Aditya Sahu ‧ CPT & Head Coach
Aditya is an ACSM certified personal trainer and exercise physiologist with more than 7 years training various people and transforming people's lives. He has written various publications for various sports and fitness magazines.
The Romanian deadlift, also known as RDL, benefits muscle growth, hip health, strength gain, and muscle endurance. Whether you are an athlete or a powerlifter, incorporating Romanian deadlifts into your workout routine will boost your overall performance.
What Is A Romanian Deadlift (Rdl)?
The Romanian deadlifts are a variation of the classic deadlift that strengthens muscles throughout your posterior chain. It trains all muscles from the neck to the lumbar spine and heels down the back of the body. These muscles include the adductors, gluteus maximus, spinal erectors, hip extensors, and hamstrings.
This fantastic exercise helps establish strength in both the core and the lower body when performed regularly and correctly. Instead of placing significant stress on the anterior part of the knees like traditional deadlift exercise, RDL focuses on the posterior part of the knee and the muscle groups involved in extending the knee and hip (1).
Romanian deadlift usually focuses on many of the same muscles involved in the traditional deadlift. It mainly targets muscle groups in the posterior chain to increase strength, muscle growth, and endurance (2). The main muscle targets of this exercise are:
- Middle and Upper back
- Erector Spinae (Lower Back)
The Romanian deadlift focuses on the hamstrings primarily for hypertrophy (3). The flexed knee angle during the entire exercise helps build strength and endurance. Keeping the hamstrings loaded during lower movement is essential to achieving the correct form and muscular development.
Since the athlete grasps the weight for a long time during the Romanian deadlift exercise, it effectively targets their forearm muscles. Performing Romanian deadlifts regularly provides increased grip strength (4) and muscle endurance. This improved strength proves highly beneficial for other power-based exercises, including snatches, cleans, sumo deadlift carries, stiff leg deadlifts, and pull-ups.
The trapezius or "traps" keep the shoulder and torso muscles from rounding forward while performing Romanian deadlifts. Similar to a conventional deadlift, the traps maintain the appropriate back position during the entire Romanian deadlift exercise. (5)
Adding the Romanian deadlift to your training routine is the key to activating your glutes through hip extension. The glute muscles, including hips and buttocks, are used in every athletic exercise, such as running, deadlifting, sprinting, and squatting. RDL specifically targets these muscles for improving muscle strength, endurance, and power. The contraction and incorporated movement pattern allow maximum muscle engagement (6) and development.
Middle And Upper Back
The entire movement in Romanian deadlifts helps the lifter develop general back strength by maintaining a rigid torso and flat back. It is essential to prevent spinal flexion and rounding of shoulder muscles which could lead to injuries. So, this exercise improves your back strength, reducing the risk of injury in the lower back while lowering the weight.
Also, weightlifters incorporate this movement in their workout routines to improve postural control (7) for exercises like snatches, cleans, conventional deadlifts, and squats.
Lower Back (Erector Spinae)
Lower back muscles, or the Erector Spinae (8), are also trained during the Romanian deadlift. But do not mistake the low back pain for a faulty Romanian deadlift form, as it can be because of muscle damage and exertion.
The muscles in your lower back and shoulder should not be the only ones feeling the whole weight during the movement. Generally, the stress should be distributed lower than you feel on the glutes and hamstrings. However, if you feel too much weight on the erectors and back muscles, it is better to review the entire technique to prevent any potential injury.
How To Do The Romanian Deadlift?
The proper technique (10) is vital to achieving the correct form. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to perform the Romanian deadlift.
Step 1: Set Up The Barbell
Romanian deadlift starts by loading the barbell with the desired weight and placing it straight ahead of you on the floor. Stand tall with the feet shoulder-width apart (11) and the toes pointed slightly outward.
Tip: Make sure the barbell is placed over your shoelaces. Your back should be in an upright position, and the shoulder blades should be dropped downwards.
Step 2: Lift The Barbell
Make the hip hinge forward and hold the bar with a palm-down overhand grip and hands shoulder-distance slightly greater than the shoulder width. Keep your knees slightly bent and the spine extended in a straight line.
Tip: Use proper technique to avoid any risk of potential injury that is likely to happen during the first and last reps of the movement.
Step 3: Control Eccentric Phase
Once your back is set, pull your shoulder blades down while raising your chest. Keep the spine straight and extended and knees positioned in a slight bend over the ankles. Also, the neck should be down and slightly forward so it aligns with your back.
Tip: While following the technique, tension should be felt in your hamstrings and across the lower and middle back, probably when the bar gets close to the knees.
Step 4: Stand Up Straight
Once you feel the contraction, push your feet into the ground, tighten your hamstrings, glutes, and core, and stand up straight. Lift the barbell to your upper thighs while keeping it close to your body.
Tip: When lifting, apply pressure on your knees while simultaneously pushing through the toes. Retain the spine posture while returning to the standing position.
Step 5: Achieve Full Hip Extension
Squeeze the gluteal muscles while pulling back on your knees. Moreover, contract your upper back, and lock the hips at the top of the movement.
Tip: Keep the ribcage down for spine stability and flex the glutes during this movement.
Step 6: Repeat
Lower the barbell to a height between your toes and knees for a decent starting position. Repeat the set for effective results.
Tip: Maintain a flat back while keeping the torso parallel to the floor. The knees should be slightly bent with your core engaged.
To understand the Romanian deadlifts better, watch this video:
3 Mistakes To Avoid While Performing Romanian Deadlifts
Not Keeping The Back Flat
Do not hinge your hips forwards or bend forward excessively, as it can lead to the back rounding forward. It also results in overbending of the knees, which might affect the technique.
Not Keeping The Spine Neutral
Romanian deadlift requires a neutral spine throughout the movement to make the exercise effective. The best way to do so is by looking two feet in front and keeping your neck stiff. Raise your chest with the shoulders lowered at the start of the movement, then raise them simultaneously with the barbell.
Not Keeping The Barbell Close To The Body
Another common mistake you might make during the exercise is keeping the barbell too far from your body. It is vital to engage your glutes and core while lifting the barbell. Keeping the barbell close to the body prevents rounding of the back. The closer the barbell is to your body, the lesser the risk of rounding your back during the lift.
Who Should Do Romanian Deadlift?
Romanian deadlift targets a range of muscles, making it suitable for various applications. Incorporating this exercise into your daily workout can help you gain power, strength, fitness, and muscular development.
Here's who can benefit from including the Romanian deadlifts in their training routine:
The Romanian deadlift is an excellent exercise for powerlifters to increase hip mobility and back strength. It can help them gain the endurance necessary for stiff leg deadlift, heavy deadlifts, bench presses, and back squats (10). In powerlifting sports, an athlete's overall strength is tested via back squat, bench press, and conventional deadlift.
The Romanian deadlift is often incorporated in the training programs of the early lifters to isolate glutes and hamstrings and develop muscle mass.
If you are a fitness freak, the Romanian deadlift should be a part of your training program for various reasons. It lowers the chances of back injury by increasing resistance, leading to muscle development and building more mass. Practicing this movement prepares you for more advanced exercises such as barbell rows, lunges, running, and jumping.
The Olympic weightlifting category is vital for Olympic weightlifters. RDL increases the back and hamstring strength required for cleans, jerks, snatches, and heavy back squats.
Various sports, including football, soccer, baseball, and basketball, involve posterior chain muscles for good performance. The increase in back muscles and hamstring strength via Romanian deadlift helps increase range of motion. It trains the muscles for better running, jumping, and sprinting performance. Also, the enhanced glutes and hamstrings engagement reduces the risk of lower-body injuries.
Functional Fitness Athletes
Athletes can benefit from the Romanian deadlift and its variations for building sport-specific skills and strength. It trains them for power movements like cleans, deadlifts, snatches, and jerks. RDL trains athletes through increased posterior chain engagement, enhanced back strength and hamstring, and better hip movement pattern.
Romanian Deadlift Sets
To Build Muscle
Increased training with shorter rest periods can result in muscle hypertrophy. Our recommendations for increased muscle growth and a better foundation for advanced exercises are:
- 3-5 sets of 6-10 repetitions.
- 3-4 sets of 12-15 repetitions.
Make sure to rest for 30-40 seconds between each set.
To Increase Muscle Endurance
Power sports like sprinting and running require more endurance for high performance. You can achieve this goal by doing two to four sets of 12-20 repetitions with relatively lighter weights. Rest for 30-45 seconds between the sets.
To Gain Strength
Romanian deadlift specifically targets hamstrings, unlike the conventional deadlift and sumo deadlift. The specific hamstring training does not involve much power from the quadriceps as in a conventional deadlift. Therefore, it is recommended to go for more reps with lighter weights than a traditional barbell deadlift. Do three to five sets of three to five repetitions with two rest minutes between each set.
Romanian Deadlift Variations
While performing the Romanian deadlift, you might need to integrate other variations in your training session to allow your muscles to adapt. Here are a few RDL variations that you can try to enhance muscle activation, build strength, and improve muscle mass. (12)
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
You can incorporate dumbbell RDL in your workout if you do not have a barbell. It is a great warmup and suitable for increasing back and hip stability. Since this exercise does not use heavy loads, it works well for moderate to higher repetition sets.
Follow these simple steps to perfect this movement:
1. Hold the dumbbells and position your hands in front of your thighs.
2. Slight bend your knees with a hip hinge.
3. Move your hips back as much as possible while bringing the dumbbells lower than your knees.
4. Keep your back in a neutral position with your shoulders lowered.
5. Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings, and stand straight to return to the starting position.
Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift
The Kettlebell variation is a great instructing tool for beginners. This deadlift variation is suitable for those who do not have access to most gym equipment for fitness and movement training.
Here's how you can do this movement:
- Stand straight with your feet positioned shoulder-width apart. With a very slight knee, grip the kettlebell handle with both hands. Keep it at your thigh's height.
- Hinge forward, and push your hips backward while keeping the back flat.
- Lower the kettlebell till its bottom touches the floor. Make sure to keep the torso parallel to the floor.
- Drive your feet into the floor and stand straight to return to the starting position, keeping the kettlebell close to your body.
- Squeeze your glutes and hips at the top of the movement. Repeat for the desired number of sets.
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
This unilateral exercise is beneficial for improving stability and coordination. Unlike a conventional deadlift, it enhances muscular development and strength by lifting lighter loads. By performing single-leg RDL, you challenge one leg at a time to develop balance.
Here is how you can nail a single-leg Romanian deadlift:
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thigh while standing straight and your feet together.
- With a slight curve in your knee, move the body's weight to your left leg and lift your right leg straight behind the body. Keep the torso parallel to the floor by slightly bending the hip.
- Lower the weight to the floor just a few inches above it. Your back must be flat with the torso and right leg parallel to the floor at the bottom of the movement.
- Tighten your core, push your left heel into the floor and stand up straight. While keeping most of the weight on your left foot, bring down your right leg.
- Squeeze your glutes and hips at the top of the movement. Repeat for the desired number of sets.
Resistance Band Romanian Deadlift
Resistance band Romanian deadlift targets your posterior chain muscles like the lower back, upper back, glutes, and erector spinae. It challenges your overall strength and is suitable for those who do not have access to gym equipment.
Here is how you can perfect this exercise:
- Place a looped resistance band on the floor in front of you. Step on it with your feet placed in the middle of the band.
- Lean forward while keeping the back entirely flat.
- Hold the resistance band with both hands and raise it to your knee's height. You should not feel any tension or stress at this point.
- Inhale, drive your feet into the floor and stand up while pulling the band up to your thighs.
- Squeeze your hips at the top. Repeat for the desired number of sets.
Romanian Deadlift Alternatives
If you cannot perform the Romanian deadlift due to lower back injury, soreness, and fatigue, here are some alternative exercises you can try.
- Barbell good morning
- Reverse hyperextension
- Glute ham raise
- Nordic hamstring curl
- Seated hamstring curl
- Standing cable pull through
- Weighted hyperextension
- Leg curl
- Floor-lying glute-ham raise
Benefits Of The Romanian Deadlift
In this section, we have compiled the significant benefits of RDL to help you understand why this exercise must be in your training routine. (9)
Increases Pulling Strength
One of the significant advantages of this exercise is it helps increase pulling strength. Romanian deadlifts are an integral training part of heavy lifters and athletes who want to enhance muscle strength in the back, hamstrings, and glutes. It also enhances muscle power without limiting loading on the Erector Spinae.
Improves Athletic Performance
Incorporating RDL in your workout routine can help increase your athletic performance. Since it targets the posterior chain, the Romanian deadlift is the key to enhanced power application, running performance, and leg strength.
Hamstrings Mass Gain
As mentioned above, the Romanian deadlift trains the hamstring, which results in its hypertrophy (increased muscle mass). This muscle mass enhancement ultimately leads to increased power application, muscle size, overall strength, and athletic performance.
Application in Weightlifting Exercises
The Romanian deadlift is a prominent exercise in the training of Olympic weightlifters to boost back and hamstring strength. Hypertrophy of the muscles involved and enhanced positional strength helps weightlifters maintain their deadlift technique, especially while trying out the different range of motion.
The Romanian deadlift is an excellent full-body exercise that should be included in your training regimen. This movement tones your muscles, strength, and flexibility. Though the exercise is challenging, the obtained strength, muscular development, and posture improvement make it worth the effort. However, learning the proper technique, good form, and using the right variation to target specific fitness goals is necessary.