The Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
The deadlift is one of the most powerful exercises for builing muscle mass and strength.
It activates more muscles than almost every other exercise.
Plus, it teaches you one of the most foundational movements in human anatomy; picking up an object off the floor.
As such, the deadlift has a lot of great variations that you can include in your fitness repertoire.
Enter the Romanian deadlift aka the RDL.
This great exercise isolates your posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, and low back) more than the conventional aka traditional deadlift.
This is achieved by keeping your knees relatively straight throughout the entire exercise. This removes the quadriceps from the exercise forcing the hamstrings to do most of the work.
As a result, you will not be able to lift as much weight as you could on the deadlift.
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Okay, let’s get started.
ROMANIAN DEADLIFT FORM VIDEO
Watch this short video to learn the proper way to do the exercise.
BENEFITS OF THE ROMANIAN DEADLIFT VARIATION
- RDLs strengthens the posterior chain immensely, a muscle group that is often weak in many people
- It teaches the proper spinal position necessary to lift an object when your legs are straight
- It improves conventional deadlifting technique, which translates to real-world activities- especially if your an athlete
MUSCLES WORKED DURING THE ROMANIAN DEADLIFT
- Low Back
- Spinal Erectors (Erector Spinae)
- Upper Back
- Core Muscles
- Forearm/ Grip Muscles
PERFORMING THE RDL WITH PROPER TECHNIQUE
- Load up an Olympic barbell with the desired weight
- You can begin the exercise with the weight on the floor, or set up in a power rack at the level of your outstretched arms
- In this tutorial, the barbell is starting from the floor
- Assume a stance that is roughly shoulder-width with your toes pointed forward and your shins almost touching the bar
- Bend down and grab the bar with your arms completely straight and just outside of your knees
- Lift the barbell the same way you would as a deadlift to get into the starting position
- With the bar in your outstretched arms, take a big breath and brace your core
- Begin the exercise by bending at your hips NOT your spine
- Once your hips have bent, push your butt back as far as you can – focus on trying to touch the wall behind you with your butt
- Maintain a very slight bend in the knee
- Keep pushing your hips back until you feel a stretch along the hamstrings muscles
- Keep the bar as close to your body as you can
- Keep you back flat/neutral- at NO POINT should your spinal alignment change
- Initially, your range of motion may be limited due to tight hamstrings- Only go as far as you can tolerate the stretch in your hamstrings
- To reverse the movement, push your hips forward and squeeze your glutes to return to an upright posture
- Repeat until you complete the desired repetitions
Another Great RDL Variation
If you want to further increase teh difficulty of the RDL exercise – try the snatch grip deadlift.
In this variation, you will grip the bar with as wide a grip as you comfortably can.
The snatch grip will have much higher upper back muscle activation than the regular deadlift grip.
COMMON ROMANIAN DEADLIFT MISTAKES
NOT PUSHING YOUR HIPS BACK
This is a common fault that can be fixed by practicing the movement with no weight. You should focus on feeling a strong hamstring stretch on each repetition.
BENDING AT THE SPINE
This exercise (like any) could be potentially dangerous. Always exercise caution and use good technique.
Your spinal alignment should never change- especially at your lumbar spine. Keep your core braced and flex at your hips.
Keep the weight light until you have mastered the technique.
BENDING YOUR KNEES TOO MUCH
If you overly bend at the knee, your quadriceps will get involved. This exercise is meant to train the posterior chain, not the quads.
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Is The Romanian Deadlift Bad For Your Back?
The RDL can certainly be bad for your back if you do not perform it correctly. Whenever you are doing any lower body exercise under load, it is important to maintain a flat neutral spine throughout the lift.
If you let your spine flex during the lift, you will not be using your posterior chain to lift the weight, and you will be putting your spine in a compromised position.
As with any exercise, if it feels funny or causes pain then stop!
What Is The Difference Between Romanian Deadlifts and Straight Leg AKA Stiff Leg Deadlifts?
The stiff leg deadlift starts from the floor. The Romanian deadlift starts from the top. As such, the RDL focuses on the eccentric part of the exercises while the stiff leg focuses on the concentric.
Both will train the same muscle groups and will have similar benefits. Because the weight starts on the floor on the stiff leg, you will be able to use heavier weights than what you can RDL.
Where Should I Feel RDLs?
You should feel this exercise primarily in the hamstrings and glutes.
If you do not feel this exercise in your hamstrings right from the first rep, then you are doing it incorrectly.
Focus on pushing your butt way back which will naturally flex the hips and lower the bar down. With every single rep, you should feel your hamstrings going on tension.
If not, then lower the weight and practice flexing at the hips.
You should even be able to feel it without any weight at all.
Should I Be Able To Touch The Floor While Doing Romanian Deadlifts?
If you can bring the barbell to touch the floor WHILE maintaining good form (a flat neutral back) then kudos to you.
90% of you won’t be able to do this due to tight hamstrings. It is not necessary to touch the floor to still get all the benefits this exercise has to offer.
How Heavy Should I Go On RDLs?
The RDL is considered by many an accessory exercise.
As such, you should never go really heavy. Pick a weight where you can comfortably get 6-12 repetitions on with good form.
It is unnecessary to go heavier than this.
Can I Do The RDL with a Dumbbell?
It is possible to do the RDL with dumbbells. That’s another reason why this exercise is great.
It can be done with just about any kind of resistance. Bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, and even a trap (hex) bar.
One common way is the single leg romanian deadlift. This move strengthens the posterior chain while improving balance and stability.
Is The RDL Harder Than The Deadlift?
RDLs vs Deadlifts. Which one is harder?
The RDL is harder because you are using fewer muscle groups than the conventional deadlift, and you never let the bar rest on the floor in between repetitions.
With that said, you will likely lift a lot more weight with the conventional deadlift, which in itself is also very challenging.
Romanian Deadlifts Vs Goodmornings: Which Should I Do?
Both exercises are very very similar.
The RDL will train your grip just like a deadlift would, whereas a goodmorning trains your upper back just like a squat would.
Do them both. Just make sure you do them in different training cycles.
Can I Do The Romanian Deadlift and The Deadlift on The Same Day?
Yes. Just as long as you treat one exercise as the main movement of the day and the other as the secondary or accessory exercise.
Why Is It Called The Romanian Deadlift?
I don’t know, and I don’t care.
How Can I Integrate The RDL Exercise Into My Training?
Check out my strength training workout template for busy people to learn how to incorporate this exercise and every other functional compound exercise into your training routine.
This movement falls under the glute / hamstring hip hinge category.
ROMANIAN DEADLIFT ALTERNATIVES
Here is a list of other lower body hip hinge exercises that train the same muscle groups via hip extension.
- Trap Bar Deadlift
- Kettlebell Swing
- Single Leg RDL
- Cable Pull Through
- Sumo Deadlift
Want to see other great exercises like this one? Learn The Best Leg Exercises to Develop a Strong Lower Body.
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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM Certified Personal Trainers, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a resource dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals using time-efficient strategies. Their advice has been featured in My Fitness Pal, Prevention, Livestrong, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, The Active Times, and more. Learn more about them here.