The Romanian deadlift is one of the most popular hip-dominant exercises for targeting the glutes and hamstrings, with some activation on the back extensors as well to help you develop and maintain good posture. When you perform the standard Romanian with dumbbells, a wide array of customization options open up to you. You’ll have a lot more freedom in your setup and execution, but the benefits don’t end there.
In this article, you will learn about everything you need to know about dumbbell Romanian deadlifts so you can decide how to use them in your own training:
- How to Do the Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Sets and Reps
- Common Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Mistakes
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Variations
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Alternatives
- Muscles Worked by the Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- Benefits of the Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- Who Should Do the Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- Frequently Asked Questions
The dumbbell Romanian deadlift can be performed anywhere you like whether it’s at home, in the gym, or even outdoors. All you need to begin with is a pair of dumbbells and some clear space.
Step 1 — Stand Up With the Dumbbells
Stand up with your feet about hip-width apart and toes pointed forward, a dumbbell in each hand.
Coach’s Tip: Keep your chest up to keep your back flat when you stand up with the dumbbells.
Step 2 — Inhale And Hinge
Breathe in through your nose as you hinge through your hips and lower the dumbbells down the front of your legs. Stop when your back reaches parallel to the floor, when your lumbar spine begins to round over, or once you feel a large stretch in the back of your thigh.
Coach’s Tip: To maximize the loading through the glutes and hamstrings, bend at the hips rather than at the knees. Think about pushing your hips backward towards a wall behind you.
Step 3 — Stand and Thrust
To complete the movement, push your hips forward and exhale forcefully as you rise to a standing position. The weights should end up back where they began at your sides.
Coach’s Tip: You don’t need to excessively thrust your hips forward at the top to activate your glutes. Stand up as you normally would, ensuring that your hips finish underneath your shoulders.
The great thing about dumbbell Romanian deadlifts is that you can use them to achieve many different goals. Different goals may mean prescribing slightly different sets, reps and intensities for the same exercise.
Here is an example of how you can program the dumbbell Romanian deadlift:
- For Muscle Mass: Perform 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps, leaving 1 to 2 reps in reserve in each set.
- For Strength: Perform 4 sets of 5 to 7 reps, leaving 2 to 3 reps in reserve in each set.
- For Muscular Endurance: Perform 2 to 3 sets of 15 to 25 reps, leaving 3 to 4 reps in reserve in each set.
As much as the dumbbell Romanian deadlift is a great exercise, there are still plenty of common errors that you’ll want to avoid. Here are a few key mistakes to be wary of.
Lower Back Rounding
Throughout the dumbbell Romanian deadlift, you need to make sure that your back maintains a roughly neutral posture that stays rigid throughout the entire range of motion. This will enable you to focus on hinging through your hips and relying on the glutes, hamstrings and adductors.
To avoid lower back rounding, think about physically pushing your hips backward to lower the weights and only descend until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg.
Excessive Knee Bend
The hamstrings cross both the knee and hip joints. To properly stretch them, you shouldn’t have slack in both ends of the tissue; as such, bending your knee too much can make it difficult to engage your hammies properly. Make sure your knee is loose and unlocked, but that the majority of the movement comes from the hip joint instead.
Not Keeping the Weights Close
It is important to keep the center of gravity above your midfoot to stay balanced as well as load into your glutes and hamstrings. If, when you hinge and come down in the repetition, you find that the dumbbells are far in front of your feet, it may indicate that you are not hinging through your hips.
Make sure you focus on pushing your hips backward rather than leaning forward. This should result in you feeling more of a stretch in your hamstrings as opposed to strain in your lower back.
If you want to try a different variation of the dumbbell Romanian deadlift, here are some options you can try that will give you a slightly different effect.
Toes-Elevated Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
The toe-elevated dumbbell Romanian deadlift is a variation that requires you to stick a wedge or a small plate underneath your forefoot. This will be useful for anyone struggling with leaning forward too much in the Romanian deadlift, rounding through the back or bending the knees.
The toe elevation effectively puts you in a position where you may be able to feel more of a stretch in your glutes and hamstrings.
Staggered-Stance Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
The staggered-stance dumbbell Romanian deadlift requires position your feet in a staggered stance with one foot slightly behind the other like a kickstand for a bicycle. When you perform this movement, it is important to keep most of your body weight on your front or working foot.
Single-Leg Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
You can turn the dumbbell Romanian deadlift into a fully-unilateral movement by simply working on one leg at a time. The single-leg Romanian deadlift tests both your hip strength and balance at the same time.
It’s a great variation to develop robust stability and coordination, which should then carry over to heavier exercises as well.
The dumbbell Romanian deadlift may not be suitable for everyone, whether you find it too difficult or don’t have a large assortment of dumbbells to work with. Here are some alternatives that will help you achieve the same stimulus on the same areas of your body:
Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift
The Smith machine Romanian deadlift puts things “on rails,” literally. The fixed bar path of the Smith will force you to correct your own bar movement and ensure that you’re keeping your center of gravity in the right place.
You can also conveniently and rapidly load up the Smith machine with heavy weights for maximal mechanical tension, which is great for developing hypertrophy.
Barbell Romanian Deadlift
The barbell Romanian deadlift is the most common variation of the Romanian. It is performed with a barbell held in front of your body, instead of a pair of dumbbells at your sides.
The advantage to this variation is that it enables you to focus on loading up the most weight possible. Working with the barbell is a great way to train for maximal strength.
Snatch-Grip Romanian Deadlift
The snatch-grip Romanian deadlift is quite similar to the barbell Romanian deadlift, save for the extremely wide grip. This is a variation popular among Olympic lifters for its relevance to the snatch exercise, but is a solid accessory movement for any gymgoer.
By gripping the barbell as wide as you comfortably can (the bar should rest against the crease of your hip when you stand up), you’ll activate a larger range of motion and train your posterior chain in a more stretched position.
Whether you use dumbbells or not, the Romanian deadlift works heaps of muscle all across your body. Here are some of the major players that contribute to your performance of the dumbbell Romanian deadlift, specifically.
The glutes consist of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. They help stabilize the leg in the motion and primarily extend the hips. You’ll feel your glutes at the bottom of the dumbbell Romanian deadlift, when they’re in a fully-lengthened position.
The hamstrings consist of the semimembranosus, semitendinosus and the bicep femoris. They cross the hip and knee joint behind the thigh bones. In the Romanian deadlift, they are a secondary muscle that assists with extending the hips.
You’ll also generally notice that your hamstring flexibility might be the primary factor inhibiting your overall range of motion; don’t force things here.
The hip adductors are positioned on the inside of the leg. They are traditionally thought of as muscles that bring your leg towards your midline, but in deep hip flexion, they can act as a hip extensor along with the glutes. You’ll get a bit of “free” adductor work as you stand up during the dumbbell Romanian deadlift.
The spinal extensors are the group of muscles that are responsible for keeping your back extended throughout the exercise range of motion. They consist of the quadratus lumborum and the erector spinae, and these muscles contract isometrically to stabilize your spine while you hinge over during the dumbbell Romanian deadlift.
There are more than a few tangible benefits to adding the dumbbell Romanian deadlift into your workout routine. Here are just a few things you can expect:
More Muscle Mass
The dumbbell Romanian deadlift is effective at training the glutes and hamstrings at a long muscle length, because working with dumbbells generally lets you get into a deeper hinge position, stretching the glutes and hamstrings even further than you might otherwise be able to.
Assuming you keep your sets and reps consistent, training your muscles at physically longer lengths can spur more muscle growth than when you train your muscles are at a shorter lengths (though this finding isn’t widely-replicated in literature just yet). (1) Since the dumbbell Romanian deadlift is all about eccentric, muscle-lengthening movement, it can increase your muscle-building capacity.
Adding the dumbbell Romanian deadlift can also increase general hip extensor strength, which is very important for many different sports as well as day-to-day physical activity.
You’ll want stronger hips if you perform strength sports like powerlifting or Olympic lifting, but you’ll also want to train your hip extensors for daily tasks or other movements you get down with in the weight room.
Better Deadlift Technique
Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts can be a load-limiting way of practicing a weighted hip hinge. A good hinge is essential important component for competence in conventional or sumo deadlifts, which is important for powerlifters.
For people who do not hip hinge well in deadlifts, what happens quite often is that they will either sit down too low for the deadlifts to load their legs more, or they will round through the back to compensate. This will make the lift less efficient long term.
By improving your hip hinge for deadlifts, you also help improve your ability to lock out at the top of the movement.
With all of the benefits that the dumbbell Romanian deadlift offers, various different training populations should consider adding the dumbbell Romanian deadlift into their training.
Beginner gymgoers can benefit from using light weights with the dumbbell Romanian deadlift to increase muscle mass around the glutes and hamstrings, while improving the ability to hinge through the hips.
Dumbbells often feel more intuitive and can be easier to work with for a first-timer than a barbell, though you can certainly start with the barbell if you wish.
Powerlifters can use the dumbbell Romanian deadlift as an accessory exercise for their posterior chains. The posterior chain includes muscles such as the traps, lats, lower back, glutes and hamstrings.
These muscles are important for performance of the deadlift and back squat. Long-term success in powerlifting is about more than simple strength; you should also strive to develop robust muscularity and become a well-rounded athlete. The dumbbell Romanian deadlift is a great way to do so.
Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts have a place in a bodybuilder’s training routine, too. You can potentially add it to a training day in which you want to focus on your glutes and hamstrings. Since you don’t have to lift especially heavily for the dumbbell Romanian deadlift to be effective, you can perform it towards the end of your leg day and grab a nasty hamstring pump along the way.
Dumbbells for Deadlifts
Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts are super useful for your training goals — if you implement them in your routine appropriately. With sensible programming and sound technique, an exercise like the dumbbell Romanian deadlift might be just what you need to break through your plateaus and grab new gains in the process.
Here are some other questions that many gym goers and athletes often ask about the dumbbell Romanian deadlift.
What are dumbbell Romanian deadlifts good for?
Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts are good for hip extension strength, glute and hamstring muscle mass as well as improving hip mobility. With an appropriate weight, you’ll benefit most from this exercise by reaching through your maximum range of motion.
Is the Romanian deadlift better with dumbbells?
The Romanian deadlift is better for glute and hamstring strength as you can load more weight easier as well as move in a way that keeps your hips back and up to stretch your glutes and hamstrings. Dumbbells can be better for you if you want focus practicing the movement without the barbell restricting shin movement.
Should you go heavy on the dumbbell Romanian deadlift?
You should go heavy on the Romanian deadlift if you are looking to increase hip strength. Attempt to train the Romanian deadlift with 5 or more repetitions with 2 to 4 repetitions in reserve to help increase hip strength.
1. Oranchuk DJ, Storey AG, Nelson AR, Cronin JB. Isometric training and long-term adaptations: Effects of muscle length, intensity, and intent: A systematic review. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2019 Apr;29(4):484-503.
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