Perfecting the 1-Legged RDL
As much as I poke fun at commercial gyms, I have to say, in the grand scheme of things, it provides for awesome blog content. Almost without fail, anytime I feel a case of “writer’s block” rearing its ugly head – as has been the case the past week or so – I can revert back to chance encounters I’ve had at commercial gyms for some blog writing gold.
Well, to be honest, today’s post is a combination of something that happened at the facility yesterday and something that took place about a year ago – both of which involved Jessica Alba and a 1-Legged Romanian Deadlift. Okay, I lied, it’s just the 1-Legged RDL. But a guy can dream, right?
First, lets begin with the commercial gym story. Every so often – whether it’s because I’m taking the day off from work, or just need a good laugh – I sometimes hit up the local globo gym to get a quick lift in. And, as you might expect, between trying to keep my corneas from perpetually bleeding while watching some personal trainer make their client squat in a Smith Machine, not to mention the smell of stale Axe body spray that permeates the air, I’m always telling myself, “never again, Tony. Never again.”
But, it is what it is – I need to train. So, I do my warm-up, bust out my iPod, blast some Tribe Called Quest, and get my lift on.
So, not too long ago, I was in the middle of my training session, doing a set of 1-Legged RDLs when another dude (who was there training with this wife, which I thought was pretty cool) stopped to ask me a question.
“What are those,” he asked.
“Oh, these are 1-legged Romanian Deadlifts,” I replied (you can cue the Jaws theme music right now).
“Those work your core or something?“ he came back with.
Side Note: I don’t know about you, but I’m always amused at how, every time someone doesn’t know what a particular exercise is, they just assume it works your “core.”
“Well, I guess they do, in a way,” I said. “Namely, though, they’re a single leg exercise that targets the posterior chain – glutes and hamstrings – and they’re also great for hip stability.”
I lost him.
“Eh, well, I may have to give those a try sometime,” he gingerly said. He walked away, and ten minutes later, as I was leaving, I see him in the corner of my eye doing something that resembled this:
I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you reading recognize this from your gyms as well.
Just to clarify, if it looks anything like the picture above, it’s wrong. Okay? Got it? Good.
Which brings us to last night. I was walking around the gym floor checking in with clients, when I turn around and see Vanessa (who’s getting ready for her very first powerlifting competition this August) performing 1-Legged, 1-Arm RDLs in much the same way as the picture above.
Well, maybe not quite THAT bad – but if I were making a check list of what NOT to do – rounding the back and shoulders, not packing the neck, lowering the DB too low, to name a few – she was doing it. And, it had to be fixed…..stat.
The fact of the matter is, even for trainees with a fair amount of experience under the bar, 1-Legged RDLs are about as advanced as they get as far as single leg movements go. Here, a lot of things have to harmoniously come into play (core stability, hip stability, upper back strength, balance, etc) in order to perform the movement effectively, and it’s not something you just haphazardly throw into the mix.
That said, below I’m going to share some coaching cues that I used to help fix Vanessa’s form and my hope is that you walk away with a better understanding of how to perfect your own technique.
But first, lets see what it should actually look like, so we can then break it down into manageable parts.
NOTE: the video below shows an Offset 1-Legged Romanian Deadlift (using only one arm). I like this variation because it really forces you fire your external rotators to help “offset” the pull of the dumbbell itself.
Key Points to Consider:
1. Keep the neck packed. Many will view this as looking down, but in fact, you’re just keeping the neck in a neutral position. Ideally, when performing this exercise, you want to think of your entire backside as making a straight line (said differently, arch your back) from your head all the way down to your toes. Resultantly, you can think of it as making your spine long.
Now, admittedly, I did bend my moving leg slightly – but, for the most part, you should get the general idea.
2. CRUSH the dumbbell with your grip. By doing so, you create a phenomenon called irradiation, which forces the rotator cuff to fire and essentially “packs” the shoulder nice and tight. This is important because you can’t think of this movement as actively lowering the DB with your arm – many trainees make the mistake of trying to touch the DB all the way to the floor, resulting in a significant amount of flexion, which I don’t agree with.
Instead, a better way to approach it is to think about pushing your hips back (again, keeping your back in a straight line throughout). So, instead of actively thinking about lowering the DB, all you need to do is think “hips back,” until the DB reaches roughly mid-shin level. At that point, you shoulde feel some pretty significant tension in the hamstrings.
3. Also of note, with the standing (supporting) leg, I like to tell trainees to keep a “soft knee.” It shouldn’t be locked or stiff. Ideally, you want about 15-20 degrees of knee flexion.
4. Again, pigging back on the points above, grip the DB HARD, push your hips back, and think about driving your moving leg’s heel up towards the ceiling. Like I noted, you want to try to keep your backside as straight as possible, and I’ve found that using the “heel towards the celing” cue works wonders in that regard.
Likewise, as you push back, you should feel the brunt of your weight shift back into your supporting leg’s heel. if you feel your weight shifting more towards your toes, try taking your shoes off as the additional heel lift will shift your weight anteriorly (which you don’t want).
5. To finish, try to “pull” yourself back through the heel and squeeze your glute to finish. Repeat. Don’t tip over. Be awesome.
6. Lastly, I’ll just add that it’s perfectly okay to perform this exercise in your “usable” range of motion. In other words, if you’re unable to do it using a full ROM, there’s no rule stating that you can’t shorten the distance. Again, this is a very valuable exercise, and there are a lot of things coming into play here. So, if you have to limit the ROM due to poor hip stablity (for instance), that’s fine. As you grow more proficient, you’ll undoubtedly be able to increase your ROM as you go.
And there you have it. While it’s a bit presumptuous, obviously, to say that this is perfect form (is there such a thing?), I feel that the above suggestions will drastically improve people’s performance with this exercise. Try them out today, and let me know what you think!