The Romanian deadlift exercise was named after the Romanian weightlifter Nicu Vlad, an Olympic medalist in the ’80s and ’90s. Vlad performed this deadlift variation after finishing his Olympic lifting, and some fellow lifters asked him what he was doing. He said he did them to make his entire back strong for the clean, and then the Romanian deadlift was born.
The Romanian deadlift—also known as the RDL—is like the conventional deadlift, but you lower the bar to about mid-shin level and start from a standing position, not the floor. This difference keeps constant tension on the glute and hamstring muscles, making it a better option to add muscle and strength to these areas.
Plus, many lifters find this deadlift variation easier on the lower back because less weight is used for the RDL. Here we’ll get into what it is, how to do it, its benefits, things to watch out for, programming suggestions, and a few RDL variations and alternatives.
Ready to build some baby got back with RDLs? Then let’s go.
What is the Romanian Deadlift Exercise?
The RDL is a deadlift variation isolates the hamstrings and glutes and minimizes lower back stress. With the RDL, you perform a hip hinge to mid-shin level before standing back up. Because the barbell never touches the floor, this keeps muscular tension on the glute and hamstring, making it a better option to add muscle and improve hip mobility.
How to Do the Romanian Deadlift Exercise
- Stand tall with your feet hip-distance apart and grip the barbell with your preferred grip with the barbell in front of your quads.
- While keeping your chest up and shoulders down, take a deep breath in and hinge until the barbell is around the mid-shin level. Your depth may vary depending on your hip mobility.
- Make sure to keep the barbell close to your body.
- Pause for a second, breathe out and use your hamstrings and glutes to pull you back to the starting position.
- Reset and repeat for appropriate reps.
Although the Romanian deadlift targets the lower body like a deadlift, the upper body muscles are involved because the barbell is in your hands. Here are the major muscles trained by the RDL.
- Hamstrings: These are the major players during the eccentric (knee flexion) phase and assist the glutes in extending the hip at the top of the movement.
- Glutes: Almost all hinging movements target the glutes through hip extension.
- Lower back: The lower back works hard to keep the spine neutral during the eccentric and concentric part of the hinge.
- Upper back: The upper back and lats are trained isometrically to keep a neutral spine throughout the lift. When you don’t engage the upper back, the bar drifts away from you, which spells bad news for your lower back.
- Trapezius: Particularly, the middle traps play the same role as the upper back in maintaining good shoulder and spine positioning.
- Forearms: You can either grip and rip it or let the barbell crash to the floor. The RDL strengthens your support grip because you need to grip the barbell for time.
3 Benefits of the Romanian Deadlift Exercise
The RDL is a solid choice as an accessory exercise to improve your conventional deadlift and for those newer to deadlifting. Here are 3 great benefits of performing the RDL.
- Better hamstring and glute hypertrophy: Due to the barbell never touching the ground and the knee is flexed, the Romanian deadlift targets the hamstrings and glutes to a greater degree than the regular deadlift. The constant tension on the hips and hamstrings can help increase your muscle mass and strength.
- Improved posterior strength: Increased posterior strength is a huge benefit of performing RDLs. Although you cannot load this as heavy as regular deadlifts, you will still be able to increase glute, back, and hamstring strength. Plus, it’s easier on the lower back because of less load and increased glute and hamstring engagement.
- Crossover to other movements: RDL is a pure hip hinge, and strengthening your posterior with RDLs has carryover to a movement that uses the hinge as a base. Exercises like conventional deadlifts, snatches, cleans, and kettlebell swings will benefit from a stronger hinge. Plus, by increasing the strength and muscle of the hips and hamstrings, you’ll be better able to maintain form when going for near maximal and 1RM lifts.
Common Romanian Deadlift Mistakes
Although not as technical as the conventional floor deadlift, there are still a few forms points to look out for when performing RDLs. Here is what to watch out for to ensure better form and a safer pull.
- Keep the weight close: During the eccentric and concentric contraction, keeping the weight close to your thighs is imperative. This is safer for the lower back and is the shortest point from A to B.
- Not keeping it tight: Following on from the previous point, a rounding of the lower or upper back is due to a lack of tension in the upper back and lats. This results in the bar drifting away from the body, which is a no-no. Chest up, shoulders down, squeezing an orange in your armpits are all external cues to keep the upper back and lats tight.
- Staying in control: With floor deadlifts, there is less emphasis on eccentric contraction, but not so with the RDL. You need to control the lift’s negative and positive parts for a safer lift and better results.
- Don’t hyperextend the lower back: Some lifters tend to lean and extend the lower back at lockout and not use the glutes. Don’t do that unless you like low back pain.
Romanian Deadlift Programming Suggestions
You have two options when it comes to programming the RDL. One is programming the RDL as an accessory lift to improve your conventional or sumo deadlift. This usually involves performing it after your main lift of the day. But what day you do it is a matter of personal preference or the training split you’re doing.
You can program the RDL on upper body or full body days in a superset with another exercise that doesn’t demand too much grip, hamstring, or back strength. For example:
1A. Barbell RDL 6 1o 12 reps
1B. Dumbbell Floor Press 6 to 12 reps.
The RDL can be your main strength move. Although you’ll lift less weight than deadlifting from the floor, you can still load up for strength. The muscular tension in your hips and hamstrings will more than make up for the drop in weight. It is best to pair the RDL with a mobility or core exercise to ensure good technique and better recovery between sets. For example
1A. Barbell RDL 3 to 6 reps
1B. Half Kneeling Pallof Press 12 reps per side
Build Muscle and Strength With The Romanian Deadlift Exercise
- Muscle: 3 to 5 sets of 6 to12 repetitions with a moderate to heavy weight and resting 2 minutes between sets.
- Strength: 3 to 4 sets of 3 to 6 reps using a heavy load and resting around 3 minutes between sets.
Romanian Deadlift Exercise Variations and Alternatives
As good as RDLs are, they are not for everybody but training the glutes and hamstrings hard, and heavy is almost non-negotiable. Here are 4 variations and alternatives to the barbell RDL to get the baby got back look.