|Strength & Conditioning for Lacrosse: The Romanian Deadlift|
By Billy J. Voltaire, CSCS
It is common practice that some of us extensively train the muscles in the front (chest, biceps, abs, and quadriceps), or what I like to call “mirror muscles”, and give little to no attention to the back (hamstrings, back extensors, or traps). My former college professor Dr. Jacobs (Florida Atlantic University) used to say, “we all want to look good walking into a room, but not walking out,” referring to imbalances between muscle development of the flexors and extensors of the body.
An efficient strength training program is one that emphasizes training the flexors, extensors both bilaterally (referring to two limbs) and unilaterally (further explained later).
Underdeveloped muscle groups are one of many contributing factors to the non–contact injuries some athletes experience. These muscle weaknesses may be the product of ineffective training methods, inadequate workloads, or simply not training them at all. Below I’ve listed two scenarios in which this imbalance can prove to be detrimental to performance.
Scenario A In an attempt to dodge his defender, the midfielder must be agile, quickly change directions, and re-accelerate in the opposite direction. Both the decelerating and accelerating portion of this movement place great demands on the quadriceps muscle group.
Scenario B A defensemen is sprinting full speed across the field and, as his foot approaches the ground, he suddenly pulls up and grabs the back of his leg.
Both scenarios exemplify what is called an eccentric load on a muscle. The rapid lengthening of the muscle causes it to reflexively contract as a protective mechanism against injury. In these examples, the quadriceps and hamstrings work antagonistically, and as one accelerates the knee, the other decelerates, respectively. This is a classic example of how overtraining one muscle group (the quadriceps) to be stronger and not strengthening the other (hamstrings) can cause trauma. This is not to say that in every instance when someone pulls or strains a hamstring that this is the mechanism of injury. Other risk factors such as inadequate warm-ups, lack of flexibility, and muscle tightness may be involved.
These muscle weaknesses may be the product of different variables. Even though a bilateral exercise such as the back squat places stress on both the quadriceps and hamstrings, it does not translate to equal workload in all cases. We tend to do what is most comfortable for us, which typically is to use our dominant limb in a majority of cases. So, even while bench pressing or squatting, our dominant limb does a majority of the work. Because the other half is not being used as often, we tend to create a difference in strength, and “you are only as strong as your weakest link.”
All things being equal, a right-handed attackman will shoot with at a higher velocity when shooting righty as opposed to lefty for obvious reasons. Sprinting is another excellent example of when having uneven strength in the legs can present a problem. It may not be injury, but rather it may impair speed, because one limb is dominant. Because only one leg is on the ground at a time during sprinting, it requires a great deal of single-leg or unilateral strength in order to support 100% of your body weight, maintain good balance, and still be explosive.
As a rule of thumb, training the muscles that do opposite actions (antagonist) as well as with an equal emphasis and workload of both limbs can help limit muscle imbalances. Below is a description of the Romanian deadlift (or also known as the stiff-legged deadlift) in both bilateral and single-leg versions. This exercise primarily targets the hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and erector spinae (back extensor).
1. Use the same starting position as for the back squat with feet a hips width apart, a flat back, and your chest up.
2. Stand in an athletic stance or “power position” with your shoulders directly over the bar and the bar aligned with the midfoot. Maintain a soft knee. (Figure 1)
3. Take a deep breath and slowly descend by flexing (bending) your hips (butt) without bending your knees.
Note: Keep the weight over your midfoot and keep your chest up! (Figure 2)
4. Exhale as you push through your heels and accelerate the bar back to the starting position.
* Bending your knees throughout the movement is a pattern used for the traditional deadlift. The Romanian deadlift requires you to stabilize your knee in a fixed, flexed position for the ENTIRE lift.
The images below illustrate the unilateral version of the Romanian deadlift.
Repeat for the prescribed amount of repetitions. Use weights that are challenging enough that you are fatigued at your last repetition.
Terms to Know
Flexors: Muscles that are responsible for bending a joint (e.g., elbow flexors, biceps or knee flexors, hamstrings).
Previous Strength & Conditioning for Lacrosse Articles
Billy J. Voltaire, CSCS, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. He can be reached at email@example.com.