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RDL, Nordic Curls & Kettlebell Deadlifts – 3 Posterior Chain Exercises

Why chose the RDL, nordic curl or kettlebell deadlift? Whether you’re new to training or an experienced lifter all three exercises offer multiple benefits to the standard deadlift and are perfect for the fitness minimalist or at-home workout. Read on to learn all about:

Why sitting is bad for your posterior chain

If you work at a desk or spend a lot of time sitting and you struggle with the RDL, nordic curls or kettlebell deadlifts it might be because:

  1. Sitting shortens your hip flexors which can cause lower back pain and tight hips
  2. Sitting compresses your diaphragm and reduces your ability to stabilise your trunk
  3. Your posture is also affected by being in too much forward flexion
  4. Hamstrings and glutes switch off from not being used.

What does RDL stand for?

RDL stands for Romanian Deadlift. The Romanian deadlift is a great exercise for everyone to master. This RDL teaches and reinforces good hip hinge patterning, which is needed for exercises like full deadlifts and kettlebell swings. In addition, the RDL can be used in many different variations to target stability and your posterior chain.

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift

The correct RDL form requires a shorter range of motion than the barbell deadlift. Whether or not you’re using kettlebells or a barbell you will still need to maintain your hip hinge pattern throughout the movement in order to avoid injury.

Hip-Hinge-Patterning

Correct RDL form also has you stop just below your knees before returning to the top position. This is why it is so useful for beginners or someone who struggles with lower back pain as it allows you to pick the weight up from an elevated position instead of the floor

Proper deadlift form has you picking the weight up from the floor. Usually, the barbell or kettlebell will be roughly mid-shin height which will challenge the posterior chain if you struggle to get the full range of motion in the hinge pattern.

Kettlebell-Deadlift

Benefits of the RDL

Proper RDL form has numerous benefits. Depending on your level of experience these can include:

  • Better trunk or core stability
  • Improves hip extension and posture
  • Develops your hip hinge pattern
  • Strengthens your posterior chain

If you’re a busy professional or someone who spends a lot of hours on the computer or at the desk, maintaining proper deadlift form is usually the pattern or skill you struggle with the most when it comes to the fundamental movements or squat, hinge, push, pull and loaded carry.

The RDL muscles worked

When we’re talking about the muscles worked in the Romanian deadlift or Nordic curls it’s all about the posterior chain. This includes your back, glutes and hamstrings.

How heavy should RDLs be?

The answer is, whatever you can maintain perfect form with. By adding too much weight too soon you will run the risk of injury. Take your time when adding extra weight to the movement. By following the process below, you will be able to avoid injuries.

Are kettlebells good for Romanian deadlifts?

Put simply, yes! Kettlebell deadlifts are a great addition to the traditional barbell RDL because they allow you to focus on subtle details of your hip hinge movement you don’t get when you use a barbell. Kettlebell deadlifts for beginners are great so that you can load gradually and increase the weight as you feel comfortable.

Nordic Curls

Nordic hamstring curls isolate your hamstrings by leveraging your own body weight and gravity. If you’ve ever tried them you will understand when people say that they are one of the hardest exercises you can ever learn.

Why are nordic curls so hard?

The unique ability to isolate your hamstrings during Nordic curls whilst fighting gravity is the reason. It may seem simple but if you have poor hamstring flexibility or strength you will struggle to get close to the bottom of the movement. Unlike a hamstring machine, you have to deal with the full weight of your upper body unless you use resistance bands to help reduce the weight.

When starting nordic curls you will need to increase the depth of the movement gradually to avoid any injuries. Start with a smaller ROM at the top of the movement and then work into a deeper position. You can also focus on the negative or eccentric phase of the movement (the fall) to improve your ability.

nordic curls

Nordic curls at home

If you don’t have the equipment to do nordic curls at home you can swap the movement for hamstring walkouts or hamstring slides. These can be done with both feet or a single leg. 

How to improve your RDL, nordic curl and kettlebell deadlift

We mentioned some common problems from sitting that may affect your posterior chain and hip range of motion. Here are some high-impact mobility, range of motion and stability-based stretches and exercises that will help improve your hip hinge movement:

Step #1 – Mobilise Your Posterior Chain

Starting with elements such as trigger point therapy for the lower back and hips we then can use mobility exercises such as:

  • Strap stretches
  • Neural flossing and;
  • Hip extension exercises like the couch stretch.

This will allow you to gain the required posterior chain mobility in order to maintain proper rdl, nordic hamstring curl and kettlebell deadlift form. Here’s a complete video tutorial:

Step #2 – Stabilise Your Hip Hinge Pattern & Deadlift

Exercises such as the plank and hip hinge patterning with a dowel are effective and low/no equipment options that reinforce all of those gains in mobility but you can also use the following exercises to help improve stability:

  • Hip bridges like the straight leg and elevated hip bridge and;
  • Loaded carries like the farmers carry

Here’s a complete video tutorial on how to improve your stability for Romanian deadlifts:

Step #3 – How to RDL properly? Try the single leg RDL

Once we have the required mobility and stability for proper RDL form it now comes down to correct exercise selection for the deadlift. Rushing straight back to heavy barbell deadlifts might not be the best method instead, focus on movements that challenge trunk and single leg stability in your hinge pattern like:

  • Single Leg RDL
  • B-Stance Deadlifts
  • Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift
  • Suitcase deadlift
  • Double kettlebell Romanian deadlift

This allows you to isolate asymmetries and correct them before adding the conventional deadlift into the mix. Choosing deadlift varieties like sumo deadlifts also allow you to keep your spine in a more upright position which will allow you to protect your lower back even more.

Pass through the gates with flying colours? You’ve most likely earned proper kettlebell deadlift form and you’re ready to get back to loading the movement but be sure to start small and increase load only when your technique allows.

Can heavy kettlebell swings replace deadlifts?

Once you’ve mastered the kettlebell deadlift, there’s nothing stopping you from moving to the kettlebell swing. Remember to take your time to master the kettlebell swing.

Here’s a full workout that puts everything you’ve just learned together:

Kettlebell RDL Workout

Complete the sequence below for 2-3 rounds. Use as little rest as possible and add more rounds if required:

10 Kettlebell Leg Lower e/s

60sec Couch Stretch e/s

15 Elevated Hip Bridge e/s

Then;

10 Nordic Curls

25 Kettlebell Deadlifts

You can swap nordic hamstring curls for hamstring slides and variations for the kettlebell deadlift can be single-leg and asymmetrical options.

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