5 reasons the Romanian Deadlift should be in every grappler’s training program
Straight Leg. Stiff Legged. RDL. The Romanian Deadlift is known by many monikers and is an absolutely vital ingredient in any grappler’s training program.
Thought of as one of the main contributors to a succulent posterior chain, here’s five reasons why you need the deadlift’s exotic cousin (with the tempting accent) in your programming as a recreational strangler;
1. Posterior Chain Gainz
The hamstrings, gluteals, and erector spinae muscles make up part of what’s known as the posterior chain, whose main function is to stabilise the spine and hips. A stronger posterior chain lends itself well to lessening the chance of lower back injuries, and knee injuries. Why? Because stronger glutes help stabilise the hips, and stronger hamstrings help balance out imbalances in leg strength, which can contribute to knee injuries. We need healthy backs, stable hips and injury-free knees as grapplers.
2. Less CNS fatiguing than the Conventional Deadlift
The conventional deadlift is regarded as the most fatiguing lift on your central nervous system when you’re lifting heavy (>90% of 1RM) loads. I’m sure you’ve felt it; waking up the next day feeling a decimal-place slower, a little cloudy in the brain, stumbling to the coffee machine like a legless ogre.
Because of this, you have to be smart how you program the conventional deadlift. I think it has its place in the off-season for grapplers, it’s a fun lift and you can build a lot of strength with it, but usually at a cost; a little more recovery is needed after each training session, than say, our friend the RDL.
The RDL has a mechanical disadvantage. Your knees remain at a constant angle whilst lifting the load, so your hamstrings have to do more work, and by definition, you lift less load than you would be able to with a conventional deadlift. This reduction in load means a faster recovery rate due to less stress on your CNS. Which is great from grapplers because it means we can still strengthen our posterior chains, without the risk of being battered about by the accumulating fatigue from hinging in the weight room.
3. The RDL is a Top-Down Lift
When you rack out with your loaded bar, you can begin the RDL from your standing position. It’s a top-down lift. You keep tension in your lats, your brace, and you begin lowering the bar with a sturdy hinge. The nature of the top-down lift is that you’re more likley to keep your form if you start in a good position. The risk with any lift involving a dead-start, is that you lose some tension or decent positioning before you move the load, and then you try to move the load and something goes wrong. Most of us have been there, it’s not the best feeling. But with top-down lifts, especially the RDL, your positioning starts off great, so as long as you maintain the form of pushing your hips back through space to lower the bar, keeping your spine neutral and stable, you’re halfway there. Grapplers are often battling through some kind of fatigue from training hard on the mats regularly. Although we want to be lifting feeling as fresh as possible, sometimes you’re just a little more tired than the average gym bro. The RDL improves your chances of not letting that tiredness get in the way of solid lifting technique.
4. The RDL is a Hip Hinge
The category of hip hinging exists in pretty much every sporting performance strength and conditioning progam under the sun. Why? The hinge involves two phases of movement; hip flexion and hip extension. Athletic movements in the saggital plane very often require degrees of hip flexion and extension to get the job done. Walking, jogging, running, sprinting, vertical jumping, broad jumping, level changing and shooting, all require hip flexion and/or extension. Training the hip hinge builds awareness of moving the hips through space, whilst stabilising the spine with torso tension. Moving the hips with a stable spine? Yes please. You’re going to want to have a hinging element to your S&C program for sport performance (I would add for corporal health, too).
The RDL is a prime candidate for hip hinging exercise selection.
5. Loading versatility
Heavy 5s, moderate 8s, or pumpy 12s, you can choose your load with the RDL easily, depending on what adaptation your after. Looking to improve the strength of your hinging capabilities? Heavy sets of 5-8 reps can get the job done. Want to build the posterior chain in terms of hypertrophy? Sets of 10-12 reps will elicit the pump and also test your grip endurance. Which brings me to using straps. The RDL is strap-friendly – if your grip is gassed from that unexpected hard Gi roll at lunchtime, chuck the straps on and perform the RDL without wondering if your grip is going to peel. Whatever loading scheme you choose, rest assured that you’ll be less fatigued the following day than if you had performed the same session with the conventional deadlift. Pairing your alactic power exercise, in the form of jumping variations or throws, works very well with the RDL. Add fat gripz if you’re trying to fry your forearms into a Popeye-state. Superset with a knee-dominant pattern in the off-season to build some work capacity and stimulate a little hypertophy, or with an upper push exercise in-season for a good weight room time-saver.
If you’re looking to remove the guesswork from your time in the weight room and get some solid programming to complement your mat time, check out my coaching options for online training.
It’s strength and conditioning for grapplers, formulated by a grappler, who knows what it actually takes to train 1-7 days per week on the mats, and 2-4 days per week in the weight room.