The Romanian deadlift exercise was named after Romanian weightlifter Nicu Vlad, an Olympic medalist in the 80s and 90s. Vlad performed this deadlift variation after completing his Olympic lift, and some other weightlifters asked him what he was doing. He said he did them to make his whole 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 shin level and start in a standing position, not on the floor. This difference maintains constant tension on the gluteal and hamstring muscles, making it a better option for adding muscle and strength to these areas.
Additionally, many lifters find this deadlift variation easier on the lower back because less weight is used for the RDL. Here, we’ll cover what it is, how to do it, its benefits, things to watch out for, programming suggestions, and some RDL variations and alternatives.
Ready to build a salvaged baby with RDLs? So let’s go.
What is the Romanian Deadlift Exercise?
The RDL is a variation of the deadlift that isolates the hamstrings and glutes and minimizes stress on the lower back. With the RDL, you perform a hip hinge at the midpoint of the shin before coming back up. Because the bar never hits the ground, it keeps muscle tension on your glutes and hamstrings, making it a better option for adding muscle and improving hip mobility.
How to Do the Romanian Deadlift Exercise
- Stand up straight with your feet hip-distance apart and grab the barbell with your preferred grip with the barbell in front of your quadriceps.
- While keeping your chest up and your shoulders down, inhale deeply and bend over until the bar is around mid-shin level. Your depth may vary depending on your hip mobility.
- Make sure to keep the bar close to your body.
- Pause for a second, exhale, and use your hamstrings and glutes to bring yourself 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 bar is in your hands. Here are the main muscles trained by the RDL.
- Hamstrings: These are the major players during the eccentric phase (knee flexion) and help the glutes extend the hip at the top of the movement.
- Glutes: Almost all joint movements target the glutes through hip extension.
- Loins: 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 your upper back, the bar moves away from you, which is bad news for your lower back.
- Trapeze: In particular, the middle traps play the same role as the upper back in maintaining proper shoulder and spine positioning.
- Forearm : You can either grab it and rip it, or let the bar crash to the ground. The RDL strengthens your stance because you have to grip the bar for a while.
3 Benefits of Romanian Deadlift Exercise
The RDL is a solid choice as an accessory exercise to improve your conventional deadlift and for deadlift beginners. Here are 3 great benefits of performing the RDL.
- Better hypertrophy of the hamstrings and glutes: Since the bar never touches the floor and the knee is bent, the Romanian deadlift targets the hamstrings and glutes more than the regular deadlift. Constant tension on the hips and hamstrings can help increase your muscle mass and strength.
- Improved posterior strength: The increase in posterior strength is a huge benefit of performing RDLs. While you can’t load this as heavily as regular deadlifts, you will still be able to increase glute, back, and hamstring strength. Plus, it’s easier on the lower back due to less loading and increased engagement of the glutes and hamstrings.
- Crossover to other moves: The RDL is a pure hip hinge, and strengthening your posterior with the RDLs extends into a movement that uses the hinge as its base. Exercises like conventional deadlifts, snatches, cleans, and kettlebell swings will benefit from a stronger hinge. Additionally, by increasing strength and muscle in the hips and hamstrings, you’ll be better able to maintain form when going for near-maximum and 1RM lifts.
Common Romanian Deadlift Mistakes
While not as technical as the conventional floor deadlift, there are still a few points of form to watch out for when performing RDL. Here’s what to watch out for to ensure better form and safer traction.
- Keep the weight close: During the eccentric and concentric contraction, it is imperative to keep the weight close to your thighs. It’s safer for the lower back and it’s the shortest point from A to B.
- Not keeping it tight: Continuing from the previous point, a rounding of the lower or upper back is due to a lack of tension in the upper back and the back muscles. This results in the bar moving away from the body, which is a no-no. Chest up, shoulders down, squeezing an orange under the armpits are all external cues to keep your upper back and lats tight.
- Keep control : With floor deadlifts there is less emphasis on the eccentric contraction, but not with the RDL. You need to control the negative and positive parts of the lift for a safer lift and better results.
- Do not overextend the lower back: Some lifters tend to bend over and extend the lower back to the lockout and not use the glutes. Don’t do this unless you like lower back pain.
Romanian Deadlift Programming Suggestions
You have two options for programming the RDL. One is to program the RDL as an accessory lift to enhance your conventional or sumo deadlift. This usually involves performing it after your main lift for the day. But the day you do it is a matter of personal preference or which workout division you do.
You can schedule the RDL on upper body or full body days in a superset with another exercise that doesn’t require too much grip, hamstring, or back strength. For instance:
1A. Bar RDL 6 1o 12 reps
1B. Floor press with dumbbells 6 to 12 repetitions.
The RDL can be your primary strength move. Although you lift less weight than the deadlift from the floor, you can still load for strength. Muscle tension in your hips and hamstrings will more than compensate for the weight loss. It is best to couple the RDL with a mobility or sheathing exercise to ensure good technique and better recovery between sets. For instance
1A. RDL Bar 3 to 6 reps
1B. Half-kneeling Pallof Press 12 reps each side
Build muscle and strength with the Romanian deadlift exercise
- The muscle: 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps with moderate to heavy weight and 2 minutes rest between sets.
- Strength: 3-4 sets of 3-6 reps using a heavy load and resting about 3 minutes between sets.
Variations and Alternatives of Romanian Deadlift Exercises
As good as RDLs are, they’re not for everyone, but training the glutes and hamstrings hard, and heavy is almost non-negotiable. Here are 4 variations and alternatives to the RDL bar to bring baby back.