Training optimization is something I’m always searching for; often times, aimlessly so. But every once in a while, you stumble onto a novel way of doing something that seems to have outsized benefits.
This “AHA” moment came to me not long ago when I, somewhat accidentally, figured out a better way to perform RDLs for biasing the glutes.
It’s good to start this trek by first briefly revisiting basic glute anatomy and function so that we can figure out exactly why this new movement could potentially be so advantageous…
Some basic information on the glutes that will come in handy:
• The glutes are actually a large complex of muscles but we’re going to focus on the superficial ones: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. Note that there are many smaller contributing muscles as well.
• Their main mechanisms of action that will be important to us will be hip extension, hip abduction, and hip external rotation.
• The glute max is generally the largest muscle in the human body; capable of producing large amounts of force and power through hip extension. However, the whole complex also acts as postural muscles and are responsible for stabilizing the pelvis.
Knowing the above, we can theorize that to take the complex through its full range-of-motion we will need a very specific movement that combines the above functions in some capacity.
And that’s exactly what the Single Leg Braced DB RDL™ does!
What separates this variation from all other RDLs is the ability to work within multiple planes; we have the usual hinging (hip flexion/extension) but also components of hip abduction and hip external rotation. No other free weight movement, that I’m aware of, is able to make these claims. The isolation of it being unilateral is just icing on the cake.
So how do we go about mastering the SLBDBRDL? (Enough letters for ya?)
• Hold the load in your contralateral hand (opposite to the leg that will be working) and use your ipsilateral hand (same side as the working leg) to hold onto a stable surface. Lift your non-working leg off the ground and transfer the load to the working leg/hip.
• It’s very important to start with an even pelvic position and neutral low back. Try to keep your body level when standing tall.
• Begin the movement by breaking at the hips and starting your hinge. The off leg should be traveling back in conjunction with the torso angle dropping to maintain pelvic positioning.
• As you descend through hip flexion, subtly shift more weight into the downed hip to “pop” it out. This will create a natural adduction of the thigh (it will come across your midline slightly) and lengthen your hip abductors. At the same time you’re doing this, slowly and carefully guide the load across the front if your working thigh creating internal rotation of the hip.
• DO NOT force this range-of-motion! The hinge should be short and the additional hip adduction/internal rotation should be subtle to the visible eye. You should, however, be able to feel the difference as you’re in the bottom position.
• Additional note: When at the end of the range, your spine should have the same orientation as when you were standing straight up. The movement should be exclusively at the hip and not through lumbar flexion or trunk rotation.
• The concentric will be an exaggerated reversal combining hip extension, abduction and external rotation. There should be visible “twisting” around the grounded foot to end the rep standing upright again but with hips open and facing the contralateral side.
JEEZ that was a lot! But every aspect of this execution is equally important! If there are breakdowns here, the whole movement collapses under the weight of its complexity.
Now that we have the execution parameters, what tips can we think about to really nail this?
• Start with bodyweight! Think of the entire thing as just a loaded hip airplane and get this pattern down first.
• Aim for shorter and more compact ROMs rather than trying to feel a stretch.
• It’s crucial to maintain your balance while doing these. Use that off arm liberally!
• Think of this movement as blood flow, metabolic work rather than trying to set PRs in load.
• Keep reps between 10-20 and shoot for the upper limit on your first set as it will be where you’ll experience the most substantial pump/metabolic accumulation
• If you’re feeling it in your low back, go lighter. Though it’s not a load problem necessarily, the excessive loading won’t allow you to perfect the pattern.
• I like doing this movement FIRST in my session and before heavier work but it can also be done as a “finisher” to really crush the glutes.
Outside of the clear benefits for hypertrophy, I tend to think that the real gem underlying this movement is actually the coordination and functionality that it demands. Our main goals when training glutes are often cosmetic and aesthetic but we forget how important a well-functioning and healthy glute complex is for the whole system. It’s literally the center of our anatomical universe. So let’s take care of our hips and glutes; our future health literally may depend on it.