Blast Your Glutes and Hamstrings with This Unique Lunge & RDL Combo
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Tomorrow I’ll be releasing a massive article on “Mastering The Single Leg Hip Hinge”. In the mean time here’s a small hors d'oeuvre to wet your appetite and get your palate prepared for tomorrow’s 10-course meal on the unilateral hip hinge. Bon appétit.
The lunge and the single leg RDL are two of my favorite exercises not only for crushing the entire lower body and improving movement mechanics but also for blasting the posterior chain particularly the glutes and hamstrings. Here’s a unique glute thrasher that essentially combines the best elements of the lunge and single leg RDL into one exercise as demonstrated by my awesome figure client Leslie Petch.
There are several reasons why this movement is so effective.
1. The single leg RDL and lunge are both excellent glute exercises when performed correctly. However they each stimulate and target the posterior chain with a slightly different stimulus. The single leg RDL targets the glutes and hamstrings by emphasizing a stretched and elongated hip hinge position (typically targeting the middle and lower portion of the glutes and hamstrings). The lunge targets the glutes via a combination of mechanical tension and eccentric muscle damage in a more upright split squat position (typically targeting the middle and upper regions of the glutes and hamstrings). Both of these stimuli are incredibly effective for triggering growth and strength gains in the backside and the results when combined into one seamless movement are exceptional for the derriere.
2. These aren’t your typical lunge and RDL drills. This specific protocol emphasizes the eccentric component of the lunge and single leg RDL by eliminating a majority the concentric movement. In addition each movement is held in the stretched position for a full-blown growth-stimulating eccentric isometric in which the muscles are held in an occluded stretch. Because of the eccentric emphasis, the level of muscle damage is through the roof making it highly effective for triggering the mTOR pathway and ultimately greater muscle hypertrophy. Just be prepared for some extreme glute soreness that will literally feel like a pain in the ass.
3. This is one of the single most effective drills for teaching proper lunge mechanics. That’s because the single leg RDL preceding each lunge forces the lifter to hinge. As I’ve discussed extensively in many of my recent articles, incorporating a hip hinge position during the lunge is one of the most critical factors for mastering the split squat and lunge technique. Unfortunately most individuals stay too upright thereby negating the benefits to the entire lower body (including the posterior chain) as well as placing greater stress on the joints and connective tissue.
This combination exercise literally drives the lifter into the appropriate hip hinge position for the lunge due to each preceding single leg RDL position. The key is to hold a significant portion of the forward torso lean and hip hinge (created from the RDL) and maintain it throughout the movement by never allowing the body to get overly upright.
4. This exercise also works both ways in that it not only assists in improving lunge mechanics but it also helps to dial in the single leg RDL as well. Here’s why. As you’ll find out in tomorrow’s full-length article on the single leg hip hinge, the single leg RDL requires a natural bend in both legs (soft knee in the front leg and approximately 90 degrees in the back leg). This helps maximize power, torque, stability, leverage, movement mechanics, and stimulation to the targeted musculature.
The straight leg position that’s commonly advocated on the single leg RDL by many coaches, trainers, and athletes not only minimizes activation to the posterior chain but it butchers natural body mechanics. As a result it sets the individual up for potential hamstring tears, sciatic issues, low back pain, knee inflammation, and poor hinging technique. Moving directly from a lunge into an RDL provides an immediate positive impact on helping resolve this issue as the legs are already bent to begin with and the lifter can more easily find the ideal position before either leg over-extends or excessively straightens.
5. Although this movement can be performed with dumbbells and kettlebells in a more traditional RDL and lunge fashion, employing the hack version of each movement with the weight behind the front leg places even greater stress on the posterior chain as the load is directly under the center of mass.
In addition, this is significantly easier on the low back and spine since the weight can never move in front of the lifter’s center of gravity. Lastly, the hack lunge and hack RDL positions require the lifter to maintain perfect posture and eliminate all traces of shoulder rounding. As a result this further helps lock the movement in by reinforcing proper spinal alignment and shoulder positioning. Don’t be surprised if you feel your lats also get lit up from keeping the weight pulled back. In fact it feels quite similar to holding a lever row.
To maximize the effectiveness of this drill I recommend performing 3 sets of 5-8 repetitions on both the lunge and RDL on each leg (a total of 12-16 reps) before switching legs. In addition, hold each movement in the eccentric isometric position for 3-4 seconds before moving into the next position. This represents the sweet spot of each exercise. During the lunge hold the bottom just before the back knee touches the floor. For the RDL hold a position where the torso is just above parallel to the floor with the spine naturally arched throughout. Keep the shoulders retracted and depressed throughout this exercise is it’s critical for dialing in technique and reinforcing proper body mechanics.
Split Stance Variation
Similar variations can also be employed using a split stance (combining the RDL and lunge positions highlighted above) as shown here with a barbell Jefferson split stance RDL with constant tension partials as demonstrated here by my awesome client and national level figure competitor Leslie Petch.
Similar to a hack lunge or Jefferson lunge where the athlete straddles the bar with one leg in front & one leg in back of the barbell, the lifter will simply perform a split stance RDL or hip hinge rather than a more traditional lunge/squat pattern.
This combination pulverizes the entire posterior chain as the glutes & hamstrings get hit with high levels eccentric muscle damage, mechanical tension, and metabolic stress. Additionally, this exercise does wonders for cleaning up posture & shoulder positioning as the lifter is forced to pack and centrate their shoulders in order to keep the bar directly under their center of mass without letting it drift forward into their front leg. This is accomplished by firing the daylights out of the lats and upper back.
Fortunately this lat activation doesn’t just directly impact posture & spinal alignment but it has a direct impact on posterior chain recruitment. That’s because as lat activation is pivotal for optimizing hip positioning and maximizing glute activation. Without ample lat recruitment the lifter will have compromised posture which negatively impacts hip function and lower body mechanics.
The combination of direct glute loading and enhanced spinal rigidity makes this one of the most deceptively brutal yet effective drills for blasting the glute and hamstrings. Additionally, the constant tension effect (as result of only being able to complete the bottom 2/3 of the movement) takes this effect a step further as the lifter is unable to rest at the top of the exercise.
If you’re looking for a training program that teaches you how to implement unique lower body movements into your routine check out my Complete Templates .