Don't hurt yourself! Deadlift How-To.

I hope you're off to a great start this week. I know, like me, you're probably busy. Let me remind you that amidst a year that has been especially crazy, it’s important to take a breath and make sure you, yourself, are taken care of.

Throughout the 7 years I've been coaching people through positive change, from an exercise standpoint, I've spent hundreds of hours teaching people how to move properly. And while exercise is nothing new to most people, our ability to move correctly, without compensations, pain or limitations is something that is often missed.

Whether with clients or when I'm at the gym myself, I have seen this one exercise executed incorrectly time and time again. It’s a bit of a tricky exercise at best, because there is a lot going on. Most times when I show my clients how to actually do it properly, initially, it feels quite awkward.

What is the exercise?

It’s the Romanian Deadlift, or in short, RDL. Keep in mind, this exercise is almost identical to a Stiff Legged Deadlift (with the only real difference being, if a barbell was used, the positioning of the bar). To keep things simple, we’ll put these two exercises together, under the same umbrella.

The Romanian Deadlift or Stiff Legged Deadlift is a fantastic exercise for working the posterior chain, glutes, hamstrings and adductors. When done correctly, the RDL can be an effective exercise that helps strengthen both the core and the lower body with one move. Sounds good right?

The issue I see however, is that many people do this exercise in a way that actually harms their lower body and back instead of helping it. Lucky for you, I’m going to break down the do’s & don’ts of this exercise so that next time you do it, you’re ready to dive in confidently and safely. 😉

Okay, let’s dig in.

Things to Avoid:

  • Shoulders rolled forward - with deadlifts, the weight is placed on the front half of the body. This shouldn’t however, cause you to roll your shoulders forward. Engage your shoulder blades no matter where the load is placed.

  • Neck forward - this often comes with rolled shoulders. Ensure you keep your shoulders back, chest up, with chin tucked to help keep an upright posture.

  • Body isn’t in a straight line - you’ll want to squeeze your glutes at the top, however keep your hips from pressing too far forward. Arching too heavily will cause unnecessary tension in your lower back.

  • Back is rounded with shoulders & arms reaching - this is the most common mistake I see with this exercise. The goal of a RDL is not to reach forward and touch the ground. A rounded back puts an excessive amount of stress on your lower back, that with added load, can lead to injury.

  • Legs are straight or knees locked - the words “stiff legged” are a bad representation of what we should be trying to achieve with this exercise. Keeping knees locked is intense if you lack flexibility, and can force your lower back to compensate.

​Tips to Improve:

  • Keep head neutral, chest upright and shoulders back - it is very important to maintain a proper, upright and straight position at the top of your deadlift. This ensures that all the correct muscles are engaged. Focus on tucking your head (from the base of your skull) back and keep your shoulders pulled in.

  • Keep your body in a straight line - with shoulders back, chin tucked and hips neutral, you’ll be ensuring a correct balance between both your anterior and posterior chain. At the top of the movement, you’ll want to focus on drawing your core in and squeezing your glutes to ensure these muscles keep you centered.

  • As you lower, keep back flat, shoulders pulled behind with arms close to shins - notice how massive of a difference this is from the first image. Focus on keeping your shoulder blades engaged, head neutral (don’t look up!) and hips pressing back. The movement should be coming from your hips alone & nowhere else, which means everything should stay nearly identical to your starting position. Engaging your core here is crucial as it helps brace your back while your lower and lift.

  • Allow knees to have a soft bend with hips pushing back - in order to target the correct muscles, it’s important to keep a soft bend in your knees throughout the entire exercise. Keep in mind this isn’t a squat so knees should not bend as you move. They should stay still with the motion coming exclusively from your hips.

So, do you have a fresh perspective? Are you ready to give this exercise a try? I would love to know if this information has been helpful to you and if you would benefit from more information like this. Comment below and let me know what exercise you’re most confused by. I’ll be sure to write it down for my next how-to.

Friends, you got this! I can’t wait to hear how you go. I’m always here to support you every step of the way.

Jenn