Most people experience low-back pain at some point in their lives and there are countless reasons why back pain occurs. While it is beyond the health and fitness professional’s scope of practice to attempt to diagnose a cause of injury, you can, however, help your clients reduce the risk of developing back pain by teaching them proper movement sequencing, including how to safely use the hips and stabilize the spine when lifting heavy objects. You may not be able to tell clients why their backs might be bothering them, but you can definitely teach them how to use their bodies more effectively so they don’t experience back pain in the first place.

The Romanian deadlift (RDL) is a traditional barbell lift used to develop the strength of the posterior chain muscles, including the erector spinae, gluteus maximus, hamstrings and adductors. When done correctly, the RDL is an effective exercise that helps strengthen both the core and the lower body with one move. Unlike the traditional barbell deadlift and other quad-dominant exercises such as leg presses, which place significant loads on the anterior portion of the knees, the RDL focuses most of the physical work on the muscles responsible for extending the hip and the knee from the posterior.

Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., a Boston-based strength and conditioning coach and frequent contributor to Men’s Health, is a fan of the RDL, but only uses it with certain clients. “The RDL is not something I use with just anyone. I have to feel fairly comfortable with someone’s ability to move well before I’ll consider implementing it into a program,” he explains. “Having said that, I do feel it’s a fantastic exercise to build up the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, erectors), which, coincidentally is an area that’s generally underdeveloped in many people.”

One significant benefit of the RDL is that it teaches clients how to lift from the hips instead of using the lower back. The base move of the RDL is the standing hip hinge, which is an important component of learning how to squat correctly. The first move during the lowering phase of the squat should be the hips moving back in a flexed position. Back pain is often associated with not using the hips properly when squatting or bending over to pick an object up off of the ground. Teaching clients how to lift safely in the gym means they may reduce their risk of injury when lifting heavy things in their daily lives.

Primary Movement Pattern

The primary movement pattern of the RDL is pelvis-on-femur hip flexion and extension with the feet in a closed-chain position on the ground. Hip flexion occurs during the lowering phase and hip extension occurs as the result of the muscles shortening to return the body to an upright position. The major joints involved in the movement include the hip (iliofemoral), intervertebral segments of the spine (specifically the lumbar and thoracic regions), knees, scapulothoracic joints and wrists.

Major Muscles Involved

The primary muscles involved in the RDL are the erector spinae, gluteus maximus, hamstrings (biceps femoris, semitendonosus and semimemtranosus), adductor magus, gastrocnemius, trapezius and forearm flexors.

Benefits of the Romanian Deadlift

The most important benefit of the RDL is that it teaches the proper movement and biomechanics of standing hip flexion and extension. This is the foundational movement for squatting, whether the movement is performed with a weight in the gym or while bending over to pick an object up from the floor.

Gentilcore appreciates the RDL because it can help clients enhance their movement skills and body awareness. “I feel it also helps clients learn to dissociate hip movement from lumbar movement,” he says. This is important because many clients will move from the lumbar spine when bending over, as opposed to moving from the hips. Placing the lumbar spine under load while it is in a flexed position could be a potential mechanism for injury; teaching clients proper hip mechanics could help avoid the risk of low-back injury.

Think of the RDL as a dynamic version of the plank. When performed correctly, the deep muscles of the spine work to maintain stability, while the hips allow the movement of flexion and extension. The lift can help strengthen the posterior chain muscles responsible for extending the hip and knee when the foot is planted on the ground. Finally, the RDL can improve endurance strength of the deep core stabilizers responsible for controlling the position of the spine, as well as strengthen the forearm flexors responsible for developing a strong grip.

Step-by-step How-to

  • Use a pronated (palms-down) grip to firmly grasp a barbell with the hands approximately shoulder-width apart. Maintain a slight bend in the knees with the feet hip-width apart and allow the bar to rest along the front of the thighs. You can also use dumbbells; adjust the instructions to reflect holding one dumbbell in each hand.
  • Lift the chest and pull the shoulder blades down toward the back pockets to maintain extension of the spine before pushing the tailbone in the posterior direction to hinge at the hips. Cue the client to keep his or her chin tucked into the neck as if holding an egg. This will help the cervical spine maintain a safe position during the movement.
  • Allow the weight to lower toward the floor while maintaining length through the spine. Do NOT allow the client to round the back or extend the knees while lowering the weight.
  • Coach the client to lower until tension is felt in the back of the thighs—probably when the bar gets to about knee height or, if the client has more flexibility in the hamstrings, to about mid-shin. Instruct the client to look toward the floor, as looking at a mirror can create stress in the cervical spine. If necessary, move the client away from facing a mirror so he or she can focus on the movement.
  • To return to standing, push both heels into the floor, press the hips forward and pull back on the knees while keeping a long spine. Allow the barbell to return to the front of the thighs. Cuing the client to pull back on the knees will engage the distal attachments of the hamstring and adductor muscles, which help extend the knee when the foot is in a closed-chain position.
  • Keep the spine long and maintain a slight bend in the knees throughout the movement.
  • For best results, use a squat rack to rest the barbell at thigh-to-waist height when starting, as opposed to trying to lift the weight up from the floor. Starting with the weight at the appropriate height can help the client begin in a good starting position.

Note: There is another version of the RDL that focuses on keeping the legs straight with knees fully extended. This is an extremely advanced version designed to place more load directly into the hamstrings, as opposed to using the hamstrings and glutes together, and should only be practiced by experienced lifters with excellent body control.

Teaching the Lift

The barbell version of the RDL is an advanced progression. Foundational exercises that teach the movement of hip extension, while also strengthening the posterior extensor muscles, are the hip bridge and hip thruster. These exercises focus on hip extension and flexion from a supine position and can be used to teach clients the movement pattern before progressing to the standing version.

Once a client demonstrates good control of hip flexion and extension, he or she can progress to performing a standing hip hinge without weight. When the client can perform 10 to 15 good hip hinges while maintaining a stable spine and demonstrating appropriate range of motion through the hips, he or she will be ready to perform the RDL with external resistance.

Gentilcore uses the bar to provide important kinesthetic feedback to the client. “I feel it’s very important to keep the bar against the body the entire time—the farther the bar hovers away from the body, the greater the stress placed on the lower back. To correct this, I like to tell people to pull the bar into their body and to slide or glide it down their thighs.”

Gentilcore uses additional cues to help clients get an adequate stretch through the glutes and hamstrings. “ move his or her head and hips as far apart as possible. This ensures the client learns to push the hips back and get a thorough stretch through the hip extensors .”

Common Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)

One of the most common mistakes people make while performing the RDL is allowing the spine to bend and round. When the RDL is done incorrectly, people are often flexing and extending from the lumbar spine, rather than from the hips, which could cause significant injury to the low-back muscles. If a client is bending from the lumbar spine and having a hard time focusing on hinging from hips, have him or her hold a dowel rod along the spine. The right hand should hold the rod in the small of the back and the left hand should keep the rod stable along the upper thoracic spine (between the shoulder blades). Holding the dowel rod along the spine provides kinesthetic feedback to keep the client from bending the lower back, allowing him or her to emphasize movement through the hips.

Another common mistake is watching oneself in the mirror when performing the lift. Looking directly at the mirror strains the cervical spine, and looking from the side causes the spine to bend in the direction of the mirror. The body follows the eyes, so cue your clients to keep his or her neck in a neutral position and look toward the floor while hinging forward at the hips.

Finally, clients often bend their knees during the RDL, as if they were performing a squat. A simple way to correct this is to place your hand in front of the client’s knees. As the knees touch your hand, coach the client to push back into the hips without letting the knees bend forward. Over time, your client will learn how to engage the hips, which will keep the knees from moving.

Tips for Beginners

Ideally, beginning exercisers, or those new to the RDL, should start with weighted hip thrusters in the supine position to first improve strength of the hip extensors before progressing to the standing version.

Similarly, clients should learn how to perform a standing hip hinge without weight before progressing to using external resistance. When a client is first beginning to use an external load, start with lighter weights, such as a medicine ball or dumbbells, before progressing to a standard Olympic bar, which weighs 45 pounds, before adding any additional plates.

Conclusion

Teaching clients proper form for the RDL and adding it to their programs can be an effective way to help them improve their strength while remaining injury free. The RDL can help those who have experienced back pain learn how to stabilize their spine and move from the hips, both of which are important for optimal movement mechanics. For clients who don’t experience low-back pain, the RDL can play a role in ensuring that back pain does not become a part of their future.

Contents

3 Ways You’re Messing Up The Romanian Deadlift

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The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is without a doubt one of the best exercises for building the muscles on the backside of the body, muscles that are critical for speed, jumping and nearly every other athletic skill.

You find the RDL in many training programs as a supplemental exercise in a lower-body workout. But the move’s benefits really should put it in the same league as primary lifts like the Squat and the Deadlift. Here’s why:

  • Romanian Deadlifts increase mobility in your hips due to the straighter leg position.
  • The RDL works your glutes and hamstrings more than a conventional Deadlift because the quads don’t contribute as much.
  • It improves dynamic flexibility, especially in your hamstrings and low back. (For those keeping score at home, while “mobility” refers to the range of motion at a specific joint, “flexibility: refers to a muscle’s ability to lengthen, and “dynamic flexibility” refers to a muscle’s ability to lengthen during athletic movements, such as a sprint.)
  • Compared to the conventional Deadlift, the Romanian–also called “Stiff-Leg”–version focuses more on the hip hinge, which is an essential movement pattern all athletes must learn and master.

OK, you get it. Romanian Deadlifts are important. To get the most out of them, you need to perform them correctly. Here’s a quick refresher on how to perform the move, followed by the three most common mistakes I see–with tips on how to fix each of those errors.

Romanian Deadlift Form: How to Perform the Exercise in 4 Simple Steps

Other than being a boss-level muscle developer, another benefit of the RDL is that it is a relatively simple move to learn. To execute it, you just:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell at thigh level. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your back straight, bend at your waist and sit your hips back to lower the bar.
  • Keep the bar close to your shins and lower as far as your flexibility allows.
  • Forcefully contract your glutes to extend at your hips and stand up.

See? It really is that simple. But unfortunately, there are some faults that hold people back from realizing the full benefits of this move.

Romanian Deadlift Mistake 1: Performing it Through a Partial Range of Motion

This is the biggest mistake I see people making when performing RDLs. I hate seeing people lower the bar to around knee level before returning to the starting position. It’s like finishing a Squat a foot from parallel. It’s essentially a “cheat.” It makes the movement easier, but you fail to strengthen your muscles through a full range of motion. You may not be able to lift as much weight, but lifting through a full range of motion is always better.

The typical shortened range of motion used is done to keep your back straight, which is important. However, there’s some untapped potential here to do the exercise correctly through a full range of motion without putting your spine in a dangerous position.

The key is to begin with a loaded stretch on the hamstrings by performing the exercise from the top down, which should let you lower the bar to the floor. This allows you to pull the weight through a greater range of motion, which increases the effectiveness of the exercise. The same way someone’s loaded Squat can look more technically sound than a completely unloaded one, a loaded RDL can “correct” a poor starting spine position.

If you don’t have access to a waist-level rack to start at the top, simply take your first pull from the floor in the form of a conventional Deadlift and proceed with RDLs from the top of the first rep and onwards. View the video above for a deep explanation.

Granted, if you have poor mobility and flexibility, it’s safer to stop short of the full range of motion so your back doesn’t round. However, you should strive to improve your mobility so you can complete the RDL properly.

Romanian Deadlift Mistake 2: Going Too Light With Your Load

Because the RDL is not typically used as a feature lift, people don’t perform it as heavy of a weight as you’d use with a traditional Deadlift. But I think you should change your mindset.

Substituting the RDL for a conventional Deadlift will blast your hamstrings, which are full of fast-twitch muscle fibers. These fibers respond best to heavy loads. So to accelerate your strength and size gains, you want to push it a little big. Granted, you won’t be able to lift quite as heavy with the RDL as you would when performing the Deadlift, but the difference won’t be as great as you might think. I personally don’t like my five-rep max on RDLs to be more than 80 pounds lower than my five-rep max Deadlift.

Romanian Deadlift Mistake 3: Forgetting Your Deadlift Technique Entirely

The mechanics of the RDL and conventional Deadlift are similar. But the RDL calls for almost no knee bend—your legs are essentially straight. Do your best to maintain a flat or slightly arched back as you lower, because your back needs to control the movement.

The tricky part is this: as you come up to the top position, your pelvis needs to tilt backward so your glutes and hamstrings can fire. If you continue incorrectly through a back-dominant deadlift pattern, you’ll have an exaggerated back arch, and you’ll pull with your back, as demonstrated in the video below.

You also need to make sure the bar travels in a straight line. To do this, keep the bar close to your body at all times and keep your shoulders over the bar. If the bar gets away from your body, you’ll place sheering forces on your lower back and potentially set yourself up for an injury, especially as the weight gets heavier.

Check out the video below for a more thorough explanation:

Putting it All Together

Once you’ve mastered the technique, the finished product should look something like this:

The benefits of correctly performed RDLs far exceed the drawbacks—if there are any at all. Perform RDLs regularly. Your body will thank you, and your vertical and broad jump will take off!

  • The 12 Best RDL Variations
  • Good Mornings are Another Incredible Hamstring, Glute and Lower Back Exercise
  • 10 Common Deadlift Mistakes, Fixed
  • The 27 Best Core Exercises for Athletes

The Definitive Guide to the Romanian Deadlift (and the Best Variations!)

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Key Takeaways

  1. The Romanian deadlift is one of the single best exercises you can do for developing your posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, and back). It’s easy to learn, load, and program, and when it’s performed correctly, it’s also perfectly safe.
  2. It differs from the conventional and stiff-leg deadlift in several key ways.
  3. If you can’t do the traditional Romanian deadlift for whatever reason, you can always choose from one of a number of variations.

At first glance, the Romanian deadlift (RDL) looks like a lazy or downright dangerous version of the regular deadlift.

Ironically, it’s not a one-way ticket to snap city, but one of the single best exercises you can do for developing your hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, lats, and even your forearms.

It’s also easy to learn, load, and program, and when it’s performed correctly, it’s also perfectly safe.

And in this article, you’re going to learn all about it. Specifically, you’re going to learn…

  • What the Romanian deadlift is (and how it got its name)
  • Why it’s such an effective lower body exercise
  • How it differs from other kinds of deadlifts
  • How to Romanian deadlift in 3 simple steps
  • 5 ways to improve your Romanian deadlift
  • And more…

And last but not least, you’re also going to get a simple, effective, and challenging Romanian deadlift workout that you can start using today.

Let’s get to it.

What Is the Romanian Deadlift?

The Romanian deadlift is similar to the conventional barbell deadlift, but it targets your hamstrings and glutes more than your .

Here’s what it looks like:

As you can see, the main differences between the Romanian and conventional deadlift are…

  1. You can start with the bar in a power rack instead of on the floor (but don’t have to).
  2. Your legs remain pretty straight, bending only slightly at the knees to lower the bar.
  3. You lower the bar to just below your knees or when your lower back starts to round, and no further.

There are also several other variations of Romanian deadlifts that you can do, including the single-leg Romanian deadlift, the dumbbell Romanian deadlift, and the trap-bar romanian deadlift.

We’ll go over each of them in more detail in a few minutes, but they all follow the same general movement pattern.

You may also be wondering why it’s called the Romanian deadlift.

Well, the story goes that in 1990, a Romanian Olympic weightlifter named Nicu Vlad was in San Francisco demonstrating an exercise that looked like a cross between a stiff-leg and conventional deadlift.

Someone in the audience asked what it was called. He shrugged and said it was just something he did to strengthen his back. The U.S. Olympic weightlifting coach was there and suggested they call it the Romanian deadlift, and the rest is history. 🙂

Romanian Deadlift vs. Stiff-Leg Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is often confused with another type of deadlift called the stiff-leg deadlift.

Here’s why:

That’s a stiff-leg deadlift, and as you can see, it looks a lot like a Romanian deadlift.

That said, the key difference is the stiff-leg deadlift involves a greater range of motion and tends to put even more stress on the hamstrings and lower back.

Notice how the knees stay nearly locked through the full range of motion, and the bar nearly touches the ground. Some people can even lower the bar all the way to the ground, but most (including myself) can only get it about an inch from the ground.

The stiff-leg deadlift is a great exercise, but the downsides are it requires a lot of flexibility to do properly, it can bother some people’s knees and , and it can be hard to safely progressively overload.

This is why I prefer the Romanian deadlift, but both are great options for developing the hamstrings, glutes, and back.

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What Muscles Does the Romanian Deadlift Work?

The Romanian deadlift targets the posterior chain, which is the group of muscles on the back of the body, including the…

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Erector spinae
  • Latissimus dorsi (lats)
  • Trapezius (traps)
  • Forearms

Like all good compound exercises, the Romanian deadlift also targets smaller “accessory” muscles like the rhomboids, teres major and minor, and serratus posterior.

Here’s what these muscles look like on your body:

To a lesser extent, the Romanian deadlift also works the biceps, calves, and quads, making it one of the best exercises you can do for training all the major muscle groups in your body.

Who Should do the Romanian Deadlift?

The main reason people do the Romanian deadlift is to train their hamstrings, glutes, and back without beating themselves up with too much conventional deadlifting.

The conventional deadlift is still single the best exercise for developing and strengthening the posterior chain, but it’s also extremely difficult, which is why even advanced powerlifters rarely deadlift more than once per week and only do a few sets in each workout.

Thus, the Romanian deadlift lets you train many of the same muscles without risking symptoms related to overtraining or injury.

This is why I included the Romanian deadlift in my weightlifting programs for both men and women.

Now, if you’re new to weightlifting and haven’t put much time into the “Big Four—the conventional deadlift, squat, bench press, and overhead press—then you don’t need to include the Romanian deadlift in your routine just yet.

Focus on conventional pulling first, and then once you’ve built a considerable amount of strength on it, consider working “accessory deadlifts” like the Romanian deadlift into your workout routine.

How to Romanian Deadlift in 3 Simple Steps

Big compound movements like the Romanian deadlift are double-edged swords.

They deliver the maximum muscle- and strength-building bang for your buck, but they also require good technique or they can become dangerous.

So let’s break down how to Romanian deadlift step-by-step.

First, watch this to see what we’re aiming for:

And now let’s go through the three steps of proper Romanian deadlift form.

Step 1

Setup

There are two ways to set up for the Romanian deadlift:

  • From the rack
  • From the floor

If you start from the rack, you’ll want the bar to be just below where you’ll hold it at the top of the movement, or about mid-thigh:

If you start from the floor, then all you have to do is load the bar the same way you would when setting up for the conventional deadlift:

Both starting positions are fine, but most people prefer starting from the rack because it makes it easier to load the bar and doesn’t force you to waste energy pulling the bar off the floor at the beginning of each set.

Walk up to the bar so that it’s over your mid foot, position your feet about shoulder-width apart, and grip the bar.

I recommend you use a double overhand grip (both palms facing down) for the Romanian deadlift, as it’s usually more comfortable than the alternate (mixed) grip.

Take a deep breath of air, raise your chest, and press your upper arms into your sides as if you were trying to crush oranges in your armpits. You should look like this:

Step 2

Descend

Lift the bar off the rack (or floor), take a baby step back, and bend your knees slightly. Fix your gaze on a spot about 10 feet in front of you, and lower the bar down the front of your legs, allowing your butt to move backward as the bar descends.

Keep your knees at more or less the same angle as when you started. Once you start to feel a stretch in your hamstrings, you can allow slightly more bend in your knees.

At this point, the bar should be at knee height or just below, like this:

Don’t try to lower the bar to the ground.

Doing so forces you to bend your knees, which reduces tension on the hamstrings and defeats the purpose of the exercise.

Once you can’t go any lower without rounding your lower back or further bending your knees, it’s time for the ascent.

Step 3

Ascend

Keeping your back tight, chest up, and knees slightly bent, drive your hips forward while pulling the bar straight up..

Here’s how the whole movement looks:

That’s all there is to the classic Romanian deadlift, but there are a few variations of this exercise you should also know about.

Romanian Deadlift Variations You Should Know

The traditional Romanian deadlift is always performed with a barbell and two feet on the ground, but there are three other variations that are worth considering:

  • The dumbbell Romanian deadlift
  • The single-leg Romanian deadlift
  • The trap-bar Romanian deadlift

Let’s look at each.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

The dumbbell Romanian deadlift is exactly the same as the regular Romanian deadlift, except you use a pair of dumbbells instead of a barbell.

Here’s how it looks:

If your gym doesn’t have a power rack or you can’t or don’t want to do the traditional Romanian deadlift for whatever reason, then you can use dumbbells instead.

Some people also prefer the dumbbell variation because it allows your shoulders to be in a more natural position, but the downsides are most people can’t lift as much weight with dumbbells and struggle to keep them from wandering around as they move.

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

The single-leg Romanian deadlift is a more challenging variation in which during the descent, you balance on one leg.

Here’s what it looks like:

This exercise works well for people who have good balance and want to squeeze a bit more range of motion out of each rep. It also prevents you from favoring one leg more than the other, which can happen when deadlifting, making it beneficial for preventing and fixing muscle imbalances.

The downside, though, is that you can’t use nearly as much weight as the regular Romanian deadlift, and balancing becomes harder as you get stronger.

This is why I recommend you use the single-leg variant if you don’t have a barbell or heavy dumbbells (as when traveling), or as an accessory exercise to prevent muscle imbalances.

Trap-Bar Romanian Deadlift

The trap bar—or hex bar—Romanian deadlift is a great way to learn the exercise because it doesn’t require as much hip and ankle mobility to get to the bar, and it puts less shearing stress on the spine.

Here’s how to do it:

The downsides to this variation are that it doesn’t challenge your hamstrings quite as much, and you have to start the exercise from the floor, which means you may not be able to use as much weight.

That said, if you don’t have the lower body mobility to do the barbell Romanian deadlift, then this is a fine alternative.

5 Ways to Romanian Deadlift Better

No matter how good your technique is, you’re going to hit plateaus on your big compound exercises.

These five strategies will help you get unstuck on the Romanian deadlift if you find yourself in the doldrums.

Lift Heavy Ass Weight

Professor Ronnie Coleman said it best:

There’s a never-ending debate as to the “ideal” rep range for building muscle, but there’s little argument about the fact that heavy lifting is best for getting stronger.

How heavy is “heavy,” though?

Well, the “strength” spectrum of the rep range usually starts around 80 to 85% of your one-rep max, or the 4 to 6 rep range, and goes up in terms of 1RM from there.

If you’re currently doing the majority of your Romanian (and conventional) deadlifting with lighter weights—the 10 to 12 rep range, for example—you’re going to benefit greatly by emphasizing heavier lifting instead. You don’t have to stop the 10- to 12-rep work, but don’t neglect the lower rep ranges.

I’ll give you an example of what this looks like in terms of programming at the end of this article.

Increase Your Grip Strength

One of the main reasons people stall in their progression on the deadlift is grip weakness.

You can develop a posterior chain that can pull hundreds of pounds, but if your grip doesn’t keep up, you’ll never actually get there.

Grip weakness doesn’t just make the bar harder to hold, it makes the entire lift feel significantly harder. And if you don’t ensure your grip is continually improving, your deadlifts will stall.

Fortunately, improving grip strength is very easy when you go about it correctly. Check out my article on how to increase grip strength to learn more:

The Best Forearm Workouts to Increase Grip Strength

Use Straps

During the Romanian deadlift, your hands don’t get a break between reps like they do with conventional deadlifts.

Improving your grip strength can help with this to a point, but eventually grip strength is probably going to become a limiting factor.

That’s why I recommend you try straps.

When used properly, straps allow you to safely pull more weight (making the Romanian deadlift harder on the rest of your body) without any of the downsides of other grip styles.

You can try to eek out a few more reps by using a mixed grip, but over time that could lead to muscle imbalances and shoulder or elbow pain.

Instead, I recommend you stick to the double overhand grip with straps. Here’s what it looks like:

If you want to learn more about your deadlift grip options and what straps to use, check out this article:

How to Find the Best Deadlift Grip For You

Wear the Right Shoes

Believe it or not, the wrong shoes can make Romanian deadlifting significantly harder.

A good weightlifting shoe does a few things:

  • It provides a stable surface to help us balance and support heavy loads. This is particularly important with exercises like the deadlift, squat, and overhead press.
  • It fits your feet snugly and leaves no wiggle room. You don’t want your feet moving around in your shoes as you train.
  • It provides good traction so your feet don’t slip or shift during a lift.

The right weightlifting shoes not only improve your performance on important lifts like the deadlift and squat, but can reduce the risk of injury as well.

Check out this article to see my weightlifting shoe recommendations:

The Minimalist’s Guide to the Best Shoes for Weightlifting

Improve Your Hip Mobility

While many people don’t realize how important proper form is on the Romanian deadlift, many of them couldn’t do it properly even if they wanted to. They simply lack the flexibility and mobility.

The most common problems are tight hip and hamstring muscles. Fortunately, you can do a series of simple exercises to limber them up.

As an added bonus, these mobility exercises are also going to make squatting, lunging, and conventional deadlifting much more comfortable, too.

To learn more about this, check out this article:

How to Improve Flexibility and Mobility for Squatting

A Simple and Effective Romanian Deadlift Workout

You now know how to Romanian deadlift properly.

You also know all of the important variations.

And you know the 5 most effective things you can do to avoid and break through plateaus.

Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

As I mentioned earlier, I like to use the Romanian deadlift as a hamstring and back accessory exercise on my lower body days. Since a good leg workout always starts with some type of squat, the Romanian deadlift always comes second in my workouts.

Here’s a simple and effective lower body workout that incorporates the Romanian deadlift.

Squat

Warm-up

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80 to 85% of 1RM

Romanian Deadlift

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80 to 85% of 1RM

Single Leg Squat or Lunge

3 sets of 6 to 8 reps at 75 to 80% of 1RM

Hamstring Curls

2 sets of 6 to 8 reps at 75 to 80% of 1RM

(Optional) Seated Calf Raises

2 sets of 8 to 12 reps at 70 to 80% of 1RM

And a few odds and ends on how to do this workout:

You shouldn’t go to absolute muscle failure every set.

Muscle failure is the point where you can no longer keep the weight moving and have to end the set.

We should take most of our sets to a point close to failure (one or two reps shy), and we should rarely take sets to the point of absolute failure.

Personally, I never train to failure for more than two to three sets per workout, and never on the squat, deadlift, bench press, or military press, as it can be dangerous.

Instead, I reserve my failure sets for isolation exercises like hamstring curls, leg extensions, calf raises and the like, and it’s usually a natural consequence of pushing for progressive overload as opposed to deliberate programming.

Rest 3 to 4 minutes in between each set.

This will give your muscles enough time to fully recoup their strength so you can give maximum effort each set.

Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, you move up in weight.

For instance, if you pull 6 reps on your first set, you add 5 pounds to each side of the bar for your next set and work with that weight until you can pull it for 6 reps, and so forth.

The Bottom Line on the Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is one of the single best exercises you can do for developing your posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, and back).

It’s easy to learn, load, and program, and when it’s performed correctly, it’s also perfectly safe.

The Romanian deadlift is like the conventional deadlift, but your legs remain fairly straight, bending only slightly at the knees to lower the bar, and the bar goes just below your knees or to the point where your lower back starts to round, and no further.

It can also be performed with a barbell, dumbbells, or trap-bar, and which you should use depends on your circumstances.

If you have access to a power rack and sufficient lower body mobility, go with the traditional barbell version. If you don’t, however, try the dumbbell and trap-bar variations and see which feels best for you.

Happy deadlifting!

If you enjoyed this article, and think some of your friends might too, would you do me a favor? Please to help others get the legs, butt, and back they deserve. Thanks!

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This variation on the traditional deadlift targets your glutes with laser precision while building mass and strength in the lower back. Basically, if you could only ever canoodle with one lower-body booty-builder again, RDLs would be bae.

How To Do A Romanian Deadlift

How to: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Hold the barbell (or medicine ball, dumbbells, etc.) out in front of you. Keeping your back and legs straight, bend at the waist (not at the knees), sending your hips back as you lower the weight toward the ground. Maintain that position and lower yourself as far as your flexibility allows, ideally with the barbell landing halfway between the knees and toes. Engage your glutes, contract your hips, and drive back to the starting position, locking your hips out at the top. You should feel a squeeze in your hips and quads as you lock them out.

“RDLs are one of the most effective hamstring and glute exercises around.”

Form notes: Two things to watch for while lowering down: Don’t bend your knees, which people often do to allow them to hit a lower bottom, but which takes the engagement off your glutes (kinda the point here); and if you start to arch your back, lessen your load or shorten your range of motion, only going down as far as you can keep that straight back for, Hulslander says.

As for weight, don’t rush into pulling a heavy load—deadlifts can cause lower back injuries if you’re not careful. You need to build your hamstring and glute strength effectively to handle the weight, Hulslander says. First, perfect your form with a PVC pipe, and then with an unloaded barbell.

Reps/sets you should do to see results: When you’re ready to load up, start with a light weight and do three sets of eight the first week, three sets of 10 the second, and three sets of 12 the third. Week four, you’re ready to up your weight; start back at three sets of 8 and progress similarly.

The Benefits Of Romanian Deadlifts

“The RDL is both a strength and mobility movement in that it builds strength in the glutes and hamstrings,” Hulslander says.

The hip-hinge motion is “probably the most important pattern for overall movement health” says Hulslander, and it makes the RDL stand out from a conventional deadlift. As a result, this move is great for boosting mobility in the hips, hamstrings, and lower back, too. And, unlike a traditional deadlift, RDLs can be done with much less weight, minimizing joint stress, he adds.

How To Make Romanian Deadlifts Part Of Your Workout

Bodyweight RDLs (with nothing or a PVC pipe) can be a great warmup to get blood flowing and practice the movement pattern, Hulslander says.

Related Story

The move is a no-go for HIIT since form is crucial. But it’s great to include in a lower-body training day, since it builds serious strength. Or, you can add it to total-body circuits—just combine it with an upper-body push move, like overhead press, pushups, or dumbbell press. “The muscles of the back get taxed as well during RDLs, so pairing it with something that’s almost entirely opposite allows for recovery and to maintain a more elevated heart rate too.”

Hulslander advises hitting RDLs twice a week. Sequence it at the beginning of the strength part of your workout—”It’s very taxing on the body, so you want the most energy to execute it right.”

Rachael Schultz Rachael Schultz is a freelance writer with years of experience covering health, nutrition, and physiology.

Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

There are some good debates as to whether this deadlift is a compound or single-joint exercise, and both sides have reasonable arguments. It’s easy to see why some consider it a multijoint move since its dependent upon both the knee and hip joints for success.

However, if you examine it carefully, no complete flexion or extension occurs at either joint, and for that reason, many call it an isolation move. Whichever camp you live in, it’s pretty clear the romanian deadlift should be a trusted go-to exercise on leg day. Make sure to keep the bar very close to your body while your knees are bent, back is flat and chest is up. Try and avoid the tendency to look up in the bent-over position.

Conventional Deadlift

The conventional dead ranks high on the list of total-body movements because it works virtually every fiber in your physique. Maybe that’s one reason it’s not as popular as it should be: It’s just plain tough.

And although it’s simply a lift from the floor, it’s not simple to perform. There’s a lot going on: You have to think of it as if you’re leg pressing the floor, as opposed to “lifting” with your upper body. It actually works best if you lift the bar by pressing through the floor, extending your hips and knees to full extension. The two main keys? 1) Dragging the bar up your legs, and 2) Keeping your arms straight. You’ll be so much weaker if you bend and try to pull with your arms, or allow the bar to travel away from the body.

Advantage: Conventional Deadlift

For the hordes of bodybuilders at the gym who think they’re doing conventional deadlifts, we’ve got news for you: You’re doing romanians. While that’s not a bad thing per se, because the RDL style allows for increased tension on the glute-ham tie-in and probably has no equal in that regard, it isn’t the full-body exercise the conventional deadlift is.

Moreover, you don’t begin each rep from a dead stop with the bar on the floor, but rather you begin each rep from a standing position. (Never let the bar touch the floor with RDLs.) The conventional deadlift starts and ends from the floor. And it takes every muscle in your legs and entire body to do so. For that reason, for overall as well as leg mass, the deadlift wins by a long shot. Requiring quads, hams and glutes, the deadlift will add thickness and size all over whereas the romanian, though highly effective, is much more localized. One way to tell if you’re doing it right: Are you just bending forward (RDL, a single-joint move) or are you squatting down to the floor to let the bar settle between reps (a multijoint move)? That’s key.

Romanian Deadlifts (RDL) | How-To, Muscles Worked, and Benefits

The Romanian Deadlift is a fantastic deadlift variation that every level fitness enthusiast can benefit from. In strength sports, it’s a movement used by weightlifters, powerlifters, and other athletes to develop strength and mass in the posterior chain, improve hip hinge mechanics, and to isolate the glutes, hamstrings, and back musculature.

The Romanian Deadlift — also referred to as the RDL — is typically used as an accessory lift with sub-maximal loads, but it’s a movement that has flexible applications in all programs and for every strength and performance based goal. We’ll cover the following topics in this article:

  • How to Romanian Deadlift
  • RDL Vs. Deadlift
  • Muscles Worked
  • Benefits
  • Variations
  • Alternatives
  • FAQS

For the visual learners out there, check out our in-depth Romanian Deadlift Guide video below!

How To Romanian Deadlift

This Romanian deadlift can be used to teach beginner lifters and athletes how to properly perform a deadlift. Note that the first two steps of the how-to-guide discuss having a lifter pick the barbell up from the floor to start the lift (the Romanian deadlift starts from the top of the lift, and moves downwards towards the floor).

If a lifter has issues lifting a load from the floor due to poor postural control or weakness, it may be best to have them grab the barrel from a rack a few feet off the floor to minimize back injury and simplify the movement.

1. Master the Setup

Load a barbell and stand with your feet shoulder width apart, toes forwards, and the barbell running over your shoelaces (from the aerial view).

In this position, it is important that the torso is upright, arms are straight , and the shoulder blades are dropped downwards towards the rear. This will allow you to “lock” the back and minimize strain in the neck.

2. Hinge and Grab the Bar

Bend down and grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder width grip and only slight bend to the knees

Keep your back flat and shoulders over the barbell. Once you have stood up, reset in the above vertical torso positioning.

3. Set the Back

Push the hips back while maintaining a set back.

This will result in you feeling tension develop in the hamstrings and across the back (lower and middle, especially around the shoulder blades), with the torso moving towards being parallel to the floor.

4. Initiate With the Glutes and Hamstrings

Use glutes and hamstrings to stand upwards, keeping the barbell close to the body.

If you’re having trouble keeping the barbell close, think of engaging your lats (without pulling through the arms).

5. Contract and Lower

At the top of the movement, contract the upper back, core, and glutes by flexing from the middle of the back to the buttocks (glutes).

While most athletes will be standing up straight at the top of the movement, avoid overextending and leaning further back than necessary.

Lower barbell the same way and repeat for repetitions.

Romanian Deadlift Vs. Deadlift

The main difference between the Romanian Deadlift and the Deadlift include how they’re performed. The RDL mainly focuses on the eccentric, so the lowering portion of the movement. Whereas the conventional deadlift can be loaded heavier and focuses on the full deadlift from the floor, and has a heavier emphasis on the concentric.

Romanian Deadlift/RDL – Muscles Worked

The Romanian deadlift targets many of the same muscles a conventional deadlift develops, however places a greater emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes. Below is a full breakdown (in order of specificity) of the primary muscle groups worked when performing Romanian deadlifts for strength, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance training.

Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked

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

Five Benefits of the Romanian Deadlift

Below are five benefits of the Romanian deadlift to aid coaches, trainers, and lifters in understanding why Romanian deadlifts are a key exercise for all lifters to include within strength training programs.

5 Benefits of the Romanian Deadlift

1. Greater Hamstring Hypertrophy

The Romanian deadlift targets the hamstrings (discussed above in the muscles worked section), which can be beneficial when looking to increase muscle mass (hypertrophy). Increased hamstring hypertrophy can lead to increased muscle size, strength, power application, and sports performance.

2. Increased Pulling Strength

Increase pulling strength is one benefit of performing Romanian deadlifts. Many strength and power athletes will perform heavier Romanian deadlifts in place of conventional deadlifts to increase glute, back, and hamstring strength while not limiting loading on the lower back (due to less loading potentials and increase hamstring and glute isolation).

3. Application to Weightlifting Movements

Olympic weightlifters (and CrossFit/Competitive fitness athletes) can integrate the Romanian deadlift into their workouts to increase back and hamstring strength specific to heavy snatches and cleans. By increasing positional strength and muscle hypertrophy of the back and hamstrings, weightlifters can better maintain their technique during near maximal and maximal lifts.

4. Improved Athletic Performance

Increased athletic performance can occur through the training of the Romanian deadlift. The Romanian deadlift targets the posterior chain, which is key for increased power application, running performance, overall leg strength.

5. Injury Prevention

The hamstrings are often subject to injury during explosive movements like running, sprinting, and powerful/ballistic movements in sport/lifting. Romanian deadlifts can be used to increase hamstring strength, control, and eccentric loading capacities (typically injuries occur in the eccentric phases or hamstring loading), which can improve an athlete’s injury resilience and longevity.

5 Popular Romanian Deadlift Variations

Romanian Deadlift Variations

1. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Romanian deadlifts can be performed with dumbbells in situations where a barbell may not be accessible and/or the coach is attempting to increase stabilization of the back and hips using other forms of loading. The versatility of the dumbbell Romanian deadlift can make it a good option for lifters who may not have a barbell accessible.

Below you will find a step-by-step guide on how to perform the Romanian deadlift with dumbbells.

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells (one in each arm) and place to the sides/in front of the body. It is important that the torso is upright, arms are straight, and the shoulder blades are dropped downwards towards the buttocks. This will increase back tension and minimize unwanted shoulder rounding towards the front of the body (also referred to as scapular depression with slight retraction).
  2. With the feet about shoulder width apart, slightly unlock the knees to allow for a smooth lowering of the weight (eccentric).
  3. To do this, push the hips back making sure to keep the back flat and the knees positioned over the ankles. This will result in you feeling tension develop in the hamstrings and across the back (lower and middle, especially around the shoulder blades).
  4. Once you have assumed a position in which the hamstrings are feeling the stretch, back is flat, and the dumbbells are either near the shins or towards the floor, use your glutes and hamstrings to stand upwards making sure that the dumbbells get lifted in a vertical path (as opposed to allowing them to swing forward away from the body).
  5. At the top of the movement, contract the upper back, core, and glutes by flexing from the middle of the back to the buttocks (glutes).
  6. Repeat for repetitions.

2. Romanian Deadlift with Kettlebells

Kettlebells area great tool to have for home gyms, fitness facilities, and sports performance centers due to their wide application of functional fitness, power application, and movement training.

Unlike the Romanian deadlift with a barbell, using kettlebells (and dumbbells) can help to isolate unilateral limitations and increase the need for greater back stabilization (since the kettlebells move independently from one another). The Romanian deadlift with kettlebells can be a great kettlebell exercise to add to most kettlebell training programs in the accessory and/or hypertrophy training block.

3. Single Leg (Unilateral) Romanian Deadlift

The single leg Romanian deadlift is a unilateral exercise that can improve balance, coordination, and unilateral muscular development and strength.

When performing the Romanian deadlift with both feet on the ground (bilateral), we often can miss any movement asymmetries and/or muscular imbalances that may occur. By simply using one leg at a time, we can challenge each leg independently, which can enhance movement and target muscle imbalances that can lead to overuse and/or movement compensation injuries.

4. Snatch Grip Romanian Deadlift

One weightlifting specific variation of the barbell Romanian deadlift is the snatch grip Romanian deadlift. By simply increasing the width of the grip on the barbell (in this case, outwards to the snatch grip positioning) you drastically increase upper back and trap engagement.

This is a specific movement seen in Olympic weightlifting training, used to increase back and hip strength specific to the snatch lift and even enhance back strength and control necessary for heavy back squats.

5. Tempo Romanian Deadlifts

Tempo training can be done with most strength and hypertrophy movements (and even the Olympic lifts) to increase muscular development (via increased time under tension), address positional weaknesses, and enhance neuromuscular coordination. When performing tempo repetitions, a coach programs a specific “speed” at which a lifter must perform a repetition.

For example, a coach may want a lifter to lower (eccentric phase) the Romanian deadlift at a pace of three seconds, then immediately changing directions (concentric) and not stop in between each repetition, for a total of 8 repetitions. The workout would then read, Tempo (30X0) Romanian deadlift x 8 reps

Romanian Deadlift Alternatives

In the event an athlete/coach does not want to perform Romanian deadlifts due to lower back soreness, fatigue, or a desire to add variety to training programs, the below exercises can be used, which are discussed in greater detail in this Romanian Deadlift Alternatives Exercise Guide.

Common alternatives to the RDL

Romanian Deadlift Alternatives

1. Good Mornings

Good mornings can be done to increase lower back and glute development while limiting the amount of hamstrings involved (there will still be some hamstring involvement, but less than Romanian deadlifts). This is most often done using a barbell and/or resistance band.

2. Reverse Hyperextensions

Reverse hyperextensions are a good exercise to target the glutes and spinal erectors (lower back) while sparing the hamstrings since the movement occurs at the hip joint (rather than at the knees and hips). This can be done with weight on a reverse hyperextension machine, with resistance bands, or bodyweight.

3. Glute Ham Raises

The glute ham raise can be done to specifically isolate the hamstrings while minimizing the loading placed upon the back. This could be beneficial for lifters looking to limit excessive strain on the back at times of higher training volumes or due to back injury. This exercise is often done with bodyweight or light loading held in front of the chest and performed for higher repetitions.

4. Nordic Hamstring Curls

The Nordic hamstring curl is a great bodyweight exercise to specifically target the hamstrings and develop isometric, concentric, and eccentric strength and control. This exercise is extremely challenging and if typically done with bodyweight only.

Romanian Deadlift FAQs

Who invented the Romanian Deadlift?

The Romanian deadlift was named after the Romanian weightlifter Nicu Vlad, an Olympic medalist in 1984, 1988, and 1996 who was elected to the International Weightlifting Federation Hall of Fame in 2006.

According to Jim Schmitz, a former USA Weightlifting National Team Coach, Vlad had been performing these flat-backed deadlift-like exercises after his clean and jerk training, performing triples (three reps per set) of 250 kg/550 lbs. He was asked by a few other lifters what exactly the exercise he was doing was called, however Nicu and his coach, Dragomir Cioroslan, never named the movement. They simply stated that they did regularly because it made Nicu’s back strong for the clean.

Therefore, the other athletes and coaches simply called it, ” The Romanian Deadlift.”

Is the Romanian Deadlift safe for the back?

Yes! The Romanian Deadlift is safe for the back. It’s a hip dominant movement, so when it’s performed correctly direct loading on the back is pretty minimal.

If you’re uncertain about your form, then it’s worth seeking out a coach.

Romanian Deadlifts: Training The Other Half Of Your Leg!

Think about your last leg workout, how many quad dominant exercises did you do? How many hip extensor dominant exercises did you do? Was there a balance between the two? Do you even know the difference?

Most Leg Exercises

Most leg exercises fall under the quad dominant category. Squats, deadlifts, leg presses and the like are all quad dominant exercises. While the hip extensor muscle groups (hamstrings and glutes) are activated during these movements, the quads take most of the training stress, and therefore receive the largest training response. If you do not make a conscious effort to balance your quad and hip extensor training, you will eventually develop a strength imbalance between the two muscle groups.

This imbalance can lead to several less than desirable conditions, with both physical (frequently pulled hamstrings) and cosmetic (less than perky backside) manifestations. Because hip extensor training can have such a wide range of benefits, it makes sense for everyone to include it in their training program—from general health and fitness clients looking for some improved “assets,” to athletes looking for improved performance and injury prevention.

So what exactly are hip dominant exercises? The hip extensors are the muscle groups that act to extend the hip which, as mentioned earlier, are primarily the hamstrings and the glutes. When most people hear the word “hamstrings” attached to the hip extensor definition, they automatically start to think “leg curls,” and why not? Leg curl variations are probably the most common and popular hamstring exercises in the history of the iron game.

In fact, if you asked someone in the gym who was doing leg curls to name another exercise that targeted the hamstrings, they would probably give you a blank stare and go back to reeling off their 12 reps on the lying leg curl machine.

But guess what? Leg curls are not hip dominant exercises. To qualify as one, there has to be movement at the hip joint, and the leg curls simply do not do this, making them a poor choice for balancing the strength levels between the two main sections of the upper leg.

So, considering that the only exercise that most people associate with hamstring training is woefully inadequate for our ultimate purposes, what should you be doing as a hip dominant exercise? One of the most effective, most overlooked, and on the rare occasion it is performed, most poorly executed exercises for this purpose is the Romanian Deadlift (RDL).

The RDL isn’t a true deadlift, and its origins are not Romanian (American lifters saw a World Champion weightlifter from Romania performing this exercise back in the ’50’s and dubbed it the “Romanian Deadlift”). The term RDL proved to be a catchy name, and has stuck with this exercise throughout the years. Certified Fitness Instructors with the ISSA will recognize this exercise from the CFT text, although Dr. Hatfield referred to it by another less common name, “keystone deadlifts.”

First let’s establish what proper form is for this exercise, before we start to get into why it’s one of the best hip extensor exercises available to you, and how you should integrate it into your training program.

How To Perform The RDL (Romanian Deadlift)

Set the racks in a power rack to just about knee level (there is no need for safety rods—if you lose control during a lift, simply drop the weight), and set a standard Olympic bar on the rack. Walk up, squat down slightly while maintaining a small curve in the lower back, grasp the bar, and stand back up. You want your hands to be shoulder width apart, perhaps slightly wider if you find it to be more comfortable. Take a few steps back, and set yourself for the exercise. Being set includes making sure your feet are shoulder width apart, your chest is up, your lower back has a slight curve in it, and your knees are slightly bent (not locked). Once set you’re ready to start the exercise.

Start by tightening your core musculature (abs and lower back) to ensure a secure spine. Keeping the bar close in to your body (it should maintain slight contact with the body at all times) start to bend at the hips, taking care that the lower back does not move.

It may take some people a few sessions of practice to make this distinction. Your lower back should not loose its natural curvature at any time during the movement. Loosing this curve and bending or even straitening the lower back will put your lower back in a potentially injurious position. Practice with a light weight until you can bend over at the hips without bending the lower back as well.

As you descend, your butt should move back ever so slightly and you should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. In fact, I find it’s easier to learn this exercise if you visualize it as a hamstring stretch with no lower back movement. Most people will find that they can safely bring the bar down to around knee level before their lower back begins to straighten.

At the point right before you reach the limit of your hamstring range of motion you should stop and then reverse the movement, taking care to keep the bar in close and maintaining a safe (slightly curved) lower back position. Towards the top of the movement really force the hips through be squeezing the glutes. Repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions, walk the bar in over the racks, squat down slightly and return the bar to the rack.

The biggest mistake most people will make in the execution of this exercise is not maintaining the position of their lower back. Some will even go so far as to bend all the way over till the weight touches the ground. This is a huge no-no and is a reflection of the misunderstanding of this exercise and its purposes by most fitness instructors. It is not meant simply as a hamstring stretch as some would claim, nor is it meant to directly work the lower back, although the lower back will get stronger from performing this exercise.

In order to properly stress the hip extensor muscle groups, you must use intensity levels that are much too high for the lower back to handle in a prime mover or synergistic role. In order to derive maximum benefits from the RDL, you must keep the lower back from moving and let it play a much safer role as a stabilizer.

In fact, if done properly, you can safely handle extremely large weights on this movement with little to no danger to your lower back. I have personally done 405 pounds for sets of 8 on this movement with absolutely no ill effect on my lower back (that’s for all the “don’t go heavy, it’s dangerous for your lower back” critics out there).

What Makes The RDL So Great?

Two words—intensity and functionality. First, the RDL allows a much higher intensity level (basically more weight can be used) than a leg curl does. Considering that hamstrings are made up of primarily fast twitch muscle fibers which are best trained with higher intensity levels, the RDL is one of the most effective hamstring exercises you can do.

Second, the RDL is also far more functional than leg curls. Sorry folks, but leg curls are not a functional exercise. Although it may seem like knee flexion is a big part of your every day activities like running and walking, a look at the true biomechanics of these activities shows that it is, in fact, hip extension that plays the major role in these activities.

Your knee simply flexes in order to reset the leg and start the locomotion movement again, and even there the momentum generated from the hip extension helps swing the lower leg back. Hip extension plays a huge role in several everyday activities, such as the above mentioned running and walking, not to mention jumping and biking. In addition, when you learn to bend over with a heavy weight in the gym while protecting your lower back, you have learned better body mechanics for use outside the gym as well.

There is one last thing that makes the RDL special, at least in most of my client’s eyes. I’ve yet to find an exercise that delivers better results as far as firming up the hindquarters, if you catch my drift. I’ve had dozens of frustrated people come to me after years of leg lifts and donkey kicks and all sorts of other silly exercises that supposedly target the glutes. These frustrated athletes are ready to give up their dream of looking good in tight pants again.

After a little instruction, every single one of them saw better and more satisfying results in just a few months of executing the RDL than all their previous training combined. Some may scoff at it, but most people work out with an eye on improving their physique, so these benefits do rank high on a lot of people’s priority list.

When you add the RDL (or any other hip extensor exercise) into your program, your best bet is to split your leg work up over two different days. Day one, use a quad intensive exercise; day two, use a hip extensor intensive exercise. Allow at least two days between your two leg workouts so as not to overly stress any of the stabilizers and synergists that assist in lower body movements.

I’ve found the following split to be very effective:

Check out our exercise database for exercise desciptions and pics!

And check out our workout database and design a workout program to fit your needs!

Note: You’ll probably notice that there is no direct tricep work, and that is because I prefer to use pressing movements such as bench press and military press to work the triceps.

Since I split my chest and shoulder work up over two days, I’ve effectively hit the triceps twice in one week, making more direct work unnecessary and possibly counterproductive. Look at your training log (you do keep one, don’t you?) and take a peek at your last dozen or so leg workouts. Odds are all of them used nothing but quad dominant exercises with perhaps some leg curls thrown in. Isn’t it about time you stopped working only half your upper leg musculature? Now that you know the benefits, you’d be a fool not to start incorporating the RDL into your routine. After all, who doesn’t want to run faster, jump higher and be able to bounce a quarter off their butt?

3 Reasons Why You Should Do The Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

19 Aug 3 Reasons Why You Should Do The Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

Posted at 05:28h in Hip by Michael Lau

The single leg Romanian deadlift is one of my absolute favorite exercises. It’s a whole body, complete, functional exercise that can be used for rehabilitation, as well as strength and conditioning purposes alike. While not utilized as commonly in strength and conditioning realms, it’s quite a popular exercise in the physical therapy world due to its ability to work the entire lower extremity posterior chain, while simultaneously challenging one’s balance.

Via LoseYo’Self

1) Whole Body Functional Movement

The Romanian deadlift should be a staple of any strength and conditioning program, and for good reason. If done correctly, the entire posterior chain (gluts, hamstrings, calves, back extensors, etc) can be hit with one functional movement. A normal deadlift is naturally a quad-dominant exercise, due in part to the fact that the movement pattern requires one to lower their knees to the bar and bring their hips forward. The primary difference in a Romanian deadlift is keeping your hips back, meaning more effective activation of the posterior chain. Additionally, the Romanian deadlift is one of the best ways to functionally target the hamstrings. While many might associate hamstring exercises with the leg curl machine (which definitely does target the hamstrings), the hamstrings also originate at the hip, meaning hip extension movements also target the hamstrings. Why is this significant? Because throughout normal everyday movements, it is actually hip extension, and not knee flexion, that plays a dominant role in movement and developing power in a host of activities, like walking, running, and biking.

The Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

Via T-Nation.
Does this look like something you
would do on an everyday basis??

Furthermore, functional exercises, like the single leg Romanian deadlift are easily transferrable to new situations and environments that closely simulate every day tasks, like picking objects off the floor while protecting your lower back. In summary, the deadlift (or any variation of it) is an absolute killer compound exercise that can be adjusted accordingly to fit your personal goals.

2) Challenges Your Body’s 3 Primary Balance Systems (Proprioception, Vestibular, and Visual Systems)

Unlike a normal deadlift, the single leg Romanian deadlift adds a component of balance to the exercise. Simply by standing on one leg, you are challenging your static balance, which is comprised of 3 separate sensory systems, including vision, somatosensory (proprioception, touch, pressure, vibration, muscle stretch), and vestibular (equilibrium). By incorporating the Romanian deadlift movement on one leg, you are now additionally challenging your dynamic balance. Exercises that challenge your dynamic balance are more functional and, for the most part, recommended over static balance exercises. It’s your dynamic balance that is relied upon in sports and fall prevention alike! However, take caution when progressing to a single leg Romanian deadlift from a normal double leg Romanian deadlift. Make sure you have adequate static single leg balance and can properly perform a double leg Romanian deadlift with good form first.

Balance Training Improves Cutting

3) Strengthens the Foot Intrinsics and Calf Muscles

Dynamic balance exercises, like the single leg Romanian deadlift, not only challenge your vision, somatosensory, and vestibular systems but also challenge your foot strength. While your sensory systems are responsible for detecting changes in balance, it’s actually your muscles that are responsible for carrying out and controlling the proper corrections! In particular, the muscles in your calf and foot are largely responsible for making the small, postural foot changes that allow you to maintain your balance. These muscles include the posterior tibialis, peroneus longus, triceps surae muscle group, and the small foot intrinsics. These muscles are commonly weak in individuals with foot and ankle pain, like plantar fasciitis.

Foot Intrinsic Muscle Exercise

The single leg Romanian deadlift is a great exercise to strengthen these muscles as they are heavily relied upon for maintaining balance during this particular movement. If done correctly, you will feel a good burn in your foot and ankle, meaning you’re using the right muscles!

READ: Plantar Fasciitis Prehab

Now that you’ve decided to add the single leg Romanian deadlift to your strength and conditioning or rehabilitation program, here are some tips and tricks to master the single leg Romanian deadlift.

1) Tempered Progression

Tempered progressions, as with any exercise, are the best way to not only ‘change it up’ in the gym, but to do so in a safe manner. First, start off with double leg Romanian deadlifts. Once you have mastered the movement (in particular keeping your hips back and the hip hinge), move on to the single leg Romanian deadlift.

Double Leg Romian Deadlift

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2) No Weight to Barbell to Dumbells

Via Yorkfitness

With my clients, I always like to start off learning the movement with no weight. Once you are ready to add weight, start off with a barbell. It’s much easier to maintain your balance with a single external load (barbell) than two separate external loads (dumbbells). Only after you can maintain your balance consistently with a barbell should you progress to using individual dumbbells. Check out this post on the differences between the dumbell vs barbell deadlift.

3) Use a Mirror

In addition to tempered progressions, there are a host of small tricks you can use to help maintain your balance when performing the single leg Romanian dead lift. First off, use a mirror! Using a mirror gives you visual feedback to adjust your body positioning, which will help your balance.

4) Keep Your Hips Level

Keep your hips and pelvis level on a horizontal plane. It’s extremely common to turn out the hips during this movement, which can be a sign of intrinsic hip external rotator weakness. This ultimately tilts your pelvis and center of balance, actually making the movement harder than it needs to be. A quick fix to this is to ensure that you keep your back foot pointed down. This will help maintain a neutral hip and pelvis alignment. Try the drill below to work on keeping your hips level!

Foam Roll Assisted RDL

Lastayo, Paul C., John M. Woolf, Michael D. Lewek, Lynn Snyder-Mackler, Trude Reich, and Stan L. Lindstedt. “Eccentric Muscle Contractions: Their Contribution to Injury, Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Sport.” J Orthop Sports Phys Ther Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 33.10 (2003): 557-71.

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift: Which Is Best for Your Goals?

Pulling strength is critical to all strength, power, and fitness sports, with numerous deadlift variations to choose from across weightlifting, powerlifting, and general fitness and hypertrophy training. By understanding the distinct differences between Romanian deadlifts and deadlifts (and how they correlate with your individual performance goals), you can maximize your training and exercise selection.

In this article we will discuss the differences between the deadlift vs Romanian deadlift, and what important aspects lifters need to address regarding their sport and training goals when selecting the best pulling movement for their individual success.

The Deadlift

In the below video we look at the deadlift and how it is performed. As one of the most widely seen and performed barbell movements (as well as bench presses and squats), the deadlift is an All-Star exercise to build strength, muscle mass, and develop sport-specificity (powerlifters, functional fitness athletes, and strongmen and strong women).

Unlike the Romanian deadlift, the deadlift is a lift that serves itself, often the standard expression of maximal pulling strength. The Romanian deadlift, while still performed with notable loads, is a lift often performed to serve another purpose, such as positional patterning and strength to Olympic weightlifting lifts and/or targeted hypertrophy based training.

The Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

In an earlier article I discussed the origins of the Romanian deadlift, why they are important for nearly every athlete, and how they can be performed and integrated into every strength, power, and fitness athletes training regimen.

The Romanian deadlift differs from the traditional deadlift in that the movement is much more dependent on hamstring and hips strength, as well as optimal back positioning so that is can translate optimally to the clean and/or hypertrophy/targeted based training.

Sport Specificity

Below are five main power, strength, and fitness sports/activities, each breaking down which lift (deadlifts vs romanian deadlifts) reign supreme (even by the smallest margin) when considering the best application to sport.

Weightlifting (RDL)

While top end pulling strength is key to cleans and snatches, as well as general strength, many lifters lack the positional strength and control necessary to transition their top-end deadlift strength to the formal Olympic lifts. In an earlier article I discussed why the deadlift is not the same as a clean pull/clean deadlift, further making the case for more positional strengthening by way of the Romanian deadlift for most levels of lifters.

While I am not saying that weightlifters should not deadlift, I do feel that most pulling strength issues stem from the lack of positional strength that Romanian deadlifts and clean pulls/clean deadlifts build, rather than the traditional deadlift variation discussed above.

Strongman/Strongwomen and Powerlifting (Deadlift)

Since the deadlift is the exact lift needed for competition, strongman/strongwomen and powerlifters undoubtedly should prioritize the traditional deadlift to build technique, strength, speed, and movement-specific muscle mass.

Romanian deadlifts can still offer a large amount of benefit to most lifters who are looking to build stronger hips, hamstrings, and erectors without excessively overdoing loading that could otherwise negatively impact their central nervous system (especially in more advanced athletes).

Competitive Fitness (Deadlift)

Competitive fitness athletes often find strength tests and WODs to incorporate the traditional deadlift, making the deadlift very applicable to their sporting movements and workouts. Building strength, efficiency, and hypertrophy are key.

Many of these hybrid athletes must also be able to transition their pulling strength into more refined motor movements, such as Olympic weightlifting (snatches and cleans), making the Romanian deadlift as close finisher in the training hierarchy. To best maximize performance, especially as athletes progress, Romanian deadlifts can be used to build positional strength and muscle mass in many of the similar groups needed for traditional deadlifts without having the large impact on the lower back and central nervous systems (especially for higher rep based WODs and/or heavier test outs).

General (RDL)

For most fitness enthusiasts and training clients, I highly recommend they prioritize Romanian deadlifts first, building up the hip, hamstring, and lower back strength and mechanics necessary to begin deadlifting. Many new lifters start deadlifting prior to being able to perform a flat backed hip hinged pulling movement, either from the knee, shin, or floor. Lack of proper progression and development in the posterior chain often leads to lifters pulling with their traps and erectors, leading to many often preventable injuries.

I do then feel many lifters should deadlift to increase muscle mass and strength, which has great impacts on bone density, metabolism, and quality of daily life for most individuals. Lastly, for individuals with lower back issues and contradictions, Romanian deadlifts can be a better option, as the loading is more targeted to the hamstrings, hips, and back, often at lower loads.

Final Words

Both lifts offer many benefits to all athletes, however many fail to recognize the distinct benefits (and consequences) of performing one over the other. It is important to note that all athletes can benefit from both lifts, however at times when loading and training volume only allows for one to be prioritized, lifters and coaches must select the best movement based on their goals and needs, not their need and ego to recklessly pull loads without intent.

Featured Image: @mikejdewar on Instagram

What’s the Difference Between a Romanian Deadlift, American Deadlift, Stiff Legged Deadlift, and Straight Leg Deadlift?

Deadlifting oozes strength and functionality. There’s something to bending over, grabbing a hold of heavy weight, and standing up with it that makes you feel like a primal powerhouse. In a previous post, I discussed how to increase your deadlift. But what about various deadlifting variations such as Romanian deadlifts (RDL’s), American deadlifts, stiff legged deadlifts (SLDL’s), and straight leg deadlifts? How are these performed, and what are the key differences between them?

Deadlift variations are loaded hip hinge patterns, and the hip hinge is an essential skill to master in the weight room. Learning how to stabilize the spine and pelvis under load while bending over forms the basis of many popular strength training exercises such as bent over rows, squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, good mornings, t-bar rows, and bent over rear delt raises. Even bending over and picking up dumbbells off the floor or out of the lower rack requires a proper hip hinge, as does picking objects off the floor and assuming an athletic position in sports.

Learning the hip hinge is also one of, if not the most, difficult movements to teach beginning lifters. Heck, most lifters with years of experience tend to screw this pattern up on a regular basis. This is partially due to the fact that the movement requires strength and coordination throughout the entire posterior chain, as many lifters have trouble ‘feeling’ these muscles in the first place. The glutes, erectors, and hamstrings must work in unison to allow the torso to drop forward while maintaining a neutral spine and pelvis.

Since stoop lifting can be achieved via myriad combinations of ankle, knee, hip, and spinal motion, it’s of no surprise that lifters will often choose the most economical bending pattern – one that uses less active muscle and more passive elastic forces via stretching of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia. This is achieved through rounding of the spine, and while this might be fine during activities of daily living, under heavy load in the weightroom, it’s recipe for disaster. Therefore, you’ll want to learn to keep the load on the active components (the muscles) as much as possible. One way to groove this is by performing deadlift variations using lighter loads, as is the case with the four mentioned in this article.

Poor RDL form

When performed properly, the RDL is an excellent way to build the posterior chain, but unfortunately many lifters limit their leg training to squats, leg press and leg extension variations. While these exercises will certainly develop the quads, they neglect the hamstrings which are key in developing a strong and powerful physique. In this post, I will discuss the proper execution of the RDL and review some common variations of the movement.

Romanian Deadlift

For the standard RDL, you want to start standing erect, holding the bar with a double-overhand grip. When going heavy, you may use a mixed grip, but I suggest sticking with a double overhand grip during your lighter sets to build up your grip strength. One option for getting into the RDL starting position is to deadlift the weight up from the floor, but ideally you’d have a squat rack with the pins set to just below hip height. This way, you can simply take the bar off the rack and step right back into position.

Unracking the bar for an RDL

Grip is set just outside the hips

The stance is going to be narrower than a squat, about hip width apart, with the toes pointed straight ahead. Some lifters like to flare the feet a bit but this should be minimal – no more than 15 degrees of foot flare.

Stance is narrow, about hip width apart

At the start, the bar should be resting against the thighs, and for the descent you want to sit the hips back allowing the torso to drop down. The knees will bend slightly but the shins remain vertical throughout – the bar should continue to drag along the thighs the entire time. During the negative, you want to maintain a slight arch and tension in your low back. This tilts the pelvis anteriorly and puts a greater stretch on the hamstrings. However, the lumbar extension and anterior pelvic tilt should be slight and not excessive. Moreover, do not allow the lumbar spine to round or the shoulders to be protracted during the RDL. Keep the chest up and the shoulders back.

Lumbar spine remains neutral, shins remain vertical

Most lifters will find that if they perform the movement with proper pelvic positioning, they will feel a big stretch in the hamstrings as the bar reaches the kneecaps. However, individuals with superior hamstring flexibility will be able to descend to mid shin level (some very flexible individuals can descend all the way to the floor this way). Even so, I recommend that lifters reverse the movement once the bar reaches just below the knees, as this is the range of motion with which we are primarily concerned.

Stop the negative once the bar reaches the knees

American Deadlift

American deadlift: Neutral spine at bottom, Rounded upper back and posteriorly tilted pelvis at top

Here at The Glute Lab, we’ve found that it is possible to perform the RDL with almost no glute activity when focusing primarily on the hamstrings, at least with lighter loads. This is not a good thing. It is therefore critical to understand how to utilize the glutes in a hip hinge pattern. The American deadlift is very similar to the RDL, however you are going to incorporate some pelvic motion. On the way down, you want to utilize the erectors to hold slight anterior pelvic tilt. And on the way up, you want to use the glutes to produce slight posterior pelvic tilt. It is important to note that posterior pelvic tilt is accompanied by a glute squeeze and not by lumbar rounding. At the top of the motion, the bar might move forward as your glutes push the hips forward, you can think of the American deadlift as simply a glute-centric RDL. Again, the glutes tilt the pelvis and the lumbar spine remains stable.

At the top, the glutes are squeezed but the lumbar spine is not rounded

Dimel deadlifts were popularized by Louie Simmons and Westside Barbell Club years back. These are akin to American deadlifts for high reps. Use 30-40% of your 1RM deadlift and bust out 15-30 reps for maximum glute pump. If you do these right, it feels a bit like a hip thrust.

Stiff Legged Deadlift

Many lifters feel that the RDL, stiff legged deadlift, and straight leg deadlift are synonymous with one another, and if you talk to ten different strength coaches, you’ll probably get ten different descriptions of these variations. However, I believe that these are 3 distinct variations and are performed quite differently from one another. Here’s how I distinguish between these variations (again, these are my descriptions, which will differ from other coaches’ exercise descriptions). While I already discussed the RDL (and ADL), I will now discuss the stiff legged deadlift, then the straight leg deadlift.

The stiff legged deadlift is simply a deadlift performed with high hips while trying to target the hamstrings. Ideally you will perform this lift out of a rack and you will use a lighter load compared to your regular deadlift. Simply back out of the rack using a double overhand grip and bend over while trying to keep tension on the hamstrings. The knees will bend, the shins will stay vertical, your hips will sit back, and you will try to keep the hamstrings as stiff as possible throughout the movement. With this variation, you can descend all the way to the floor or stop just short of the floor. Both ways have their benefits. You can also start from the floor if you’d like rather than taking the bar out of the rack, however, most lifters use better form when starting with a negative action first.

Left to Right: Bottom of stiff legged deadlift, Top of stiff legged deadlift

Straight Leg Deadlift

In the straight leg deadlift, you keep the legs straight – there is no knee bend. The spine will be kept in neutral and the bar will drift out in front of the lifter slightly. The range of motion will be very short because the lifter will quickly run out of hamstring flexibility. I’m not a big fan of this variation, however, it does stretch the hamstrings very well and you don’t have to use heavy loading to receive a training effect. Many old school lifters would stand on a bench and perform these while rounding their backs to full flexion and descending all the way until the bar touched their shoes. While this may be fine using submaximal weight of around 20-40% of 1RM, problems will quickly arise when heavy loads are used. Therefore I do not recommend this variation and instead recommend the stiff legged version discussed above.

In a straight leg deadlift the bar drifts away from the body during the negative

Poor form: Old school lifters used to perform straight leg deadlifts like this

Instructional Video

Here is a ten-minute instructional video that discusses the key differences between each variation.

Beginner Hip-Hinging Drills

What if you’re a beginner and would like to practice hip hinging before you grab a hold of a barbell – what are the best drills to perform? Below are four different exercises you can experiment with. One is from yours truly and the other three are from my colleague Tony Gentilcore. Click on the links for instructional videos.

  1. Wall tap hip hinge
  2. Dowel rod hip hinge
  3. Cable pull-through
  4. Sit back drill

Conclusion

The RDL and it’s variations are great exercises for the hamstrings, glutes, and erectors. Learning how to hinge at the hips properly while maintaining a neutral spine under load is a crucial component to weight training. A strong RDL will enable you to keep better form during bent over rows, kettlebell swings, back extensions and countless other posterior chain exercises. At The Glute Lab, we stick solely to American deadlifts and stiff legged deadlifts simply because we feel that the ADL is superior to the RDL and the stiff legged deadlift is superior to the straight leg deadlift. Experiment to find the variations that work best for you. Remember to utilize lighter loads in relation to your maximal deadlift when performing these exercises as you’re grooving motor patterns in addition to promoting muscular adaptations.

Fitwirr

The deadlift is one of the best weight training workouts you can do to improve your strength and fitness.

And I absolutely love doing the deadlift.

Here’s why.

It gives a full-body workout, so if you only have time to do one exercise, it better be the deadlift.

It stretches the back muscles which for me are always super tight.

They include the upper, lower back, hamstrings and glutes.

It will also increase your strength and muscular endurance significantly, especially in those areas.

Last but not least, it will improve your athleticism, making you a better athlete or weekend warrior.

All that and more makes me really love the deadlift.

So whether you’re looking to build muscles, strength, or lose fat and increase your athleticism, the deadlift is a must do exercise.

But it only helps if you learn to do it right.

There are several different variations of the deadlift (conventional, Romanian, sumo, and trap).

Of that, we will focus on two of the most popular ones: Conventional and Romanian.

The ones you’ll most likely do.

Let’s start with the regular deadlift.

Conventional (Standard) Deadlift

Deadlift, as its name implies, is a resistance training exercise that you lift “dead weights”.

Dead weight is referred to weight that has no momentum.

In all, the deadlift is an exercise that you lift weights that are on the ground.

Its all about lifting weights off the floor.

It can be as simple as bending down to pick something off the floor.

The conventional deadlift primarily uses glutes when lifting weights off the floor.

Because the traditional deadlift involves the whole body and glutes, it allows lifting of heavier weights than Romanian Deadlift.

You also use the quadriceps a lot more than you do doing the Romanian deadlift.

To do the conventional deadlift starts with the barbell resting on the floor. Set your feet hip-width apart and your toes under the bar slight turning out. Bend down and grasp the bar with a shoulder-width overhand grip.

Lift your chest, arch your lower back, and position your hips lower than your shoulders. From this position, extend your hips and knees to pull the bar off the floor and stand up.

Pause in the upright position for a second before pushing your hips back, bending your knees and putting the weight back down on the floor.

That’s it. Pretty simple, right?

Ok maybe not.

Also always keep these 4 tips in mind:

  • Keep your arms straight, elbows locked.
  • Drive your chin toward the ceiling as you lift the weight.
  • Press down on your heels.
  • Elevate your chest.

Compared to the traditional deadlift, Romanian Deadlift is easier to learn and perform.

It’s mostly due to the difference in its starting point. Traditional deadlift starts by bending down.

With the standard deadlift, you start with the weights off the ground from the low point.

Romanian Deadlift, on the other hand, starts from a standing position with the barbell in your hands and bend down from your hips to a lower point where your flexibility allows you to reach.

In essence, Romanian Deadlift is reverse of the traditional deadlift.

It’s easier to learn if you are new to exercises.

Though it’s beginner friendly, its difficulty level can easily go up by adjusting exercise variables such as reps, sets, and resistance.

The Romanian Deadlift works your hamstrings and lower back much more than the conventional deadlift.

This is because Romanian Deadlift is performed with rather straight legs compared to the traditional deadlift with the knees bend and relies heavily on the quadriceps and glutes.

To perform the Romanian deadlift, stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a barbell in front of your thighs, using an overhand shoulder-width grip.

Bend your knees slightly and then keep them rigid throughout your set. Push your butt back, hinge forward from your hips and lower the bar down the front of your legs as far as your flexibility allows. Push your hips forward and stand back up.

Take Home Message

Target muscles are the main difference between the two exercises.

The one pick will depend on your exercise goal.

If you’re looking to lift more weights for strength and muscle gain, then the conventional deadlift may be a better choice because you can lift more weights with the standard deadlift.

The Romanian deadlift will help you improve your strength, as well as flexibility in the hamstrings and glutes.

But you won’t be able to lift as much weight as the standard or conventional deadlift.

I personally like to do both exercises.

Some days I may do the Romanian deadlift and other days, I may switch it up and do the regular deadlift.

Works Cited:

Romanian deadlifts with dumbbells

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