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.
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.