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Romanian Deadlifts (RDL) | How-To, Muscles Worked, and Benefits

Brush up on your Romanian Deadlift form to improve your strength and performance.

The Romanian Deadlift is a fantastic deadlift variation that every level fitness enthusiast can benefit from. In strength sports, it’s a movement used by weightlifters, powerlifters, and other athletes to develop strength and mass in the posterior chain, improve hip hinge mechanics, and to isolate the glutes, hamstrings, and back musculature. 

The Romanian Deadlift — also referred to as the RDL — is typically used as an accessory lift with sub-maximal loads, but it’s a movement that has flexible applications in all programs and for every strength and performance based goal. We’ll cover the following topics in this article:

For the visual learners out there, check out our in-depth Romanian Deadlift Guide video below!

How To Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) can be used to improve posterior chain strength and to reinforce and strengthen hip hinge mechanics. The RDL can also be an effective tool for 

Master the Setup

Load a barbell and stand with your feet shoulder width apart, toes forwards, and the barbell running over your shoelaces (from the aerial view).

In this position, it is important that the torso is upright, arms are straight , and the shoulder blades are dropped downwards towards the rear. This will allow you to “lock” the back and minimize strain in the neck.

Hinge and Grab the Bar

Bend down and grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder width grip and only slight bend to the knees

Keep your back flat and shoulders over the barbell. Once you have stood up, reset in the above vertical torso positioning.

Set the Back

Push the hips back while maintaining a set back.

This will result in you feeling tension develop in the hamstrings and across the back (lower and middle, especially around the shoulder blades), with the torso moving towards being parallel to the floor.

Initiate With the Glutes and Hamstrings

Use glutes and hamstrings to stand upwards, keeping the barbell close to the body.

If you’re having trouble keeping the barbell close, think of engaging your lats (without pulling through the arms).

Contract and Lower

At the top of the movement, contract the upper back, core, and glutes by flexing from the middle of the back to the buttocks (glutes).

While most athletes will be standing up straight at the top of the movement, avoid overextending and leaning further back than necessary.

Lower barbell the same way and repeat for repetitions.

Romanian Deadlift Vs Deadlift

The main difference between the Romanian Deadlift and the Deadlift include how they’re performed. The RDL mainly focuses on the eccentric, so the lowering portion of the movement. Whereas the conventional deadlift can be loaded heavier and focuses on the full deadlift from the floor, and has a heavier emphasis on the concentric. 

For a full description and visual of the main differences between the Romanian Deadlift and Deadlift, check out the video below.

Romanian Deadlift (RDL) Muscles Worked

The Romanian deadlift targets multiple posterior chain muscles and stabilizer muscles in the torso. Below is a breakdown of the prime movers and secondary muscles used for Romanian Deadlifts.

Prime Movers

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

Secondary Muscles

  • Erector Spinae (Lower Back)
  • Middle and Upper Back
  • Trapezius
  • Forearms

Romanian Deadlift (RDL) Benefits

Below are five benefits that come with performing Romanian deadlift to aid coaches, trainers, and lifters in understanding why Romanian deadlifts are a key exercise for all lifters to include within strength training programs.

1. Greater Hamstring Hypertrophy

The Romanian deadlift targets the hamstrings (discussed above in the muscles worked section), which can be beneficial when looking to increase muscle mass (hypertrophy). Increased hamstring hypertrophy can lead to increased muscle size, strength, power application, and sports performance.

2. Increased Pulling Strength

Increased pulling strength is one benefit of performing Romanian deadlifts. Many strength and power athletes will perform heavier Romanian deadlifts in place of conventional deadlifts to increase glute, back, and hamstring strength while limiting loading on the lower back.

Romanian Deadlift Benefits
Romanian Deadlift Benefits / Photo by A. Ricardo / Shutterstock

3. Application to Sports

CrossFit, weightlifting, and traditional sports can all benefit with regular RDL programming. The RDL is a fantastic exercise to improve pulling and posterior chain strength, which will have carry over to the Olympic lifts and other sport-focused movement patterns. 

4. Injury Prevention

The hamstrings are often subject to injury during explosive movements like running, sprinting, and powerful/ballistic movements in sport/lifting. Romanian deadlifts can be used to increase hamstring strength, control, and eccentric loading capacities, which can improve an athlete’s injury resilience and longevity.

Romanian Deadlift (RDL) Variations

1. Dumbbell/Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift

Dumbbell and Kettlebell Romanian deadlifts can be performed when a barbell is not accessible. The versatility of the dumbbell Romanian deadlift can make it a good option for lifters who may not have a barbell accessible, or that want to lighten the total load and increase range of motion for the movement. 

2. Single Leg (Unilateral) Romanian Deadlift

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift / Photo Colin Hayes / Shutterstock

The single leg Romanian deadlift is an unilateral exercise that can improve balance, coordination, and muscular development and strength. By using one leg at a time, we can challenge each leg independently, which can enhance movement patterns and target muscle imbalances that can lead to overuse or movement compensation injuries.

4. Snatch Grip Romanian Deadlift

One weightlifting specific variation of the barbell Romanian deadlift is the snatch grip Romanian deadlift. By increasing the width of the grip on the barbell you drastically increase upper back and trap engagement and it will closely shadow the snatch’s movement patterns.

5. Tempo Romanian Deadlifts

Tempo training can be done with most strength and hypertrophy movements to increase muscular development, address positional weaknesses, and enhance neuromuscular coordination. When performing tempo repetitions, a coach will generally increase the total time a lifter will perform the eccentric portion of the exercise.

Romanian Deadlift Alternatives

In the event an athlete does not want to perform Romanian deadlifts due to lower back soreness, fatigue, or a desire to add variety to training programs, the below exercises can be used, which are discussed in greater detail in this Romanian Deadlift Alternatives Exercise Guide.

Common alternatives to the RDL
Common alternatives to the RDL
Romanian Deadlift Alternatives

1. Good Mornings

Good mornings can be a useful alternative for posterior chain training. This variation loads the body posteriorly, or anteriorly depending on the variation, and requires a strong hip hinge for proper execution. Of all the alternatives below, the good morning is arguably the closest to the RDL when it comes to hip hinge mechanics. 

2. Reverse Hyperextensions

Reverse hyperextensions are a good exercise to target the glutes and spinal erectors (lower back) while sparing the hamstrings since the movement occurs at the hip joint (rather than at the knees and hips). This can be done with weight on a reverse hyperextension machine, with resistance bands, or bodyweight.

3. Glute Ham Raises

The glute ham raise can be done to specifically isolate the hamstrings while minimizing the loading placed upon the back. This could be beneficial for lifters looking to limit excessive strain on the back at times of higher training volumes or due to back injury. 

4. Nordic Hamstring Curls

The Nordic hamstring curl is a great bodyweight exercise to specifically target the hamstrings and develop isometric, concentric, and eccentric strength and control. This exercise is extremely challenging and if typically done with bodyweight only.

Romanian Deadlift FAQs

Who invented the Romanian Deadlift (RDL)?

The Romanian deadlift was named after the Romanian weightlifter Nicu Vlad, an Olympic medalist in 1984, 1988, and 1996 who was elected to the International Weightlifting Federation Hall of Fame in 2006.

According to Jim Schmitz, a former USA Weightlifting National Team Coach, Vlad had been performing these flat-backed deadlift-like exercises after his clean and jerk training, performing triples (three reps per set) of 250 kg/550 lbs. He was asked by a few other lifters what exactly the exercise he was doing was called, however Nicu and his coach, Dragomir Cioroslan, never named the movement. They simply stated that they did regularly because it made Nicu’s back strong for the clean.

Therefore, the other athletes and coaches simply called it, ” The Romanian Deadlift.”

Is the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) safe for the back?

Yes! The Romanian Deadlift is safe for the back. It’s a hip dominant movement, so when it’s performed correctly direct loading on the back is pretty minimal.

If you’re uncertain about your form, then it’s worth seeking out a coach.

Who should perform Romanian Deadlifts (RDL)?

The Romanian Deadlift is a fantastic exercise for every fitness enthusiast to employ. This exercise teaches and reinforces good hip hinge mechanics, which is needed for a variety of daily movements. In addition, the RDL is great for targeting the posterior chain with its many variations.

What muscles does the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) work?

The Romanian Deadlift mostly works the posterior chain muscles.

The prime mover muscles for the RDL include:

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

1 thought on “Romanian Deadlifts (RDL) | How-To, Muscles Worked, and Benefits”

  1. Hey Barbend,
    Does the RDL really work the glutes all that much? I’m wondering because I’ve read that even squats don’t work the glutes that much so I’m wondering if it’s the same for RDL’s.

    Thank you

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