You're going to need your UPPPER Lifting Belt and Lifting Straps because we're going to show you how to master the Romanian deadlift with proper form and technique so you can start hitting new personal records while minimizing your risk of injury!
If you want to strengthen your lower body, especially the glutes, then your training program should include a lot more than just deadlifts, squats, and hip thrust. In fact, it should include a variety of lower body exercises that target multiple muscle groups. Luckily, there are variations of popular compound exercises that help to challenge your muscles in different ways to help promote better muscle growth. Take, for example, the conventional deadlift, a weightlifting favorite due to its ability to recruit various muscles in the lower and upper body at once. Well, it has a great variation that helps zone in on the muscles found on your entire backside, to be more exact, your posterior chain! So, if you want to improve strength and build muscle in your hamstrings, glutes, and maximize your leg day then start including Romanian deadlifts (also known as a stiff-leg deadlift) into your training routine.
This deadlift variation is one every lifter should be doing, whether it's with a heavy barbell or not! A barbell is the most effective, and simplest way to do RDL's, but not the only way. So, we'll be giving you all the info on how to do a Romanian deadlift with a barbell, but also give you a list of alternative exercises for those who can't perform it with one. Let's get started so you can start getting those lower body gains!
The benefits of the Romanian deadlift are endless, but the first one, and the main reason lifters should perform this exercise is because of how many muscle groups it targets at one time. RDL's engage various muscles in the lower and upper body, which include, hamstrings, glutes, core, upper back, shoulders, and forearms. This helps to build a strong connection between your upper and lower body because your body is forced to maintain alignment of your hips and shoulders throughout the entire movement. So, it is mainly known for being a leg exercise that helps grow the glutes, but as you can see, it can help you develop stability and strength in other important areas. An added benefit is that unlike other lower body compound exercises (like lunges and squats) that recruit the quadriceps more, RDL focuses primarily on the hamstrings. So, if you do a lot of lunges and other quad-focused exercises, the Romanian deadlift can help correct any imbalances you may have developed.
Another benefit that you may not have considered, is that it can help improve your posture! Since this move helps strengthen your entire posterior chain which includes your back and shoulders it naturally helps to bring your shoulders down because it helps to build strength in your lats (upper back) which helps anchor your shoulders back and down. It's also a great exercise that forces lifters to "brace" or "engage" their core, many have trouble activating this muscle group, but doing so is important for heavy lifting because it helps to prevent your low back from rounding.
How to do a Romanian Deadlift
Before we dive in, RDL's can be straining on the lower back due to the movement pattern known as the hip hinge. So, if you're completely new to this exercise practice the hip hinge movement using your body weight, a long resistance band, or extremely light dumbbells. Disclaimer over, now returning to your regularly scheduled reading...
The Romanian deadlift is a great exercise to practice with any type of weight or equipment. Whether you're using a Smith Machine, dumbbells, barbell, or a kettlebell, you're still going to be getting results from practicing the movement. We're going to be giving instructions using a barbell, but the same directions apply with any type of weight you plan to use!
Here's how to do a Romanian deadlift in 5 simple steps:
Step 1 - The Set-Up
Position the barbell on the floor and load it with the appropriate amount of weight that fits your fitness level. Stand in front of the bar with your feet hip-width apart and with a slight bend in your knees, the bar should be over your shoes when you look straight down.
Before even hinging to grab the bar, make sure that your torso is upright and your shoulder blades are dropped down to help minimize the strain in the neck.
Step 2 - Let the hinging begin
Once you're ready, inhale and press your hips back sp that your hips are hinging. Make sure to keep your back straight as your torso naturally begins to lean toward the floor. Grip the bar with hands shoulder-width apart making sure your shoulders are still back and down and core engaged. Make sure that your neck is aligned with the rest of your back, so don't crank your head to look up. Instead, keep looking down and slightly ahead of you to avoid your back from hyperextending.
Step 3 - Begin to lift
Tighten your core, glutes, and hamstrings. At this point, you should feel the tension developing in the hamstring and across the back, this means you're ready to lift!
Drive your feet into the ground, keeping your weight back in your heels while simultaneously pushing through the toes, and using your hips and hamstrings to lift the weight up to your upper thighs or to about knee height.
Step 4 - Lockout at the top
To get the full benefits of RDLs, aim to achieve full hip extension! So, at the top of the movement contract your upper back, core, and glutes to lock out your hips and reach full extension.
Step 5 - Repeat the movement
After your first rep, repeat the movement! But, as you lower the weight keep the bar close to your body and control your movement. Don't just drop the weight as fast as possible, go slow and feel your muscles work as the weight goes down! Depending on your flexibility, and how heavy your lifting, lower the weight somewhere between your knees and toes while maintaining a flat back.
Now, in terms of how many reps and sets to do, it comes down to your fitness goals and what you're training! If you're training to build strength then focus on lifting heavy for fewer reps. If you want to build muscle and focusing on hypertrophy training then pick a moderate weight for 10-15 reps.
Tips to improve form and performance
Romanian deadlifts seem simple enough, but doing them with proper form and technique is crucial to maximize results and reduce your risk of injury. So to further help you master your RDL's, here are a few tips to help improve your form and exercise performance:
Keep back flat: To avoid rounding of the back, be careful about how far you hinge. The key is to not go past 90 degrees. so stopping the movement at a flat back and torso parallel to the floor. But don't stop too early either, you want to go through the full range of motion to really work your muscles!
Maintain a neutral spine: A common mistake that lifters make when deadlifting is cranking their neck up as they lift a heavy weight. Do not do this when performing RDL's (or any exercise)! This can cause a strain on your neck, so to prevent that, focus your gaze about two feet in front of you throughout the entire movement. Basically, you want to keep your neck aligned with your body so you're forming a straight line.
Split your leg workout in two different sessions: Training splits are a great way to reduce your risk of an overuse injury, but why stop at an upper/lower body split? Consider splitting your leg days across two to three different sessions to help maximize your performance and results! Do quadricep-focused exercises on one day and focus on hamstring and glute exercises on the other. With at least 1-2 days of rest in between to avoid putting excessive stress on your muscles and joints in the lower body.
Use lifting gear: Lifting gear like lifting straps and lifting belts can give you the support you need to go heavier on your reps. If you want to maximize your results, heavy sets are key, but there is a risk of injury to your lower back or other muscles. To ensure you're lifting as safely as possible consider using lifting straps and a lifting belt on your really heavy sets - and in case you need some, we have awesome cute lifting gear that helps maximize your heavy lifting days in style! Learn more about our new Lifting Gear Collection, plus how to use it!
Romanian Deadlift alternatives and variations
For those who may not be able to do a barbell Romanian deadlift quite yet, or ever due to lower back issues, here are the best RDL alternatives:
- Dumbbell split leg Romanian Deadlift:
For those who can't use a barbell, stick with dumbbells! They're just as effective, and less straining on your lower back. Instead of only doing dumbbell Romanian deadlifts, include this split leg variation to spice things up and give your legs a different challenge!
This variation, also known as a staggered stance deadlift, helps to isolate the leading leg while adding a challenge to your balance.
How to do it: Stand with feet hip-width apart with a dumbbell by each foot. Place one foot a foot length in front of the other so your stance is staggered. Hinge at your hips and bend your knees to lower your body. Grab each weight with your arms straight. Push your butt far back and keep your back flat. Your torso should be almost parallel to the floor. Keeping your core tight, push through your heels to stand up straight. Keep the weights close to your shins as you pull up. Pause at the top and squeeze your butt, then slowly lower the weight back to the floor.
- Single-leg Romanian deadlift with dumbbells:
This is a unilateral version of Romanian deadlifts, meaning it forces you to deadlift with one leg, thus helping improve your balance, coordination, and unilateral muscular development. This can help fix any muscular imbalances that you may have.
This variation is similar to the dumbbell split leg version, except it adds the challenge of having to balance the movement on one leg. So, first, master the split leg variation and then attempt the single-leg variation!
How to do it: Hold onto a dumbbell with your left hand and stand with your weight on your right leg. Keep the same form techniques in mine, so shoulders back and down, core, glutes, and hamstrings are tight and engaged. Press your right foot firmly on the ground, maintain a slight bend in the right knee, and begin to hinge your body forward at the hip as you lift your extended left leg behind you. Keep your glutes and core tight to help maintain your balance, and stop the movement once your body is parallel to the floor. Pressing through your right foot, move your hip forward to go back to the starting position.
For those looking for a good Romanian deadlift alternative that targets nearly all the same muscles, Good Mornings are your go-to exercise! This exercise also requires the use of a barbell, but the placement of it is on their back which places more of an emphasis on the upper and lower back. It forces you to maintain a rigid, flat back, so if you have trouble doing that with RDL's, practice this exercise to help. Plus, it's typically done with lighter loads so the movement won't be as heavy on your back!
How to do it: Set up is similar to a back squat with a stance between hip- and shoulder-width. Place the bar across your back in the high- or low-bar position. Grip the bar tightly, pull the bar into your body, take a deep breath in, and tighten your core. Break at your hips to initiate the movement. Continue pushing your hips back until your torso is about 15 degrees above parallel. Your shins should remain vertical, and your knees should be slightly bent at the bottom of the movement. Push your hips forward to drive up to the starting position. Exhale at the top of the movement.
Now you have everything you need to get start implementing this deadlift exercise into your strength training routine, but with the best technique possible! Follow our simple five steps and tips to help you achieve a nearly perfect Romanian deadlift that won't strain or hurt your back, only get you massive lower body gains. And don't forget to use UPPPER Lifting Gear to help you hit personal records 😉