The deadlift is one of the most repeated strength exercises by all athletes who come to a gym. An exercise that focuses mainly on the muscles of the back of the body and that replicates very well the movement of taking any object from the ground (shopping bags, small children, any object that falls, etc. ). The deadlift is an exercise that has a lot to do with present and future good health since its practice will allow us to have a strong back, rigid legs and great stability in the core part.
However, it is a complex exercise. It is not easy to find people who do this exercise well from the beginning and that is why there are multiple progressions to get to do it well. An exercise in which you must slightly bend your knees, but without doing a squat. An exercise in which you have to place your shoulders very well so as not to penalize our dorsal kyphosis. And an exercise that requires a coordination of several muscle chains such as hip and knee extensors. It is also important to keep all the core well activated so that there is no instability in the lumbar area since it also works in quantity. In fact, it is an exercise designed for hamstring work, but we can’t ignore that the lower back takes much of the load.
Progression to deadlift
From the blog of Vitruve we launch a small progression towards the deadlift exercise for any beginner who wants to start with this exercise. First of all, we will do it without weight. It’s necessary to familiarize yourself with the movement to gradually add load. For us, the basis of a good deadlift is a good alignment of the spine. It is very useful to use a pike and place it on the back with the objectivethat at all times it is touching ourspine or rachis. Once we have it placed as it appears in the image, we will perform a small mobilization focusing on the hip hinge.
Once we have this movement controlled, we will go on to perform it standing. The movement pattern is complex so do not obsess, go little by little and get acquainted with it. Once familiar with the hip hinge, the best thing we can do is with the help of two dumbbells with little weight to do the exercise again focusing on doing the movement correctly despite the external load.
Another way to start with the progression is through a bar with discs and do the exercise called “Rack Pull”. This exercise allows you to correctly perform the last phase of the travel rangeor and do not have to go down excessively to catch the bar. It may know you a little at first, but once you are familiar with it there is very little left to be able to perform the conventional deadlift in full.
Finally, we would have to perform the deadlift with hexagonal bar before performing a conventional deadlift. This bar is a “must” for beginner athletes. Its structure allows a good work of the hamstring muscles reducing the pressure in the lumbar area and, therefore, allowing a progressive increase in load without any discomfort for the athlete.
Although, recent studies have not shown that there are differences in the activation of spinal erectors (the muscles of the spine) (1) so we can not say that there is greater danger with one exercise than with another. However, hip flexion is higher in conventional deadlift while in hexagonal bar deadlift knee flexion increases and hip flexion is reduced. This allows us greater comfort in movement and less load in the lumbar area. But there is still another deadlift variant that deserves to be named; “The Romanian Deadlift”.
Introduction to the Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian deadlift is a variant of the deadlift where we remove a vital part of the deadlift, which is the bar support on the ground. In the conventional deadlift we start from a low position where we lift the weight and return to rest the bar on the ground. It is an exercise where the force of gravity is overcome and the bar is left again and then raised again. However, in the Romanian deadlift, there is no contact of the bar with the ground until the end of the series so the load increases brutally.
In the Romanian deadlift, this phase of knee flexion is practically eliminated, so the demands on the hamstring muscles increase. By this we do not mean that you do not bend your knees or that you leave it completely rigid. This would be a mistake. We must also emphasize that the external load that we move in the conventional deadlift has nothing to do with the load that can be moved in the Romanian deadlift. Don’t try to move the same load and reduce it to the Romanian deadlift.
A good way to start with the Romanian deadlift is to use dumbbells. As we have always mentioned, start with a low load, familiarize yourself with exercise and gradually increase the load. It is important to mention that dumbbells will not put a limit on hip flexion. That is, when we are doing a Romanian deadlift with a bar there is a hip flexion stop that is the moment in which the bar touches the ground by the discs that are placed on the sides. However, when we have dumbbells the stop is when the dumbbells touch the ground or when the flexibility of the hamstring says enough. However, it is very common to see women with high elasticity going down with dumbbells to the ground and keeping their legs stiff; a complete mistake.
In this image we can see the range of optimum route. We must reach the middle of the tibia approximately or a little further down, but we must never pass 90 degrees. To do this, bend your knees a little and maintain a hip angle of approximately 110º-115º.
Reasons to perform the Romanian dead lift
It’s very common to see athletes doing conventional deadlift with high loads. In fact, powerlifting is a sport modality in which conventional deadlift is a test of performance. However, conventional deadlift and Romanian deadlift are not only interesting for powerlifters, but also for the general population.
As we have loomed at the beginning, the deadlift is an exercise that has a great relationship with present and future health. However, it would be stubborn to believe that a single exercise with a single range of motion should be enough. The combination of different deadlift variants with different positions and travel ranges is true health. So, for example, we invite you all to perform conventional deadlift and Romanian deadlift alike. In fact, we invite you to try other options such as the deadlift with hexagonal bar or the sumo deadlift.
In addition, of the multiple benefits that it will have for our strength levels it is also important to give a different stimulus to our brain. In fact, we can highlight that according to science our brain and our genome is accustomed to obtaining multiple physical stimuli. Our ancestors were dedicated to hunting, often in unknown places, and their brain was accustomed to obtaining different stimuli from the environment. Or offering that same variety of stimuli will favor a healthy and strong brain.
Depending on your training schedule you can use each exercise in a different mesocycle. Of course, we are not saying that you change deadlift every day of training, but putting a variety in this same exercise will make the workout more entertaining for you and will be much more enriching for your brain.
How does Romanian deadlift affect muscle mass gains?
There may be those who tell you the Romanian deadlift is not a good exercise for muscle mass gain, but there is nothing further from reality. Although we already know the basics of increasing muscle mass, it is worth remembering them. We know that there are 3 very important bases for increasing muscle mass:
- Mechanical stress.
- Metabolic stress.
- Muscle damage.
Do you think the Romanian deadlift does not possess these 3 qualities? After all, any exercise can help us increase muscle mass. What a coach must always keep in mind are these 3 training principles and adapt the training to them. However, as we have said before, the most logical thing is to combine different deadlift modalities so that they give us the greatest possible benefits.
Finally, let’s highlight again the differences between Romanian deadlift and conventional deadlift. The main difference is that in the Romanian deadlift, the weight is not supported at any time on the ground until the end of the series. Unlike this, in the conventional deadlift with each repetition the bar is deposited on the ground. This fact leads to a greater load during the Romanian deadlift that must be taken into account when planning training due to the fatigue it generates.
On the other hand, we will always recommend the combination of both exercises and other variants of deadlift such as sumo deadlift or deadlift with hexagonal bar for a correct development of all the muscles and brain. Offering different stimuli enriches our gray matter and makes training varied and entertaining. Don’t hesitate to use both exercises in your preparations.
Unai Adrián Pérez de Arrilucea Le Floc’h
1.Andersen V, Fimland MS, Mo D-A, Iversen VM, Vederhus T, Hellebø LRR, et al. Electromyographic comparison of barbell deadlift, hex bar deadlift, and hip thrust exercises: a cross-over study. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2018;32(3):587-93.