Have you ever gone on a cross-country road trip? Just you, a bag of clothes, and a car?
Have you ever spent extended time alone? On purpose?
A few years ago, I got in my car and started driving west. I’m a creature of comfort. My family is easy to be around. My friends and I have great discussion. I was coaching in a gym that meant so much to me and was a HUGE piece of my development… both as a human, and a coach.
But I needed to break the cycle. I needed to get more UNcomfortable. If I didn’t, I would never grow… at least as much as I expected from myself.
I drove out to Denver, CO from Indy in two days. I stayed at a sketchy hotel on the way out there (there was a sign that said, “Best Western is not responsible if your things are stolen”). I met some Airbnb people and finally saw what mountains look like (this just in: they’re gorgeous). I even went HIKING.
The RDL is the purest form of a hinging pattern and the easiest way to teach someone how to use their hips, glutes, and hamstrings independent of their spine. I would say that’s a pretty objective opinion of mine seeing as you’re minimizing complexity of the movement by all but eliminating the contribution at the knee. In terms of complex movements, it’s a pretty simple one.
I will start most people with an RDL, even if they already have lifting experience. Well, maybe especially if they have lifting experience because, often times, I need to re-teach their hip hinge.
Now, once you know this, I’m generally going to throw on more complexity. For example, when you can demonstrate a consistently (or semi-consistently) clean RDL pattern, I’m going to then have you RDL the weight to the knee, then squat the weight down to the floor.
Ta da! Then we have a deadlift pattern.
The RDL is a fundamental movement that I need all of my clients to know, and it’s arguably the easiest way to teach hip extension while keeping the acetabulum over the femoral head.
BACKSTORY: I recently gave one of my new clients the All 4 Belly Lift to do for homework.
This exercise is one I learned about from the Postural Restoration Institute, whom I highly recommend. But if you’ve been reading here for a while, you already know that (exhibit one, two, three, four, and five).
He was already familiar with the exercise and the above video I sent him, but wanted to know the difference between something like this and just doing a toe touch or sit and reach and breathing?
The All Four Belly Lift is a way to take a few degrees of freedom (a.k.a. compensation options) out of the equation. What I mean by that is being on your knees limits your ability to use your ankle to avoid expanding through your back and tucking your pelvis underneath you.
This exercise is also a way to inhibit your back side and teach your front side to turn on. Specifically, it’s really good for helping someone feel their abdominals working, helping them get all the air out, shutting of spinal extenders, and opening up the back of the hips.
A toe touch and sit and reach breathing can also accomplish these things. I like the belly lift because I think it’s easier to cue someone to keep their neck muscles off.
With the other two, you’re putting the hamstrings on a stretch. That’s fine for some, but for people who have extra flexibility in their hamstrings (most lifters, including you), they will get a lot of this motion from their hamstrings, not pull their pelvis underneath them.
For these people to get the motion of the exercise, they will tend to reverse their spinal curve. That is, their lumbar spine flexes and thoracic spine extends. If this happens, we’re actually accomplishing the opposite of what I want. See drawing below if it helps.
I know, it’s beautiful. One of my science classes last semester was in the art building, so I’m an artist now.
The same kind of thing can happen with the toe touch. One thing that the toe touch offers that the other two do not is the sensation of the feet in the ground. Being able to hold a toe touch and breath is a progression in terms of complexity, but a regression in terms of how much strength one needs to perform the exercise correctly. Most lifter types need a little bit of external load to overcome to help them feel the positions that I want them to achieve. This is why I tend to dole out more all four belly lifts than the other two variations.
They all can be effective, but there are differences to consider.