The Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

The Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

It’s Coach Bott here again with another ‘how-to’ exercise installment for Bells of Steel.

There are two versions of this exercise. One for those who want to go heavier and focus on their back and hamstrings, and one for those who want to target their glutes a little more by changing up their foot position/stance.

The Kettlebell RDL is a foundational ‘hinging’ movement pattern. Once you have a good grasp on the Kettlebell RDL, it is much easier to learn barbell deadlifts from the ground. The two versions in this article are not the only options out there but they are a great place to begin.

The advantages of performing RDLs with a kettlebell are the handle and weight orientation allow for a more complete range of motion. You can get quite deep into your hip hinge without a barbell hitting you in the thighs. The benefit of a greater range of motion is more activation of the hamstrings and glutes. Peaches anyone?

This article is a complete rundown of how to do a kettlebell RDL, what kind of kettlebell to use, benefits, and technique. An RDL is a hip-dominant movement pattern that emphasizes the posterior chain (the hamstrings and glutes).

This hinge movement pattern is critical for building a base of the lower body and lower back strength, specifically targeting the hamstrings. Most of us spend a great deal of time sitting on our butts, so any exercise that targets this area should be part of your exercise program. Because you are holding the kettlebell in your hands for this drill you are also improving your posture by recruiting your upper back muscles and rotator cuff. Your grip strength will also improve.

Factoid: Did you know grip strength is associated with how long you will live? It’s true! Novices can start between 16kg and 20kg and more experienced strength trainees can try a 35kg+ bell. You only need one as you hold the handle with both hands. If you do not have a competition-style kettlebell (as shown in the images), you can also use a cast-iron kettlebell.

Coach Bott is holding a Bells of Steel 32kg competition-style bell. Stand in a bilateral stance, with your feet about shoulder width or slightly wider. Grasp the kettlebell by the handle with both hands. Straighten your knees and keep your upper back muscles turned on as if you are holding oranges in your armpits (if you do not like oranges, then apples!)

Lock your elbows and pin your forearms to your torso as shown in the first image. Now, the first movement here is the hinge. Imagine you are pushing your buttocks back to the wall behind you.

Yes, you can bend your knees as your hips shift backwards but keep your shins vertical (as if you are stuck in cement up to your knees). Aim to achieve a stretch in the hamstrings – you should feel this.

Now, don’t forget about your upper body. We don’t want to slouch as we do this, so keep holding those oranges in your armpits as you shift your hips back and keep your chest up, proud and WIDE. Keep hinging until the bell is roughly in line with your knees (see image 2).

If you look at the side view, the back is straight – imagine your spine is one long rod from the top of your head to your tailbone. It is ok to have a small arch in your lower back. Just do NOT hyperextend your neck and look upwards. That is one of the most common mistakes next to slouching and rounding the shoulders.

When performing the more advanced “staggered stance version,” the set-up requires you to move one foot ahead of the other by half a shoe length. The execution is the same as the RDL, however, beware that the hips may want to shift, or rotate. You are going to use your strength to control this (see images below).

  • Inhale at the top and hold your breath briefly on the way down. As you return to the top, breathe out behind a hardened abdominal wall. Imagine you are bracing for a whack in the gut!
  • To return to the start of each rep, imagine you are pushing the earth away below you. Push hard downwards into the floor.
  • You will gain even more benefits by training barefoot – if the gym owner allows your dirty toes to be on the floor!
  • A full rep means you have brought the kettlebell handle all the way to your knees and can pause there for a count of “1”
  • Do not lose your posture. Keep a long spine with a broad chest. Examine the images and try to imitate them. See how my head is in line with my body? Do not look up.
  • If you find you lose your posture, then do each rep, one at a time.

This is where discretion comes in, but I will give you some ideas. If you are a novice/beginner, and new to exercise, then simply do 3-4 sets of 5 reps leaving one rep in the tank (do not train to failure).

If you are more advanced and are ready for this to be a strength stimulus, then go ahead and try 5-6 sets of 5 reps, resting 2-3 minutes between sets. There is no need to do high reps of this drill. Perform each rep with maximal intention!So, there you have it!

The Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift is an excellent multi-joint, multi-muscle, portable exercise, using just one kettlebell. You can perform this exercise with sets and reps, resting between or pairing it with a kettlebell OH press. Happy lifting!