If you want to know what the Romanian deadlift is, which muscles it works, and how to do it properly, then you want to read this article.
Romanian Deadlift Instructions:
- Hold a bar at hip level with a pronated (palms facing down) grip. Your shoulders should be back, your back arched, and your knees slightly bent. This will be your starting position.
- Lower the bar by moving your butt back as far as you can. Keep the bar close to your body, your head looking forward, and your shoulders back. Done correctly, you should reach the maximum range of your hamstring flexibility just below the knee. Any further movement will be compensation and should be avoided for this movement.
At the bottom of your range of motion, return the starting position by driving the hips forward to stand up tall.
What Muscles Does the Romanian Deadlift Work?
The Romanian deadlift targets the posterior chain, which is the group of muscles on the back of the body, including the…
Latissimus dorsi (lats)
Like all good compound exercises, the Romanian deadlift also targets smaller “accessory” muscles like the rhomboids, teres major and minor, and serratus posterior.
3 Ways You’re Messing Up The Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is without a doubt one of the best exercises for building the muscles on the backside of the body, muscles that are critical for speed, jumping and nearly every other athletic skill.
You find the RDL in many training programs as a supplemental exercise in a lower-body workout. But the move’s benefits really should put it in the same league as primary lifts like the Squat and the Deadlift. Here’s why:
- Romanian Deadlifts increase mobility in your hips due to the straighter leg position.
- The RDL works your glutes and hamstrings more than a conventional Deadlift because the quads don’t contribute as much.
- It improves dynamic flexibility, especially in your hamstrings and low back. (For those keeping score at home, while “mobility” refers to the range of motion at a specific joint, “flexibility: refers to a muscle’s ability to lengthen, and “dynamic flexibility” refers to a muscle’s ability to lengthen during athletic movements, such as a sprint.)
Compared to the conventional Deadlift, the Romanian–also called “Stiff-Leg”–version focuses more on the hip hinge, which is an essential movement pattern all athletes must learn and master.
Romanian Deadlift Form: How to Perform the Exercise in 4 Simple Steps
Other than being a boss-level muscle developer, another benefit of the RDL is that it is a relatively simple move to learn. To execute it, you just:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell at thigh level. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your back straight, bend at your waist and sit your hips back to lower the bar.
- Keep the bar close to your shins and lower as far as your flexibility allows.
- Forcefully contract your glutes to extend at your hips and stand up.
Romanian Deadlift Mistake 1: Performing it Through a Partial Range of Motion
This is the biggest mistake I see people making when performing RDLs. I hate seeing people lower the bar to around knee level before returning to the starting position. It’s like finishing a Squat a foot from parallel. It’s essentially a “cheat.” It makes the movement easier, but you fail to strengthen your muscles through a full range of motion. You may not be able to lift as much weight, but lifting through a full range of motion is always better.
- The typical shortened range of motion used is done to keep your back straight, which is important. However, there’s some untapped potential here to do the exercise correctly through a full range of motion without putting your spine in a dangerous position.
The key is to begin with a loaded stretch on the hamstrings by performing the exercise from the top down, which should let you lower the bar to the floor. This allows you to pull the weight through a greater range of motion, which increases the effectiveness of the exercise. The same way someone’s loaded Squat can look more technically sound than a completely unloaded one, a loaded RDL can “correct” a poor starting spine position.
If you don’t have access to a waist-level rack to start at the top, simply take your first pull from the floor in the form of a conventional Deadlift and proceed with RDLs from the top of the first rep and onwards. View the video above for a deep explanation.
Granted, if you have poor mobility and flexibility, it’s safer to stop short of the full range of motion so your back doesn’t round. However, you should strive to improve your mobility so you can complete the RDL properly.
Romanian Deadlift Mistake 2: Going Too Light With Your Load
Because the RDL is not typically used as a feature lift, people don’t perform it as heavy of a weight as you’d use with a traditional Deadlift. But I think you should change your mindset.
Substituting the RDL for a conventional Deadlift will blast your hamstrings, which are full of fast-twitch muscle fibers. These fibers respond best to heavy loads. So to accelerate your strength and size gains, you want to push it a little big. Granted, you won’t be able to lift quite as heavy with the RDL as you would when performing the Deadlift, but the difference won’t be as great as you might think. I personally don’t like my five-rep max on RDLs to be more than 80 pounds lower than my five-rep max Deadlift.
Romanian Deadlift Mistake 3: Forgetting Your Deadlift Technique Entirely
The mechanics of the RDL and conventional Deadlift are similar. But the RDL calls for almost no knee bend—your legs are essentially straight. Do your best to maintain a flat or slightly arched back as you lower, because your back needs to control the movement.
The tricky part is this: as you come up to the top position, your pelvis needs to tilt backward so your glutes and hamstrings can fire. If you continue incorrectly through a back-dominant deadlift pattern,
- You also need to make sure the bar travels in a straight line. To do this, keep the bar close to your body at all times and keep your shoulders over the bar. If the bar gets away from your body, you’ll place sheering forces on your lower back and potentially set yourself up for an injury, especially as the weight gets heavier.