When setting up a workout routine, I opted towards the RDL instead of the "regular ones", because the owner of the gym I got to prefers us not to deadlift (don't ask me about it...) and I thought RDLs would be a great alternative.

However when reading about this exercise online, many claim the muscle primarily worked is the lower back while pretty much as many claim it is the hamstrings. I can see why a lot of people say the hamstrings are involved in the movement, but are they really the main muscle targeted with the RDLs?

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The answer is that they work both, with the greatest emphasis being on the hamstrings. An easy way to look at an exercise and determine what muscles are being worked, look at the motion and determine what muscles contribute to the actual movement the most.

The hamstrings cross the hip and the knee. The knee remains relatively fixed, so there is no hamstring action there. However, the entire torso gets straightened, which is going to be majorly the glutes and hamstrings.

The erector spinae help to stabilize or extend the torso, contribute to rotation, and also partially help support the glutes. So while they contribute in a support role, they aren't really the primary mover in the exercise.

Similarly, you get some work on the trapezius, middle back, forearm muscles, but they aren't considered to be the primary target of the RDL.

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