Romanian Deadlift: How to, Benefits, Tips, and Variations

What Is a Romanian Deadlift (RDL)?

The Romanian Deadlift is a traditional barbell lift that establishes the strength of the posterior chain muscles, such as the gluteus maximus, adductors, erector spinae, and hamstrings. When performed correctly, it is an effective exercise that strengthens both the core and the lower body with one exercise.

Unlike traditional deadlifting and other quad-dominant exercises, like leg presses, which place significant weight on the anterior part of the knee, the RDL concentrates most of the physical work on the muscle groups committed to extending the knee and hip from the posterior part of the knee.

Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked

  • Hamstrings.
  • Erector Spinae (Lower Back).
  • Middle and Upper Back.
  • Glutes.
  • Forearms.
  • Trapezius.

How to Do Romanian Deadlift: Step-by-Step Guide

  1. With a pronated (palm-down) grip hold the barbell tightly with your hands apart approximately at your shoulder-width. Keep a slight bend in your knees, while keeping your feet apart at hip width, and let the bar rest along the front of your thighs. You can also use dumbbells instead of a barbell; all you have to do is to adjust the directions to reflect the holding of one dumbbell in one hand.
  2. Raise your chest and pull your shoulder blades down towards the back pockets to keep your spine extended before pushing your tailbone to the posterior part to hinge at your hips. Keep your chin tucked into your neck as if you were holding an egg. This will enable the cervical spine to maintain a safe position during the activity.
  3. Let the weight be lowered towards the ground while retaining the length of the spine. Do not round your back or extend your knees when lowering the weight.
  4. Lower the weight until you feel the tension in the back of your thighs—probably when the bar gets around to the height of your knees or, if you have more flexibility in your hamstrings, around the mid-shin. Look towards the floor, as looking in a mirror can generate strain on the cervical spine. If necessary, move away from the mirror so that you can focus on the exercise and get Romanian deadlift form right without messing up.
  5. Push both heels to the ground, press your hips forward and pull back on your knees while retaining the long spine to return to the standing position. Let the barbell return to the front of your thighs. Pulling back on your knees will trigger distal attachments of your hamstring and adductor muscles, which, as a result, will help to extend the knee when your foot is in a closed-chain position.
  6. Keep your spine long, and the knees slightly bent throughout the exercise to get the Romanian deadlift technique right.
  7. For maximum performance, use a squat rack to rest the barbell at thigh to waist height when beginning, as opposed to attempting to lift the weight up off the ground. Starting with the weight at the correct height can help you to start with a decent starting position.

Romanian Deadlift Benefits

We have compiled five benefits to help you, understand why it is an important exercise for you to include in your strength training programs:

Enhanced Pulling Strength.

Enhanced pulling strength is one of the benefits of this exercise. A lot of power and strength athletes perform heavier RDLs instead of traditional deadlifts to increase back, glute, and hamstring strength while not restricting loading to the lower back because of lower loading potentials and increased glute and hamstring isolation.

Increased Athletic Performance.

You can increase your athletic performance with RDLs. It works the posterior chain, which is significant for incremented power application, overall leg strength, and running performance.

More Hamstring Mass.

RDL works the hamstrings that help to increase the muscle mass (hypertrophy). Enhanced hamstring hypertrophy can result in increased muscle size, sports performance, power application, and strength.

Application in Weightlifting Movements.

CrossFit's athletes and Olympic weightlifters incorporate Romanian deadlifts into their workout sessions to boost hamstring strength and back strength exclusive to heavy snatches and cleans. By boosting positional strength and muscle hypertrophy of the hamstrings and back, weightlifters can maintain their technique, in a better way, during near maximal and maximal lifts.

Also read: The Definitive Weightlifting Belts Guide

Romanian Deadlift Variations

Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift

Kettlebell RDL is an amazing deadlift variation for beginners. Plus, it is super easy for people who do not have a lot of gym equipment. Here’s how you can do this exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet apart at hip-width, and your knees slightly bent. Grasp your kettlebell by its handle with both hands in the front of your thighs.
  2. Hinge at your hips, hunching slightly to your knees. Push your hips back and keep your back completely flat.
  3. Your torso is supposed to be almost parallel to the ground. Touch the bottom of the kettlebell to the ground.
  4. Keep your core taut, push your heels to stand upright. Hold your kettlebell close to the body as you pull it.
  5. Take a break at the top and squeeze your hips. This will be 1 rep.

How to do kettlebell Romanian deadlift

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

While you lift lighter loads in a single-leg deadlift as compared to a traditional one, a single leg deadlift challenges your muscles in totally different ways. For one, the core and hip muscles have to really fire themselves to keep the body stable and maintain balance on a single leg. When performing single-leg RDLs, using two dumbbells can be easier for your balance instead of using one or simply use the . Here’s how to nail it like a pro.

  1. Stand with your feet together, and hold a dumbbell/barbell in each hand in front of your legs. This will be your starting position.
  2. Move your weight to your right leg, and whilst maintaining a slight curve in your right knee, lift your left leg straight behind your body, and bend your hips to keep your torso parallel to the ground, and lower the weight to the ground.
  3. Keep your back completely flat. When you get to the bottom of the exercise, make sure that your torso and left leg are almost parallel to the ground, with the weight a few inches above the ground.
  4. Keep your core taut, push through your right heel to stand upright and pull the weight to your starting position. Bring your left leg back down to meet your right leg, but try to keep most of the weight in your right foot when doing so.
  5. Stop there and squeeze your hips. This will be 1 rep.

how to Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

Resistance Band Romanian Deadlift

Using a resistance band to do a deadlift is an excellent way to work your posterior chain if you don't have a lot of equipment because it's the toughest at the top of the exercise and challenges your lockout strength. Here’s how to do this one:

  1. Put a looped resistance band straight on the ground and step on it with both legs to secure it tightly. Keep it slacked enough in the middle, so you can pull it up.
  2. Hinge your hips forward to bring your body down, keeping your back completely flat.
  3. Hold both parts of the resistance band with both hands and raise it to about your shin's height. That will be your starting position.
  4. There's supposed to be enough slack in the resistance band to make you feel no stress and tension yet.
  5. Drive through your heels to pull the resistance band up, so you can stand upright. Stop at the top and squeeze your hips. This will be 1 rep.

how to Resistance Band Romanian Deadlift

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

The db Romanian deadlift can be used for a number of reasons, like as a warm-up for a barbell Romanian deadlift, as an alternative, or as an instructing tool for hip-hinge training.

You can use a relatively light weight with a Romanian deadlift dumbbell, and you can get a high training effect by pairing it with a controlled/slower tempo. Here’s how you can perfect this deadlift:

  1. Grab the dumbbells in each hand and put your hands in front of, and a little outside, your thighs.
  2. Bend your knees a little, and hinge onward from your hips holding your knees from bending any more.
  3. Bring the dumbbells to the bottom of your knee, thinking about moving your hips back as much as possible.
  4. Your back should remain neutral with your shoulders in the lower position in front of the dumbbells.
  5. Squeeze your glutes to get back to the starting position.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Deadlift vs Romanian Deadlift

The “deadlift” is also known as the “traditional deadlift” or the “conventional deadlift”. While the Romanian deadlift, on the other hand, is also known as the “RDL”.

That being said, there are some significant differences that you need to know:

  • The traditional deadlift starts from the ground, while the Romanian one begins with a standing position.
  • The traditional deadlift begins with the 'concentric' range of motion i.e. upward motion, while the other one begins with the 'eccentric' range of motion i.e. downward motion.
  • Both the deadlifts include similar muscles. However, the deadlift utilises more quad activation, while RDL utilises more hamstring and glute activation.
  • The traditional deadlift is performed as a 'push' from the ground with the knees, while the Romanian one is performed as a 'pull' from the hips.
  • The shoulders are kept a little in front of the barbell in case of a normal deadlift, while in RDL the shoulders are much farther in front of the barbell.
  • Both the normal deadlift and the Romanian deadlift entail hinging from the hips, but the latter is performed to hinge more, really stressing on pushing the hips back as the barbell comes right down.
  • A traditional deadlift targets the glutes, quadriceps, adductor magnus (inner thigh), erectors, traps, hamstrings, lats, obliques, rhomboids, and abdominals. RDL also works similar muscles, but it activates the hamstrings and the glutes to a larger extent as compared to traditional deadlift. This does not mean that the traditional deadlift does not use the hamstrings or the glutes, but merely that RDL delivers greater levels of activation for the said muscles.

Romanian Deadlift vs Stiff Leg

A stiff leg deadlift demands more core strength and targets the hamstrings, calves, and the glutes more than the normal deadlifts. This, consequently, enhances overall leg strength and squatting performance. But is stiff leg similar to RDL? No.

The stiff leg deadlift is not the same as the Romanian deadlift. The former utilises a longer range of motion, in which you bring the barbell to the floor, while in the latter you stop just below the knee. Besides, the barbell can come off the body in a stiff leg workout, while the barbell is instructed to remain on the body in RDL.

Tips for Perfecting a Romanian Deadlift

Signalling yourself to 'feel the floor' with your feet.

You want to make sure that your body weight is distributed on your heels, so that you can feel balanced while your hips push behind you.

Squeezing your glutes hard when going up.

At the bottom of the range, your hips are going to be quite far behind you, and you will have to engage your glutes to elevate your hips back to the position where you started.

Hinging assertively from the hips.

The exercise should involve your hips going as far as possible behind you. This will let you activate more of your hamstrings and glutes.

Engaging the lats.

This will let you keep the barbell on your thighs all the way around, preventing your mid-back and low back from rounding.

Romanian Deadlift Alternatives

You may find it difficult to incorporate such an awesome exercise into your training program sometimes. This can be because of a lack of control, flexibility limitations, or poor hinging mechanics. But you can do some alternative exercises to elicit the same benefits. We have compiled a list of all the important alternatives that you can try:

  • Good Mornings.
  • Barbell Hip Thrust.
  • Weighted 45-Degree Back Extension.
  • Floor-Lying Glute Ham Raise.
  • Walking Lunge.
  • Seated Hamstring Curls.
  • Back Extensions/Glute Hamstring Developers.
  • Standing Cable Pull Through.
  • Weighted Hyperextension.
  • Leg Curl.

A Final Word

Romanian deadlifts are a fundamentally important full-body exercise that is a highly useful addition to your strength training workout program. This exercise tones and defines your muscles, while rectifying any misalignments, that benefit your overall posture and stance.

While they can be challenging, the total body strength development that they deliver is worth the effort. So, if you want to make your workouts worth it, incorporate this amazing exercise in your training regimen. But remember to take the time to establish the right form when learning this beneficial exercise, and always start with a lighter load.

Also read: Strength Training 101 | The Ultimate Guide to Get Started

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