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August 01, 2022 7 min read

Romanian deadlifts (RDLs), similar to but not to be confused with conventional deadlifts, are a powerful full-body workout and a great way to boost muscle growth (hypertrophy) in muscle groups that often don’t get enough love from many strength training programs, while for other strength training programs, not including the Romanian deadlift would be nothing less than sacrilegious. 

Many beginners to weight lifting are intimidated by this exercise with its subtle movement pattern and range of motion, especially if they do not have a personal trainer to show them the ropes first.

But you don’t need to be an Olympic weightlifter or seasoned cross-fit athlete to reap the benefits of this exercise.

As long as you have access to a barbell and some weights, this is your one-stop shop for learning all about the correct Romanian deadlift form and benefits, as well as some Romanian deadlift variations and their benefits. Rest assured, you can be powerlifting with this great compound exercise in no time!

What is a Romanian Deadlift?

The Romanian deadlift is a classic variation of the traditional deadlift that establishes the strength of the posterior chain muscles, such as the gluteus maximus, adductors, erector spinae (lower back), and hamstrings.

This makes the Romanian deadlift a very important exercise for any weightlifter who desires to be physically well rounded.

It also makes the Romanian deadlift easy to leave out of a training program since people are apt to focus on the muscles that they can see, and most of the muscle groups worked by the Romanian deadlift are on the body’s backside, out of the weightlifter's typical range of vision.

This is not to say that this exercise only works out the back. The Romanian deadlift, like the traditional deadlift, is also a monster of a core exercise. 

What is the difference between a Romanian deadlift and a traditional deadlift?

The Romanian deadlift shares many similarities with the traditional deadlift, but there are two main differences in form:

The first is that in a traditional deadlift, you begin by lifting the barbell from the floor and end by resting the bar back on the floor, whereas with the Romanian deadlift, you start and stop in a standing position, and the bar never touches the floor.

The second difference in form is that in traditional deadlifts, you lift the barbell from a squatted position, while with the Romanian deadlift, your legs remain locked in a slightly bent position throughout the entire exercise. 

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

Moreover, the Romanian deadlift is more accessible than the traditional deadlift, since you can do it nearly anywhere.

While the most streamlined version of the Romanian deadlift involves a barbell, all you really need are some free weights to get the benefits of this exercise.

The Romanian deadlift is also quite effective in building muscle without heavy weights, and this may help you avoid overstraining your back, which is a problem sometimes faced with the traditional deadlift. 

Primary muscles worked by the Romanian deadlift:

  1. Glutes
  2. Lower Back
  3. Hamstrings

Secondary muscles worked by the Romanian deadlift:

  1. Adductors 
  2. Core (abdominals)
  3. Trapezius
  4. Forearm flexors

How to do a Romanian deadlift with proper form

 

How to Do the Romanian Deadlift: 

  1. With a pronated (palm-down) grip, hold the barbell tightly with your hands apart at shoulder-width. Keep a slight bend in your knees with your feet hip-width apart, and let the bar rest along the front of your thigh.
  2. Raise your chest and pull your shoulder blades down towards the back pockets to keep your spine extended before pushing your tailbone to the posterior part to hinge at your hips.
  3. Keep your chin tucked into your neck. This will enable the cervical spine to maintain a safe position during the activity. 
  4. Let the weight be lowered towards the ground while retaining the length of the spine. Do not round your back or extend your knees when lowering the weight. 
  5. Lower the weight until you feel the tension in the back of your thighs. This will likely be somewhere in front of your shins.
  6. Look towards the floor. Although it might be tempting to look in the mirror as you do this motion, doing so can generate strain on the cervical spine.
  7. Push both heels to the ground, press your hips forward and pull back on your knees while retaining the long spine to return to the standing position.
  8. Let the barbell return to the front of your thighs.
  9. Remember, keep your spine long, and the knees slightly bent throughout the exercise to get the Romanian deadlift technique right.

Making sure that you do the exercise with the correct form is essential for avoiding injury.

So although you might want to jump right in and max out right away, it is best to practice the form with lower amounts of weight until the technique becomes second nature.

If you're new to deadlifts and you don’t feel like the lower weights are doing anything for you, focus on higher reps, or just wait until the next day when those long-neglected posterior muscles seem to scream with each step.

Unless you enjoy sore muscles, you'll want to stretch and try RESTED-AF before you go to bed. Of course, you shouldn’t let sore muscles scare you, because the benefits of Romanian deadlifts are well worth it. 

The benefits of Romanian deadlifts 

  1. More hamstring mass: RDLs really work the hamstrings, which are often overlooked in quadricep-heavy leg days. Increasing the muscle mass of the hamstrings has wide-ranging benefits. This muscle group is vital for increasing the height and length of your jumps, making the Romanian deadlift a great workout for basketball players, high jumpers, and long jumpers. Strong hamstrings can also help with rapid acceleration and deceleration, which can help in just about any sport. Additionally, having strong hamstrings can increase your weight load with other exercises, such as barbell squats which make heavy use of the hamstrings. Finally, it is important to strengthen your hamstrings in order to correct any imbalances between your hamstrings and quads.
  1. Can help with lower back pain: Romanian deadlifts are ideal for those who want the benefit of deadlifts but suffer from back pain and are unable to take the strain on their lower back from traditional deadlifts. Using lighter weights with the Romanian deadlift can help strengthen your low back, and developing a strong lower back can really help alleviate lower back pain. Even if you do not currently experience lower back pain, it's still a good idea to strengthen your lower back, which can benefit you in nearly all of your daily activities and, importantly, serve as a preventative measure against back pain. It's possible that these preventative measures really can benefit you since 64 million adults in the United States reported a recent back pain episode, and 16 million U.S. adults–that is 8% of the adult population in the U.S.– suffer from chronic back pain, making back pain the leading cause of work-loss days.
  1. Strengthening your posterior chain: The posterior chain is intimately involved in almost all of your body’s movements and plays a significant role in incremented power application, meaning that the benefits of a strong posterior chain would make a pretty long list. Here are some of the highlights: increased power in explosive movements, boosted athletic performance, prevention of injuries (especially back injuries), counteraction of unexpected forces on muscles, and improved posture. 

Romanian Deadlift Variations

Although the RDL is a beneficial exercise for lifters of all levels, it's important to know alternatives in case you don't have the proper equipment or simply get bored of the conventional barbell version.
  1. Kettlebell Romanian deadlift: 

Kettlebell Romanian deadlifts are a great introduction to the exercise for beginners. Plus, doing Romanian deadlifts with kettlebells makes it really easy to perform this exercise even if you do not have access to a gym or a barbell.

Here is how you do the exercise:

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

A single-leg Romanian deadlift challenges your muscles in both your upper and lower body in totally different ways than a traditional Romanian deadlift. For example, the core and hip muscles are critically engaged as they keep the body stable and maintain balance on a single leg.

Here is how to do the exercise:

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

One might choose to do a dumbbell Romanian deadlift for many reasons, such as a warm-up for traditional Romanian deadlifts or because they do not have a barbell at home. Whatever the reason, dumbbell Romanian deadlifts are a great exercise with all the benefits of the traditional RDL.

Here is how you do the exercise: 

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

Time to amp up your powerlifting routine 

You don't have to be a professional weightlifter to reap the benefits of the full-body exercise that is the Romanian deadlift (RDL). Whether you choose to do the traditional Romanian deadlift or one of its variations, you are sure to get major benefits in both athletic performance and daily life.

Just remember, it's all about technique, and once you have got that down, you are well on your way to jacked quads, strong hamstrings, a tight core, and powerful back muscles.