The Romanian deadlift (or RDL) is a helpful exercise for a woman who wants a sleek and toned lower body. You may do the RDL with a body bar during a group exercise class, or you can use a barbell to perform the exercise, with or without your personal trainer. You can even use just a broomstick, if you are just learning the exercise or are working out at home. Basically, to do an RDL, grasp the bar from the floor or the rack with arms extended and pull it up to hip or upper-thigh level by extending your hips. The exercise begins at this point, from an upright standing position. Lower the weight until it nearly touches the floor by bending at the hips while bending your knees only slightly and keeping your back straight. When the weight nearly reaches the floor, raise the bar by straightening your body from the hips back to the upright position, pulling the bar to upper-thigh or hip level while keeping your arms and back straight. The RDL targets the glutes, hamstrings and lower back, with assistance from the abs and upper back. Consult a doctor to ensure the RDL is appropriate for you, especially if you have back issues.
Hamstrings and Glutes
The RDL and straight-legged deadlift, which is another variation of the conventional deadlift that is similar to the RDL, generally target the same muscles. However, an RDL uses muscles of the spine statically, while the straight-legged deadlift uses them actively. There is less movement in the spine with the RDL, which focuses on the muscles in the back of the lower body. The RDL targets the gluteus maximus and all three hamstring muscles, which are the biceps femoris, the semimembranosus and the semitendinosus. The gluteus maximus in the buttocks is the biggest muscle in the body, and it's powerful. The RDL engages muscles that are not engaged if you are sitting at a desk all day. When performed properly, the RDL is an effective exercise for strengthening and toning the lower body, specifically the back of the legs.
Your lower and upper back help stabilize your body during the deadlift. The Romanian deadlift involves more static or stable movement in the lower back, whereas the straight-legged deadlift focuses more on flexion of the lower back. While both the RDL and stiff-legged deadlift target the lower back, the lower back is secondary to the glutes and hamstrings in the RDL. When performing an RDL, it's important to keep your hips pressed back with your weight in your heels, to enable your body to generate more force from the glutes and hamstrings, with the lower back as a supporting force. The RDL specifically targets the erector spinae, the quadratus lumborum and the lower trapezius.
Upper Back and Shoulders
Your lats and shoulders also play an important role in deadlifting. Your lats are the big wing-type muscles that cover most of your back. When you start a deadlift, your shoulders are pulled back, and as you lift, you'll engage your lats. Your lats may be sore after doing a lot of deadlifts, and that usually means you used them correctly in the lifts. With the RDL you are engaging your upper back and shoulders more isometrically, as a method of stability, compared with the straight-legged deadlift, where these muscles are more stretched out. Both forms of deadlifts require activation from the upper back and shoulders for proper execution.
During the RDL, you also use the muscles around your ankles. Your ankles are your foundation as you stand up, especially as you increase the weight you are lifting. If your ankle fails, you will lose your deadlift and will be unable to increase your weight and improve your technique. Strengthening the muscles around your ankle with help with your deadlift stability. These muscles include your calf muscles, your anterior and posterior tibialis, and your peroneal muscles.
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