All deadlifts target the same primary muscle groups—the glutes, hamstrings and lower back. But, most of us only use hamstrings and lower back…missing a huge opportunity to build our glutes.
The best way to learn how to activate your glutes during deadlifts is to start by mastering the Romanian Deadlift. Once you nail this, you can achieve impressive posterior chain (back, glutes and hamstrings) development.
Activating the hamstrings during Romanian Deadlifts is no problem at all, but learning the correct form in order to make this a killer glute workout is how you get the most bang for your buck!
The secret…it’s all in the pelvic tilt. You want to keep an anterior tilt (butt out, lower back arched) while you are in the eccentric (lowering the weight) part of the movement and a posterior tilt (glutes tucked in) at the very top, after the concentric (lifting the weight up) part of the movement.
SO many women and men just “go through the motions” with Romanian Deadlifts and, while they get great hamstring action, don’t realize that they could be training their glutes hard at the same time. You can actually perform these deadlifts without engaging your glutes whatsoever – such a tragedy! I don’t know about you, but if I’m at the gym, I want to get the most out of my workout that I possibly can. And if I can activate my glutes and work them just as hard as my hamstrings during Romanian Deadlifts…I’m doing it!
Here’s how to set it up
For Romanian Deadlifts, you want to start with the bar racked on the pins about mid-thigh in the squat rack. I encourage you to try the following steps first without any weight loaded onto the bar. Once you have perfected this form, you can begin to add weight. Achieving great glute activation without heavy weight IS possible. Get the form right, then work on progressing with weight. It is a waste of time and effort (and can lead to serious injury) to jump into exercises too heavy before mastering form – especially big, compound exercises such as deadlifts.
Walk directly up to the racked bar and grasp the bar with an overhand grip. Lift the bar off the pins and take a step back to center yourself in the rack. The bar should be resting against your thighs with your thumbs touching the outside of your thighs. Take a narrow stance, about shoulder-width apart or narrower, with your toes pointed straight ahead.
Shrug your shoulders up, roll them back and press them down, bringing your shoulder blades down your back. This forces your chest forward and sets you into perfect torso position for the entire movement.
Now, soften your knees (make SURE they are not locked), squeeze your glutes and tuck your pelvis forward into the bar (posterior tilt). Remember this position and how it feels – this is how you will END each rep. From here, take an anterior tilt (lower back arched) and begin to move your hips backward as if someone is pulling a string straight back in a line attached to your tailbone. THIS is your primary movement – do not bend at the waist and bring your torso down. Your torso will come down naturally by you moving your hips backward.
Your knees stay softly bent the entire lowering portion of your deadlift, and your shins stay exactly perpendicular to the floor. As you move your hips backward, keep the slight arch in your lower back (anterior tilt) and the weight in your heels. Don’t forget to keep your chest lifted and shoulder blades moving down your back.
Most of us will get the bar just barely below our knee caps from this position. If you are one of the few with extremely flexible hamstrings, you will be able to go lower. As soon as you feel your hamstrings “catch” (reach their stretching capacity) keeping this perfect form, pause.
During this pause, imagine your glutes touching a post behind you and squeeze your glutes together as if you are grabbing something from the wall. Keep that glute contraction and begin to drive your hips forward in a straight line, keeping the weight in your heels, your chest lifted and your knees softly bent. Let that forward driving of your hips be the force that allows your torso to rise up very slowly. Once you get to the top, squeeze your glutes and tuck your pelvis (posterior tilt) into the bar.
That’s one rep. Keeping this form, try performing 3 sets of 10 with the bar only until you get the hang of it. Once you feel confident in your form, give the below workout a try!
Single-leg Glute Bridge
3 sets x 12-15 reps (each leg)
*this exercise is meant to pre-activate your glutes, getting them ready for full activation during squats and deadlifts.
Squats (in rack)
2 warm up sets x 12 reps
3 working sets x 12 reps
2 warm up sets x 12 reps
4 working sets x 12 reps
*Feet high on platform to target glutes & hamstrings
4 sets x 15 reps
Lying Leg Curls
4 sets x 15 reps
4 sets x 15 reps (each leg)