A nice backside will get you far in life as a personal trainer in West Los Angeles, let me tell you! I’m not talking about getting you to the front of club lines or in attracting partners, you’ll actually have much more longevity in your training career. The deadlift and RDL are the gold standard for developing the posterior which will give you more longevity in your training. But is there more benefit to the RDL compared to the Deadlift? If you’re not sure what these movements are, I modeled both for you.

Whoops, wrong picture-

RDL

  

Deadlift

  

You’ll notice the main differences between the two are the starting point, the degree of knee bend, the amount the hips sit back, and the angle of the torso relative to the ground. Other differences that are more difficult to see:

–        You can deadlift more than you can RDL

–        The RDL produces much more muscle soreness

–        The hamstring activation level is almost exactly the same

 

So, what exactly makes an exercise more superior than the other?

–        Potential for muscle growth

–        Potential for strength gain

–        Injury proofing capability

–        Safety of the movement itself

–        Functional carryover to sport and life

–        Differences in neural activation (timing, rate, and level)

This list could go on forever, but I think these are the most important regardless of your goals. So, deadlift or RDL? This was a tough one but I have to give the crown to the Deadlift. Both movements are great in teaching one to hinge at the hip, have the same hamstring activation, and strengthen the posterior chain.

However, here are the main reasons the deadlift is superior:

  1. Most functional tasks are performed with more knee bend than the RDL (i.e. picking a newspaper off the ground)
  2. You can load up the deadlift way more than the RDL. This means better neural activation and strength gains.
  3. Yes, the RDL does teach you to load up the hamstrings in a very risky position in terms of injury (hamstrings stretched almost to the max), but the difference between the stretch isn’t much. So I’ll have to give functional carryover to sport to the deadlift because you can load the tissues a ton more which will increase their rate of adaptation.
  4. Safety of the movement itself goes to the deadlift. A lot of people that don’t have core stability will go into hyperextension on the bottom of the RDL (think “duck butt”-below) to produce the movement. If you’re not braced on the deadlift there is no way you are going to move it from the ground
  5. Injury proofing goes to the deadlift. If you can load the hips up with more weight, they will be more stable.
 

Here are my favorite deadlift set and rep schemes for various goals:

  • Hypertrophy (muscle growth): 20 sets of 1 rep done every 30 seconds
  • Strength: 5 sets of 5 reps
  • Power: Speed deadlift 8 sets of 2 reps at a 30×0 tempo (3 seconds descent and explode on the way up)
  • Endurance: I wouldn’t do the deadlift for high reps due to form, but I would superset it with another exercise and tempo it. Example: deadlift with a 4 seconds drop for 10 reps supersetted with chin ups with a 3 seconds up 3 seconds down tempo to failure.

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