December 16, 2021 8 min read
You've heard of the deadlift, and maybe you've even done one today. When done properly, the deadlift can be one of the best exercises to build strength and muscle in your lower body, back, and core.
Another advantage of the deadlift is the multiple variations you can choose from, one of which being the Barbell Romanian Deadlift, better known as the Barbell RDL.
Like the deadlift, this variation can help strengthen the lower body, back, and core, but it's great for targeting the glutes and hamstrings a little more. No matter what your goals may be, the barbell RDL can be a beneficial exercise to implement into your next workout.
Multiple muscle groups in your lower body are worked when performing the RDL. Some of these muscles are essential for walking, maintaining posture, and improving athletic performance.
The large muscles in the back of your leg, antagonistic to your quads, are your hamstrings. These muscles help you bend your knees and hinge at your hips. The hip hinge is especially important for the RDL since it's one of the main movements of the exercise. Improving your strength in these muscles can help improve posture, flexibility, low back pain, and your ability to lift heavier deadlifts.
The glutes help to stabilize the hips and is considered to be one of the most powerful muscles in the body because of its size and its ability to keep you upright. The RDL is a great way to target your glutes. Because of the hip hinge, it takes the emphasis off of the quads and recruits the glutes and hamstrings to do a lot of the work. Strong glutes can also translate to improved athletic performance, helping to lift heavier and run faster.
Helping to make up the posterior chain along with the glutes, hamstrings, and others are the erector spinae muscles. These muscles help stabilize the spine, which is important for heavy lifting and helping to prevent injury. The erector spinae muscles also help extension, flexion, and rotation the spine. In any activity, but especially the RDL, strength in these muscles is essential for function and lifting heavier loads.
Since it is crucial for your back to stay flat in an RDL, the traps are recruited to help keep your shoulder blades from rolling forward. As you're lifting the weight, gravity is trying to pull your body down, so as you push away from the ground, your back and shoulders must work to keep a neutral position to help avoid injury and get an efficient workout.
The traps are located in your mid to upper back and are important for posture and helping to move your neck, head, and arms. You might have noticed that athletes like football players have large traps because it helps to support their head and neck when getting tackled.
Similar to the conventional deadlift, the RDL helps strengthen the forearm muscles, which can help improve grip strength.
The benefits of deadlifts almost seem endless, and the RDL can help produce similar ones while giving some variety to your workout. Target different muscles and help improve your performance with this exercise.
The glutes and hamstrings are essential in and outside the gym, and the RDL is better at targeting them than the conventional deadlift because it takes the emphasis off of the quads. The glutes and hamstrings help to make up the posterior chain and if kept strong, can help improve posture, flexibility, and other activities like the deadlift, squat, hip thrust, running, and jumping.
Grip strength may be a predictor of overall health and quality of life.
A strong grip could help to reduce risks of heart disease, improve daily function, such as just opening a door, and help to prevent injuries. The muscles in your forearms help contribute to grip strength, so strengthening them could help you reap the benefits of grip strength.
The movement pattern of the RDL can be a better starting point for beginners and a beneficial way to build strength in the hips and hamstrings, just some of the muscles that help in a conventional deadlift. Beginners may find it less difficult to maintain proper form with the RDL, and it's a great way to learn and practice how to hinge at the hips and keep a flat back. The RDL is a useful progression into heavier weights and the deadlift.
If performed correctly, the RDL can help improve strength in your lower back, which can help prevent pain and injury. Having low back pain can negatively affect your workouts and your daily life, and may get even worse as you age.
Studies suggest that low back pain is often caused by a lack of strength in the low back.
After experimental research, the RDL may be more effective for building lumbar strength than an isolated exercise like the back extension.
The muscles used in the RDL are important in other athletic activities like sprinting and jumping. Studies suggest that strong glutes can help in sports such as basketball, volleyball, and football, all of which involve running, jumping, and changing directions quickly. Since the RDL targets the glutes more, you may find yourself running faster and jumping higher.
Flexibility and mobility in your hips and hamstrings can help improve your posture, stability, and function. Because of the stiff-leg movement of the RDL, the hamstrings are stretched through the hinge and most at the bottom of the lift. The hip hinge specifically helps teach the body the hinging movement that's important in bending to pick something off the ground or sitting down. It's also important to perform exercises like row variations and cleans.
Performing the barbell RDL is of utmost importance to help prevent injuries and to not waste a workout. If you're ready to jump in but not sure where to start, check out our step-by-step guide to do the RDL right.
1. Load a barbell with an appropriate amount of weight for you. It's better to start light if you're unsure, so don't be afraid to start with an empty barbell.
2. Hold the barbell with an overhand grip right against your thighs, keeping your chest tall and core tight.
3. Stand with your feet no more than hip-width apart. A wider stance may cause your shoulders to round forward more.
4. With just a slight bend in your knees, start to push your hips back first. As your hips are hinging, it is extremely important to keep your back flat.
5. Keep the barbell close to your body as you continue to hinge until the barbell is just about to your mid-shin and your back is almost parallel to the ground, or less if your range of motion calls for it.
6. Without flexing your spine, press through your heels to stand back up, pulling the barbell back to its starting position and get ready for the next rep.
If we haven't drilled it into your brain enough, proper form is extremely important for the RDL. Yet, mistakes still can happen if you're fatigued, going too heavy, or simply inexperienced. Avoid these common mistakes for better form.
This is probably the most common mistake made in any deadlift variation. A rounded back could happen for a variety of reasons: too heavy of a weight, underdeveloped muscles, lack of knowledge, etc. Typically, there are mirrors in the gym and believe it or not, they're not just there to take gym selfies. Their purpose is to help you be aware of and correct your form. You probably will feel strain in your back if your shoulders are rounding forward but don't rely on that.
Check yourself out in the mirror to ensure your back is flat through the entire movement. Think about pulling your shoulders down and back and sticking your chest out.
Whether you're deadlifting with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells, this mistake is typically common due to a lack of knowledge. No matter what type of weight you're holding, you want to keep the barbell close to your body. If it's too far from your body, there's a greater risk of a back injury since your back is taking the brunt of the weight instead of your glutes and hamstrings.
A good cue to think about is to imagine you're shaving your legs with the barbell. This is also where the mirror is a great tool to use.
During the RDL, you're focusing on the hip extension, not the knee bend. Bending the knees could be caused by too much range of motion or again, lack of knowledge. By bending the knees, you can take the work off the hamstrings and glutes and put them more in your quads. Not the worst thing, but it's not the goal.
Avoid this by keeping just a slight bend in your knees and not bending them any further. Focus on just pushing your hips back and stop when you no longer can.
Now that you know the mirror exists for reasons other than Instagram posts, you probably want to use it all the time. That's great but don't let it affect your workout. You want to keep your spine in neutral the whole deadlift rep, and that includes your neck. A common mistake is looking up as you're hinging, which can put unnecessary strain on your neck.
A good drill is putting a broomstick on your back. Imagine there is a broomstick running from your head to your hips. You have to keep the stick in a straight line the entire time. If you look up, the stick will fall off. Keep it on by maintaining a neutral neck.
Sometimes you need a break from the barbell, or you're just looking for some variety. Either way, we've got you covered. Below are some variations to the barbell RDL that can help you reap similar benefits.
This variation may seem self-explanatory, and it kind of is. Instead of using a barbell, you'll use dumbbells.
Using dumbbells can provide different benefits, such as improved grip strength and unilateral work while still producing the benefits of a barbell RDL.
The set-up is exactly the same for this, but you're holding dumbbells. You may not be able to go as heavy, but it's a good way to earn different advantages.
The explanation is in the name again for this one. The single-leg RDL has you balancing on one leg and performing the same motion. If you're trying to improve muscle and strength imbalances, this variation may be the way to do it. It can help to improve balance and stability while recruiting the core muscles.
Center your planted foot more than you would a bilateral RDL to help with balance. Perform the motion the same with slow, controlled movements. Repeat on the other side when done.
If you're looking for a more advanced RDL, the snatch-grip RDL is a great way for lifters to challenge their grip and upper body strength. The lats and the shoulders are recruited to help keep the back flat and the bar close to the body.
The snatch-grip requires a wider grip on the barbell; the same grip you would use for the Olympic lift, the snatch. Perform the RDL the same way, but really focus on maintaining your posture and barbell position.
This variation is very similar to the barbell RDL, but the positioning of the barbell is different. Instead of holding it down at your legs, the good morning has you holding the barbell on your upper back, similar to that of a back squat. This is a great warm-up or progression exercise to moves like the RDL, deadlift, and squat.
Place the barbell on the upper back and stand with your feet hip-width apart. With a proud chest and a slight bend in your knees, hinge back with your hips until your back is almost parallel to the ground. Keeping a flat back, stand back up to your starting position.
The deadlift is one of the most popular exercises in the gym, for good reason too. The barbell RDL is a great way to help improve your deadlift, build muscle mass in your hamstrings and glutes, and help your overall athletic performance.
Remember the importance of maintaining proper form, so you can help yourself avoid an injury. Implement the RDL into your training program and experience the benefits yourself.