The Romanian deadlift (RDL) should be a staple in (almost) everyone’s workout 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. You can perform this exercise working with limited equipment in your garage or home gym, 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 perfect your Romanian deadlift form? Follow along to learn how to execute the RDL so it can help you move the needle closer to your goals.
Check out our video instructional, featuring BarBend’s former Training Editor, Jake Boly.
[Related: 24 Deadlift Variations for Muscle, Strength, Speed, and More]
How To Do the Romanian Deadlift
You can think of the barbell Romanian deadlift as the top half of a standard deadlift. Instead of lifting the weight off the floor and standing up with it, you begin in a standing position and slowly hinge down until the weight is at roughly knee-level.
Equipment Needed: For the standard Romanian deadlift, you’ll need a barbell and some weight plates.
- Step 1 — Position the barbell loaded with the appropriate number of bumper plates 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.
- Step 2 — 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.
- 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.
- Step 4 — Push 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.
Modifications: You can modify the Romanian deadlift by doing the dumbbell Romanian deadlift or using kettlebells instead of a barbell. If you’re having trouble with the range of motion, you can even place a weight bench between your legs for the barbell to rest on and prevent it from dropping too low.
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.
Banded Romanian Deadlift
Why Do It: 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.
Equipment Needed: You’ll need a bar, some plates, and a thin resistance band as well.
- Tie a thin resistance band at waist level between the pillars of a squat rack, then place a loaded barbell in front of the pillars.
- Stand behind the band and step forward so it is drawn across your hips.
- Reach down, grab the bar, and stand up with it. Step forward if necessary until you can feel a small but noticeable amount of band tension pulling you backward.
- Brace your core and perform the Romanian deadlift as you normally would. Aggressively contract your glutes to push against the band as you stand up.
Trap Bar Romanian Deadlift
Why Do It: 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.
Equipment Needed: You’ll need to find a trap bar and possibly some weights if you want to do this Romanian deadlift variation.
- Load up a trap bar with plates and stand within it. Make sure it is flipped around such that the “higher” handles are accessible to you.
- Stand up with the weight by bracing your core, flattening your back, and pushing downward.
- From a standing position, inhale, ensure you have a neutral spine, and hinge into a Romanian deadlift.
Deficit Romanian Deadlift
Why Do It: 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.
Equipment Needed: 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.
- Stand on top of a low elevated surface with the barbell nearly against your shins.
- Grab the bar, flatten your back, and feel a big stretch throughout your posterior chain.
- Stand up with the bar, find your balance, and brace your body as you normally would.
- Push your hips back to sit into the Romanian deadlift. Sink as low as you can while keeping your back mostly flat.
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.
Why Do It: The good morning exercise 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.
Equipment Needed: For the standard good morning, you’ll want a barbell, a squat rack, and potentially some weight plates. You can also modify this move and do it by holding a dumbbell close to your chest as well.
- Unrack a bar from a squat rack by placing it on your traps and assume your standard Romanian deadlift stance with your feet under your hips.
- Instead of doing a squat, unlock your hips and slowly push them backward while keeping your knee mostly straight.
- Tip over until you feel a big stretch throughout your backside or until your torso becomes parallel with the floor. Then, return to a standing position.
Why Do It: 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, or on-the-spine load.
Equipment Needed: To do hip thrusts without a specialty machine, get ahold of a barbell, some plates, a protective bar pad for your hips, and a stable weight bench or heavy box to sit against.
- Sit with your upper back against the box or bench and roll a loaded barbell toward you until it is directly above your hips.
- Shuffle your feet in and plant them on the floor with your legs bent.
- Grab the bar, inhale, and contract your butt to push the bar off the floor until your hips fully extend.
- At the top, your body should be in a straight line from shoulder to kneecap.
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.
[Read More: The 10 Best Deadlift Variations for Beginners to Improve Your Pulls Today]
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 manage 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.
[Read More: Romanian Deadlift Alternatives for Muscle Growth and Strength]
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.
Romanian Deadlift Sets and Reps
Here are a few programming guidelines on incorporating the RDL into your workout 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.
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 sets and reps and exposure you have to the RDL, no matter how much weight is in your hands, the better and stronger you’ll get.
[Read More: 5 Benefits of the Romanian Deadlift]
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)
Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked
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.
[Read More: The 12 Deadlifts Benefits You Need to Know About]
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)
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.
[Read More: Deadlifting Every Day Can Take Your Strength to New Heights]
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)
[Read More: 3 the Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift (RDL) Progressions]
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.
[Read More: The Single-Leg Deadlift Is the Best Pulling Accessory You’re Not Doing]
Keep an eye on your knees; they should be slightly bent throughout the movement, but you shouldn’t lift with your quads.
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.
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.
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.
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!
- Eltoukhy, M., Travascio, F., Asfour, S., Elmasry, S., Heredia-Vargas, H., & Signorile, J. (2015). Examination of a lumbar spine biomechanical model for assessing axial compression, shear, and bending moment using selected Olympic lifts. Journal of orthopaedics, 13(3), 210–219.
- McAllister, M. J., Hammond, K. G., Schilling, B. K., Ferreria, L. C., Reed, J. P., & Weiss, L. W. (2014). Muscle activation during various hamstring exercises. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 28(6), 1573–1580.
- Blazek, D., Stastny, P., Maszczyk, A., Krawczyk, M., Matykiewicz, P., & Petr, M. (2019). Systematic review of intra-abdominal and intrathoracic pressures initiated by the Valsalva manoeuvre during high-intensity resistance exercises. Biology of sport, 36(4), 373–386.
- Stokes, I. A., Gardner-Morse, M. G., & Henry, S. M. (2010). Intra-abdominal pressure and abdominal wall muscular function: Spinal unloading mechanism. Clinical biomechanics (Bristol, Avon), 25(9), 859–866.
- Marušič, J., Vatovec, R., Marković, G., & Šarabon, N. (2020). Effects of eccentric training at long-muscle length on architectural and functional characteristics of the hamstrings. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 30(11), 2130–2142.
- Schoenfeld B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 24(10), 2857–2872.
- Dedinsky, R., Baker, L., Imbus, S., Bowman, M., & Murray, L. (2017). EXERCISES THAT FACILITATE OPTIMAL HAMSTRING AND QUADRICEPS CO-ACTIVATION TO HELP DECREASE ACL INJURY RISK IN HEALTHY FEMALES: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE. International journal of sports physical therapy, 12(1), 3–15.
- Monajati, A., Larumbe-Zabala, E., Goss-Sampson, M., & Naclerio, F. (2016). The Effectiveness of Injury Prevention Programs to Modify Risk Factors for Non-Contact Anterior Cruciate Ligament and Hamstring Injuries in Uninjured Team Sports Athletes: A Systematic Review. PloS one, 11(5), e0155272.
- Dalton, S. L., Kerr, Z. Y., & Dompier, T. P. (2015). Epidemiology of Hamstring Strains in 25 NCAA Sports in the 2009-2010 to 2013-2014 Academic Years. The American journal of sports medicine, 43(11), 2671–2679.
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