The Romanian deadlift (RDL) is a deadlift variation with a high hip position and no help from the quads.
This strength and muscle building exercise is a version of a still-legged deadlift and, crucially, focuses on the eccentric movement pattern. This simply means force is applied as your muscles lengthen, with the aim of slowing down the elongation process to challenge and strengthen your muscles.
As a compound exercise, the Romanian deadlift targets many muscles at once when done correctly, from your lower body to your core.
How to do the Romanian deadlift
Start with your feet about hip width apart, pointing straight ahead, and a barbell in front of you. You can either pick up the barbell from a low rack or from the floor.
Beginning the exercise
Keeping your back nice and flat, push your hips back while only slightly bending your knees. You should feel some tension in the hamstrings.
Pick the barbell up and stand up, keeping the back straight and core engaged. This standing position is where the Romanian deadlift starts.
Begin lowering the weight slowly by pushing your hips back, feeling the stretch in your hamstrings. Make sure your back is neutral and you lower the barbell in a controlled manner – the Romanian deadlift is an eccentric exercise so this is where your hamstring and glute muscles are working the hardest.
Your knees should stay back throughout the exercise, only slightly bent, and the hinge should come from the hips.
As your hands reach your shins stand back up, squeezing your glutes at the top and keeping the barbell close to your body. There’s no need to bring the barbell all the way to the floor, but you can do it; this is a matter of preference.
What are the benefits of the Romanian deadlift
There are many reasons why to add Romanian deadlifts into your training, from strengthening the biggest muscle in your body – the gluteus maximus – to increasing your hip mobility, they are a great exercise to have in your repertoire.
It can also improve your regular deadlift as this is a harder movement with a greater focus on mechanics.
Romanian deadlift muscles worked
This barbell exercise activates many muscles in your posterior chain, including the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, adductors and the erector spinae.
You will be training your hip extension by contracting the glutes and hamstrings to straighten up the hips and come to a standing position. Your spinal erectors will also contract to keep your back in a neutral position throughout this exercise.
Romanian deadlifts variations
While the traditional Romanian deadlift is performed with a barbell and both feet parallel to each other, there are a handful variations you could try:
Split stance Romanian deadlift
This variation of the RDL is performed with one of your legs in front of the other, in a split stance. The purpose of it is to really target the hamstrings and glutes on your front side, while also improving your balance and engaging your core muscles.
Single leg dumbbell Romanian deadlift
For this variation, start holding two dumbbells to your sides as if you were carrying two suitcases. Keeping your neck and spine neutral, and really engaging the core muscles, bend forward at the waist while lifting one leg up. Your standing leg should be kept relatively straight, while the non-working leg should stay in line with the torso.
The single leg dumbbell Romanian deadlift also targets the hamstrings and glutes while placing a big emphasis on your overall posterior chain strength as well.
Supinated grip Romanian deadlift
A supinated grip is one where the palms face away from your body. This RDL variation will place a higher emphasis on your back muscles.
Dumbbell Cross Body Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
The dumbbell cross body single leg RDL requires a great deal of balance and strength. It is a hard exercise even when performed at light weights. The aim of this variation is not to lift heavy but to build body awareness and different movement plains while strengthening your posterior chain and core muscles.
Banded Barbell Romanian Deadlift
By adding bands to this exercise, you can place a higher emphasis on technique, and learn how to master the hip hinge. Resistance is highest at the top of the exercise, which means your muscles will work harder to lower the weight in a controlled manner at the start.
You also have the additional benefit of added resistance standing back up, which activates more muscles and requires a stronger hip hinge than a regular RDL.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Romanian deadlift?
The Romanian deadlift is a deadlift variation that taxes the posterior chain, which includes your hamstrings, gluteus maximi, latissimus dorsi and the erector spinae muscles. It relies on a strong hip hinge, and is performed by pushing the hips back, with only a slight bent in the knees.
Is the Romanian deadlift safe?
The Romanian deadlift is an excellent exercise to add to your training and it is perfectly safe as long as it’s performed correctly. Make sure your technique is spot on, that you keep your back neutral throughout the exercise, and you lift a load that will allow you to perform the exercise right.
Who should do Romanian deadlifts?
This deadlift variation is great for beginners and advanced athletes alike. Include the RDL in your training if you want to be a well-rounded athlete, but don’t neglect the deadlift either.
For athletes wishing to improve their mechanics, technique, and other lifts, including the Romanian deadlift in their training can be hugely beneficial.
Athletes wishing to increase their overall strength might want to do more regular deadlifts, as these allow for heavier loads to be lifted.
What is the difference between a conventional deadlift and a Romanian deadlift?
The man difference between the two is how the weight is lowered back down; a standard deadlift has an athlete bend their knees and hips while maintaining a straight back, while the Romanian deadlift has a different hinge and shorter range of motion.
Both exercises serve different purposes; deadlifts are usually performed with heavier weights, while the RDL focuses more on a solid hip hinge pattern while lowering the weight.
- deadlift workout with pregnant athlete: Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.