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Wide Grip RDL For a Bigger Back & Stronger Deadlift

As always please be sure to watch my YouTube video dissecting the wide grip RDL (romanian deadlift) before continuing on here. The majority of our blog posts will be tied into the topics we discuss on YouTube & Instagram. Today we will be dissecting how to program the wide grip RDL, in my YouTube tutorial I breakdown the benefits, technique/form and much more! This blog will serve as a follow up post to teach you exactly how to program this lift into your training as well as other worthwhile tips to get the most out of this deadlift variation.

In order to fully reap the rewards of the wide grip RDL we must understand why this lift is so beneficial which will in turn allow us to understand proper execution to match the benefits we are trying to obtain from this exercise. As mentioned in my video I will outline the benefits of the wide grip RDL and how to execute it properly to obtain said benefits.

Benefits/execution of the wide grip RDL

  1. The wide grip RDL trains the scapula (upper back muscles) in a deadlift specific manner. When we deadlift the upper back is placed under a huge isometric demand to remain rigid. To strengthen this function of the deadlift we want isometric exercises for function specific carryover. The wide grip RDL best sets the upper back as the limiting factor more than any other hip hinging deadlift variation.

  2. To ensure the upper back is the limiting factor (and therefore strengthened the most) you MUST execute the exercise as shown in my YouTube video. Packing the scapula in end range contraction will set the upper back in the best isometric position to maintain for stimulus and thus carryover.

  3. In order to make the wide grip RDL more effective you MUST ensure full hip flexion/extension range of motion while maintaining the scapula packing shown in my youtube video. If you go too shallow in your hip flexion eccentric your upper back will not be as taxed due to the more upright position and thus you will not tension and stress the upper back enough. Likewise though, too deep of a ROM passed full hip flexion will just cause the back to round which will negate benefits. Full hip flexion/extension ROM is perfect, no more no less.

  4. The wide grip RDL also provides a novel hypertrophy stimulus to the upper back musculature for a ton of growth! Although concentric/eccentric range of motion exercises produce the most hypertrophy, I assume you are already doing a ton of those! There are only so many rows you can do in a week, think of this as an addition on top of that work to not only increase total volume/stress on the upper back muscles but also a novel form of stress which will further hypertrophy.

Now that you understand the benefits and execution of the wide grip RDL we can talk programming and periodization into your training cycles! Below I will list out the main guidelines I follow when programming the wide grip RDL for myself and clients. Keep in mind these are loose guidelines and not set in stone, don’t be afraid to experiment.

Programming/periodizing the wide grip RDL

  1. I almost always perform the wide grip RDL in the deep offseason. Lets say you are doing a 20 week training cycle, 8 weeks of hypertrophy/offseason and 12 weeks of strength/peaking. I will usually perform the wide grip RDL for 4-8 weeks in the hypertrophy phase. I have in the past utilized them in the strength phases however I found they were a bit too taxing when mixed in a microcycle (training week) with heavy deadlifts.

  2. I rarely go more than 4 weeks at a time training wide grip RDLs, less is more as it is a very taxing exercise when done correctly. However beginners and intermediates may need more like 6-8 weeks to truly learn the movement. Once advanced proficiency is achieved you can cut the phase of these down to 4-6 weeks but if you are seeing continued momentum it is totally fine to extend the phase longer.

  3. I almost always pair the wide grip RDL after a heavier deadlift variation on a secondary day. For instance in my current training block I am deadlifting twice a week. One heavy comp deadlift day on Saturday and one lighter paused deadlift day on Wednesday. After the paused deadlifts I do wide grip RDLs for volume. However if you are used to deadlifting only once a week you can use this as a main secondary deadlift exercise on a second light deadlift day.

  4. Higher repetition ranges will fair better and I definitely do not recommend lower than 5 reps. Anything heavier and form will breakdown too much. Generally speaking I stay in the 5-8 rep range on wide grip RDLs.

  5. I usually run bi weekly rep progressions on this exercise. For instance lets say we are doing a 4 week training block. Weeks one and two I will do sets of 8 and weeks three and four I will do sets of 7. You could also string on a second block if momentum still feels high and do 6’s and 5’s the next block! Or you could drop reps by two instead of one and do 8’s and 6’s in the same block. Again just do not go below reps of 5 and keep form tight as they get heavier!

  6. I tend to keep sets at 3 or lower as usually I am doing this after other deadlifting as well. I will usually even intro these on week 1 by only doing 1-2 working sets with a few form practice sets. Less is more with these as they are taxing!

  7. Exertion wise I recommend keeping RPEs to 7 or below! No need to go near failure on these as that will only fatigue your deadlift primary day and not give extra benefit.

Next let’s cover who can benefit the most from the wide grip RDL and some general tips! I believe EVERYONE should at some point in the training year utilize the wide grip RDL for at least a 4-8 week training stint. Absolutely NO ONE has ever had too strong of an upper back for the deadlift. The more upper back isometric strength, the more your torso will remain rigid during heavy 1rm attempts. The back works like a chain, if we get flexion mid lift anywhere the whole posterior chain will bleed power. With that said there are some people who will benefit more than others using this exercise. I will list that below along with some general tips and things worth mentioning.

Who benefits the most/general tips

  1. If your upper back flexes over OR if your shoulders internally rotate beyond your starting position in the deadlift you will benefit tremendously from wide grip RDLs. Especially if it is significant flexion or internal rotation. Rigidity is absolute key in a deadlift. It doesn’t matter how you start for the most part (some pull more flexed than others) what matters is you maintain whatever position you brace!

  2. These are great for sumo OR conventional. Often times I actually find sumo pullers benefit a tad more because they tend to have weaker backs (generally speaking but not always) and poor leverage which leads to back bleeding. Conventional is a more back dominant pulling style though so you could argue there may be more benefit there.

  3. If you are an extremely leverage based sumo puller who gets very upright these might not be as useful for you. There is low scapula isometric demand in a very upright sumo. This is rare though, for instance coach Kristin is a sumo puller but she is more narrow/bent over and thus her scapula is under a ton of demand, more than some conventional pullers.

  4. I find these grew my neck and mid trap area more than most other exercises! If you want a big ass yolk I’d do these over shrugs any day.

  5. Your back is never too strong! As you near a 3x bodyweight deadlift and beyond you will notice it is much harder to maintain position than at previous bodyweight multipliers. Incorporating these from time to time in a training year will help long term prevention of stability issues that lead to advanced training plateaus. I know this because this is how I beat a plateau of mine along with beltless paused deadlifts! Both aimed at back rigidity in the low and upper back.

  6. What you must understand is the wide grip RDL is not like a paused deadlift or other variants that can have immediate carryover from large technical fixes. You aren’t going to implement these and instantly see your deadlift shoot up. Rather what will happen is overtime you will notice more rigidity and capacity in your back during heavy 1rm attempts or maximal rep sets.

  7. I highly recommend straps as this is not a grip exercise and they allow you to use a false grip which can help you pack the scapula even harder.

  8. Remember even if you don’t pull with a packed scapula you MUST do these with a packed scapula to ensure it becomes the limiting factor. Do not use loads that exceed your ability to keep the scapula packed otherwise this wont have as much carryover. I actually purposefully protract my scapula slightly in my deadlift but I still tighten my lats/scap to remain in that position through the range of motion. Regardless of how you pull we want these performed in a way that will carryover to the upper back/scapula the most. Isometrics are hardest when at the fully contracted position of said movements joint function(s). Thus we want to be in the hardest position to maintain which will strengthen mostly the isometric contractors and not increase demand of another function we aren’t aiming for.

  9. Go light at first, my deadlift max is 728lbs and I usually use 300-325lb range for higher rep sets. You do not need a ton of weight and when I have gone heavier I found it counter productive!

That pretty much covers the pragmatics. My aim with this blog is to save the complex biomechanics for my podcast/other in depth sources and just give you the nuts and blots to what you can use! If you want more help hit us up for coaching or the group coaching!!

Go kill those wide grip RDLs and let me know how big those neck and traps get! Talk soon Prime Fam!!

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