradoxical way, the Barbell RDL is both a foundational movement and advancement of said base movement pattern. A beginner could learn to hinge from Barbell RDLs. Alternatively, an advanced athlete could turn to them in order to increase their deadlift strength to 600lbs or run a glute-specialization program for their next show. Unlike many other variations that are complexity-based progressions (think about the Barbell Good Morning for reference), the prerequisites for effectively utilizing this movement are actually pretty low. Most of the scaling is going to be done through increasing load and intensity over time.
Though I subscribe to the general ideology, don't fall for the fallacious thinking that consistent exercise rotations and periodized block undulations are always needed to potentiate continuous progress. We all have short attention spans and get suckered into shiny, new things, but be careful to overlook the power of getting really, really good at the boring shit.
Consistency + Simplicity + Time = Mastery + Progress
Primary Use Case:
- Hypertrophy of the Glutes
- Increase strength and power through the Hinge pattern
- Increase postural strength