Powerlifters only squat, bench, and deadlift…. or at least that’s the stereotype associated with the sport. And while competition movements should have the highest priority in your training, let’s be real. They can’t be the only movements you do.
Now although squats, bench and deadlifts are excellent for strength training and hypertrophy, most of us would benefit from more stimulus than the big three can provide by themselves to add size. Just being heavier does usually allow for stronger lifts but it’s actually muscle that’s moving the weight on the bar.
That’s where accessories come in.
The squat, bench and deadlift are staples of the sport because that's what we do on the platform but what about your accessories? No I’m not talking about hitting some arms to get that sweet pump and leave the bros in awe of your bis and tris.
I’m talking about the accessories directly following your competition work.
The accessories that use a barbell are usually hard: the Spoto presses, the pause squats, and the Romanian deadlifts. These are closer to competition movements that allow you bulk up lagging muscle groups while maintaining technical proficiency on the big three. Now I’m not saying that single joint movements (like curls and tricep pushdowns) don’t have their time and place in powerlifting but they shouldn’t be your go to after squatting,benching or deadlifting if your goal is to maximize strength on those.
But the king of them all is the Romanian Deadlift, because whether you are a sumo or conventional puller, RDLs can help boost your deadlift.
Romanian deadlifts (or RDLs for short) are a deadlift variation that promotes higher hamstring and glute engagement.
The main difference between RDLs and a conventional deadlift is the purposeful hinge forward at the hips. A conventional deadlift is a combination of a push off the floor with the quads and a pull from the hamstrings and glutes to lock out.
On the other hand, RDL’s start at the waist. You still stand with your feet shoulder width apart for your starting position. As you lower the bar, you hinge at the hip (i.e. push your hips back) while maintaining a soft lockout at the knee. The locked-out bend in your knees gives us the tension we want in the hamstrings.
The biggest cues I like to focus on are the following:
1. Flat back. Make sure you are thinking of your torso as one unit that only moves the hip
2. Stick your butt out. Literally stick your butt back as if someone was pulling you with a rope back from the hips
3. Don’t let your knees bend. This is the most common source of error I see on RDLs. Like mentioned earlier you want a soft lockout on your knees. Not hyperextended but slightly before that point and you want to maintain that same knee bend as the hips move back.
But for the love of gainz… don’t let them bend any more. If they do, tension will be released from the hamstrings, defeating the purpose of the first two cues.
From a mechanical standpoint flattening the lower back and keeping the knees with a soft lockout allows greater tension to be applied on the hamstrings as they significantly lengthen in this position. Therefore a flat lower back and softly locked-out knees are crucial when it comes to RDLs.
A well done RDL does not require a crazy range of motion to light your hamstrings on fire but they do require a fair amount of kinesthetic awareness as most of us have forgotten how to lengthen our hamstrings and not let our lower back round.
For this reason I like to perform a few repetitions with just my body,positioning yourself exactly like you would with the bar, go through the motions and find the position in which you feel the greatest stretch. This might take a few reps if you aren’t familiar with the movement. Make sure to take your time and record yourself if needed.
An RDL and it’s variations can be used as an accessory after your main deadlift work. Due to the nature of the RDL’s the movement will not allow for maximum efficiency and therefore force you to use lighter weights compared to a regular deadlift. This can be used to add extra hamstring work while mimicking the deadlift without deadlifting.
You may be asking yourself, why wouldn’t you just do more deadlifts instead of RDLs? The answer is that deadlifts add a greater amount of fatigue than a lighter RDL. Unfortunately there is only so much one individual can recover from. While a fair amount of deadlifting is necessary to improve deadlifts, accessories like RDLs can add stimulus while mitigating fatigue.
RDLs can also be used on their own to increase frequency for posterior chain movements with lifters who need the extra work. This would typically be done with lifters who can’t handle deadlift twice a week but still need to find a way to strengthen the deadlift movement pattern and the muscles associated with it. Now after doing your RDLs, you can go ahead and do your single joint movements later in your workout without losing on any possible gainz and still being able to recover.
It's one thing to read it; it's another to do it. And when you're training without a coach, you need to make sure you know what you're doing.