The Romanian deadlift (RDL) should be a staple in (almost) everyone’s training program. Whether your goals align with physique development, enhancement of athletic performance, or general health, the RDL is a tool worth having in your arsenal.
Furthermore, the RDL can be customized to suit your needs, no matter your current skill level. You can perform this exercise working with limited equipment in your garage, or with heavy weights in a fully-furnished training facility.
The versatility of this exercise is limitless, but it begs the question; how do you properly perform the RDL? Follow along to learn how to execute the RDL so it can help you move the needle closer to your goals.
- How to Do the Romanian Deadlift
- Romanian Deadlift Sets and Reps
- Common Romanian Deadlift Mistakes
- Romanian Deadlift Variations
- Romanian Deadlift Alternatives
- Muscles Worked by the Romanian Deadlift
- Benefits of the Romanian Deadlift
- Who Should Do the Romanian Deadlift
- Frequently Asked Questions
How to Do the Romanian Deadlift
Here are a few helpful, actionable nuggets to help you improve your setup and execution of the RDL. You can perform the RDL with your external load of choice, but this guide will require a barbell as well as some iron or bumper plates.
Step 1 — Set Yourself Up
Gather your equipment. Position the bar directly in front of you on the floor, with an inch of space between your shins and the bar. Situate your feet underneath your hips and grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder width.
Coach’s Tip: Find a comfortable setup that works with your body. If you have longer arms and legs, you might take a wider stance or grip, for example.
Step 2 — Brace Your Back
As you grip the bar, begin tightening your entire back. Even though the muscles of your upper back don’t go through a significant range of motion, it’s crucial to engage them to keep a tight core and to keep the bar close to your body. Deadlift the bar up to a standing position.
Coach’s Tip: Think about “hugging” your torso with your arms to contract and stabilize your lats.
Step 3 — Shoot Your Hips Backward
Begin leaning forward while keeping the bar close to your body with a flat back. Your knees will slightly unlock as your hips start to track backwards. Maintain balance over the center of your foot. Continue to tip over until you feel a strong stretch in your hamstrings.
Coach’s Tip: Image there’s a rope tied around your waist, pulling your hips back.
Step 4 — Pull Your Hips To The Bar
As you’re moving through the second half of the exercise, dig your legs into the ground, pull your chest up and squeeze your glutes to bring your hips back to the bar to return to your upright position.
Coach’s Tip: Imagine that your hips and the barbell are two magnets trying to connect with one another.
Romanian Deadlift Sets and Reps
Whether your goal is to induce muscular hypertrophy, enhance muscular strength, or develop muscular endurance, different rep ranges and rest periods will yield and facilitate various adaptations.
Here are a few programming guidelines on incorporating the RDL into your training program to get the most out of it for your desired goal.
- For Muscle Mass: Perform 3-4 working sets of 8-12 reps, leaving 2-3 reps in the tank each set. Ideally, you should use a moderate to heavy load. Rest between 1-2 minutes between sets.
- For Strength: Perform 3-5 working sets of 1-5 reps, leaving 0-2 reps in the tank each set. Rest between 3-5 minutes between sets.
- For Endurance: Perform 2-3 working sets of 12 or more reps. At the same time, utilizing a lighter load on the bar and resting 20-40 seconds between sets.
Common Romanian Deadlift Mistakes
Not every rep will be in textbook form, but it’s important to maintain structural integrity as long as possible. You must check in with yourself to make sure you’re lifting as safely as possible and know when to pull the cord. Here are a few things that can go wrong during the RDL.
Not Keeping The Bar Close
It’s difficult to pick up a basket of laundry when you have to have a whole foot of space between you and the basket, right? The same idea applies when you’re executing the RDL.
The further the bar drifts away from your body, the heavier it will begin to feel, potentially affecting your balance and muscular activation. The closer you can keep the bar to you, the more leverage you’ll have when lifting it.
Excessive Back Rounding
Excessive back rounding may occur due to a number of reasons: A potential explanation is that you might have the barbell positioned too far away from you, or you’re performing the RDL with poor technique, allocating unwanted and unnecessary tension onto your lower back which may increase the risk of injury. (1)
For this reason, keep your back flat and lift using your legs. If you notice your back rounding excessively, the weight is probably too heavy.
Too Much Knee Bend
Excessive knee bending will begin to alter the exercise and make it resemble a conventional deadlift, thus emphasizing different muscle groups. This may lead to the loss of desired benefits from the RDL.
Keep an eye on your knees; they should be slightly bent throughout the movement, but you shouldn’t lift with your quads.
Romanian Deadlift Variations
You might get bored of performing the same exercise over and over. Training is essential, but it’s equally important to ensure you’re still having fun.
Here are a few variations of the RDL to add to the mix to keep things fresh while challenging you in another way.
Hip-Banded Romanian Deadlift
This variation will be helpful if you have difficulty engaging your glutes. You’ll attach two light-to-moderate resistance bands between the barbell and the pillars of a squat rack.
The use of bands is an effective method to help reinforce proper engagement of your glutes and to strengthen quality movement patterns. This variation also makes for a stellar teaching tool.
Trap Bar Romanian Deadlift
With a standard barbell, you’ll generally use a pronated (palms down) grip, but a trap bar affords you a more ergonomic grip option and places the load in line with your center of mass.
Additionally, the shifted grip position will alter the distribution of the load across your body; you’ll find a bit more tension on your quads and core and a bit less on your back if you use a trap bar.
Deficit Romanian Deadlift
This variation will allow you to have a greater range of motion at the hip joint. It enables you to increase the eccentric loading stress placed upon the glutes and hamstrings.
To perform the RDL from a deficit, you’ll have to stand atop an elevated surface of some sort. You can stand on a riser or a few bumper plates to make the Romanian soul-crushingly effective.
Romanian Deadlift Alternatives
If you’re having a difficult time nailing down the technique of the RDL, here’s a list of possible alternatives for you to play with instead. They mimic the Romanian closely, but add some flavor to the movement.
You can perform a nearly-identical movement to the RDL but with much less weight if you go for the good morning instead.
The good morning adjusts the location of the resistance: By placing the bar on your back as you would for a squat, the moment arm between the bar and your hips is elongated. This makes a much lighter weight feel comparably heavy on your back and hips.
If you can’t get a barbell on your back or don’t want to load your spine excessively, you can work the same muscles as in the RDL by performing hip thrusts instead.
Hip thrusts allow you to lift quite heavily and tax your hip extensors (particularly your glutes) with ultra-heavy weights. The hallmark feature of the hip thrust is that it won’t place significant stress on your lumbar spine, making it a great alternative if you’re trying to limit axial load.
Muscles Worked by the Romanian Deadlift
The better you can understand your anatomy and how it behaves, the better mind-muscle connection you’ll have, which will ultimately further support you in your lifts.
The glute complex is composed of the gluteus minimus, gluteus medius and gluteus maximus. These muscles come together to build your “buttocks” muscular complex. The primary action of your glutes is to assist you during the second half of the RDL as you attempt to return to your starting position by extending your hips to lockout. (2)
As you hinge during an RDL, the lengthening sensation that you will experience within the muscles on the backside of your leg is your hamstring muscles firing on all cylinders. As one of the primary posterior chain muscles, your hamstrings are composed of the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus.
They’re responsible for embracing the majority of the force that’s being loaded onto them, and much like how a rubber band behaves: Once it’s stretched, it must return to its original shape. The hamstrings and glute muscles will extend your hips to return you to your starting position. (2)
The adductor muscles’ constituents include the pectineus, adductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus, and gracilis. These muscles make up a majority of the inner portion of your thigh muscle. They assist you in the hinging phase of an RDL and provide internal stability of your pelvis during the lockout phase of the RDL.
The role of your core musculature during the RDL is one of protection, specifically around the spine. You can increase your intra-abdominal pressure and brace for the load by inhaling a large amount of air and holding it while simultaneously flexing the muscles of your abdomen to be as tight and rigid as possible. (3)(4)
Benefits of the Romanian Deadlift
Whether your goal aligns more with performance, physique, or health, you may find utility in performing the RDL.
Bigger Legs and Glutes
The primary muscles involved in the RDL are the glutes and hamstrings. Mechanical tension is one of the main mechanisms of hypertrophy. Mechanical tension happens as a muscle fiber is stretched while under the load of, say, a barbell. The more you pull on this lever, the more chances a muscle can grow.
A Stronger Lower Body
Strength is the byproduct of three elements: muscular hypertrophy, neuromuscular adaptation, and skill acquisition. The more reps and exposure you have to the RDL, no matter how much weight is in your hands, the better and stronger you’ll get.
The RDL is a fantastic option for strengthening your legs and back simultaneously, as long as you maintain good form and continue to implement progressive overload. (5)(6)
May Prevent Injury
Developing a more robust pair of hammies will provide you with a more favorable hamstring-to-quadricep (H:Q) ratio, meaning that you may lower the risk of developing a hamstring injury or damaging any of the ligaments within the knee. In sports, it’s essential to be good at what you do; but you can only perform well if you stay healthy and injury-free. (7)
Resistance training is an incredibly effective tool to increase your muscular flexibility, mainly through an exercise’s eccentric phase. During the RDL, for you to hinge, your hamstrings will have to lengthen while absorbing the load. As a result, with every loaded stretch, the flexibility of your hamstrings should increase over time. (5)
Who Should Do the Romanian Deadlift
The RDL is a hinging movement by nature; therefore, it’s one of the fundamental movement patterns that every able-bodied human should be able to perform. That said, there are a few specific groups who stand to reap the benefits of the Romanian.
As a new lifter, learning and developing the skill of the hip hinge will lay the foundation for building a well-rounded physique. The technique of the Romanian deadlift can also help reduce your risk of injury. (5)(8)
Team Sports Athletes
ACL and hamstring injuries are prevalent within NCAA team sports. Therefore, athletes who were to begin incorporating hamstring eccentric loaded exercises such as the RDL (any variation or alternative of choice) may assist greatly in tissue strengthening and prevention of injury, allowing you to train and compete for as long as possible. (5)(9)
CrossFit training is a fitness regime that involves constantly varied functional movements often performed at high intensities. If you have a goal of building muscle, doing CrossFit workouts alone may not be the most optimal approach. Adding one to three muscle-building sessions into your programming will help support you in building lean muscle tissue.
The RDL makes for a fine choice to add into your routine as building bigger and stronger glutes and hamstrings could transfer over to your Olympic lifts and other posterior chain-driven movements.
Build a Better Backside
There’s a good chance that you can include the RDL or one of its many variations into your training arsenal, no matter where you fall on the weight room spectrum. The Romanian deadlift can satisfy the goals of beginners and professional athletes alike — whether you’re after physique development, better athletic performance, or just want to feel a bit better day to day.
The Romanian deadlift has stood the test of time. Include it into your program and you’re sure to become just as timelessly, immovably strong.
Are you still wondering about the Romanian Deadlift? No worries, here are a few commonly asked questions.
How to know if I’m performing RDLs correctly and safely?
If you’re building muscle and/or getting stronger via heavier weights on your barbell, and you don’t experience any notable pain during the execution of the Romanian deadlift, it’s a safe bet that you’re performing the exercise correctly.
How do I protect my back during RDLs?
Ensure you’re correctly bracing your core when performing all hinge-based exercises. Think of your abdominal muscles as much more than just the six muscles in front of you. It’s more of a protective cushion for your spine and organs shaped like a cylinder around the trunk of your body. As long as you’re bracing your core, using proper lifting mechanics, and lifting appropriate loads for your skill or strength level you should be in good shape.
How often should I be doing RDLs?
The more you expose yourself to this movement, the more you target lower posterior chain muscles. As a loose guideline, performing any variation of an RDL of your choosing 1-3x per week should do the trick without being overkill. After that, you can switch up every 4-6 weeks!
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