Romanian Deadlift Exercise Guide

How to do RDLs to Target Glutes and Hamstrings

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: April 17, 2024

The Romanian deadlift, or RDL, is an excellent exercise for the posterior chain. When executed correctly, it helps in developing the hamstrings and glutes. However, mastering the technique can be challenging since it is a compound exercise.

Incorrect execution can put a lot of stress on your lower back. Therefore, I will guide you on how to perform Romanian deadlifts correctly so that you can maximize the benefits of your workouts.

Romanian Deadlift for Glutes and Hamstrings

Benefits of the Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is one of my favorite leg day exercises because it effectively targets both the glutes and hamstrings in one exercise. You can also work up to really heavy weights, which is excellent for strength training with progressive overload.

Here are some of the other benefits of RDLs:

  • Builds lower body strength and muscle mass.
  • Improves posture and balance.
  • Helps to reduce the risk of injury by strengthening the muscles that support the spine.
  • Improves athletic performance in sports that require running, jumping, or explosive movements.
  • Can be performed with a variety of equipment, such as barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells.
  • Engages multiple muscle groups at once, making it a highly efficient exercise for those with limited time to work out.

The Romanian deadlift is an excellent exercise to add to your workout routine if you want to improve your strength, posture, and overall fitness level.

Romanian Deadlift GIF

How to do Romanian Deadlifts

To perform the barbell Romanian deadlift exercise, follow the steps below:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and the barbell on the floor in front of you.
  2. Bend at the hips and reach down to grab the barbell with an overhand grip, with your hands about shoulder-width apart.
  3. Lift the bar off the floor as if performing a traditional deadlift until you are standing with the bar in front of your thighs.
  4. From this starting position, push your hips back and bend your knees slightly to lower the bar straight down towards the floor, keeping your back straight.
  5. Lower the bar until it reaches just below your knees or until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
  6. Pause momentarily, then lift the bar back up by extending your hips forward and standing up straight.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Remember to use a weight you can lift with proper form and gradually build up to heavy loads as you become stronger and more comfortable with the exercise.
Here’s a short 60-second video where I demonstrate how to perform the barbell Romanian deadlift.

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Proper Romanian Deadlift Form

Here are some additional pointers to help you perfect your Romanian deadlift technique and perform the exercise safely.

  • Maintain a Flat Back: One of the most common mistakes I see with Romanian deadlifts is rounding your shoulders or hunching over the bar. So, focus on maintaining a neutral spine throughout the range of motion.
  • Keep the Bar Close: During the exercise, try not to let the bar travel too far forward, away from your body. Keeping the barbell close to your thighs and shins helps protect your lower back.
  • Use Straps If Grip Fails: If your grip strength gives out before your glutes and hamstrings, try using lifting straps to hold the bar. Here’s how to use lifting straps on a barbell.

The image shows how I maintain a neutral spine even at the bottom of the movement. You can also see the slight knee bend and the distance of the barbell from my shins.

Romanian Deadlift Form Tips

Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked

The Romanian deadlift is a hip hinge movement that primarily works the posterior chain muscles, which are the muscles on the back of your body, including the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

Additionally, the Romanian deadlift can work the upper back muscles, including the traps and rhomboids, which are required to stabilize the shoulder blades during the exercise. I’ve actually gotten sore traps from doing heavy Romanian deadlifts! But this isn’t likely if you use light weights.

Finally, RDLs also engage your core to help stabilize the upper body during the movement. Just don’t expect them to chisel out six-pack abs.

  • Primary Muscles: Hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae.
  • Secondary Muscles: Traps, rhomboids, abdominals.
Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked

Adding RDLs to Your Workout

As a personal trainer, I typically have my clients perform RDLs in their lower body workouts or on a leg day. However, you can also include RDLs in a total body workout or as part of a push-pull split.

Since RDLs are a compound movement, I often program them early in the workout, along with a quad-dominant exercise like squats. Then, follow them up with isolation movements like leg extensions and leg curls.

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RDL Variations

As I mentioned, there are several variations of the Romanian deadlift exercise using different equipment. While they all work similar muscle groups, each variation has key differences in mechanics and technique.

Therefore, I will walk you through how to perform these Romanian deadlift variations.

1. Barbell Romanian Deadlift

The most common RDL variation is done using a standard straight bar and is the one I demonstrated above. A heavy barbell is excellent for advanced lifters targeting muscle growth and strength.

However, it may not be as accessible to beginners. If you are just starting out, you could use a broomstick or PVC pipe to practice good form.

Barbell Romanian Deadlift

2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

The dumbbell Romanian deadlift offers more control over the movement path and range of motion as there is no bar that could hit your thighs during the exercise.

Another advantage of using dumbbells in this exercise is that it requires even more balance and coordination since you have to stabilize two weights instead of just one.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

3. Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift

A Smith machine consists of a barbell that moves up and down on a set of rails. It is commonly counterbalanced, making it lighter than a standard barbell.

One of the advantages of performing a Romanian deadlift on a Smith machine is that it guides the direction of movement, making it simpler for beginners. However, it can also limit your natural range of motion.

Additionally, it is crucial to place your feet correctly to ensure that the bar remains at an appropriate distance from your body throughout the exercise.

Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift

4. Landmine Romanian Deadlift

The landmine RDL is a variation that uses a landmine attachment on the end of a barbell. The main difference is that you hold the bar between your legs instead of across the front of them.

Additionally, you can hold the bar with clasped hands or use a handle attachment for a more comfortable grip.

Landmine Romanian Deadlift

5. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

A one-leg Romanian deadlift can be performed using a dumbbell, kettlebell, or landmine. The technique is similar to a standard RDL, but you bend forward on a single leg at a time.

I usually recommend doing several repetitions before switching to the other leg. One disadvantage is that alternating legs means the exercise takes twice as long as other variations.

However, the single-leg RDL is particularly useful for working on the stabilizers in the hips, hamstrings, and glutes. It is also suitable for developing balance and coordination.

Alternatives to Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is one of several exercises that use the hip hinge movement pattern. Here are some other exercises that you can use along with or as a replacement for RDLs.

  • Conventional Deadlift: Starts from the floor and uses a larger range of motion.
  • Stiff-Legged Deadlift: Uses very little knee bend and more hip bend.
  • Good Mornings: Places the bar on your shoulders instead of in front of the body.
  • Back Extension: Uses a glute-ham developer to isolate hip extension.

​I have also written more detailed guides comparing Romanian deadlifts to these variations below.

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift

The main differences between the Romanian and regular deadlifts are the starting position and the range of motion. Additionally, each exercise focuses on the opposite phase of the movement and requires different body mechanics.

Learn more about Romanian Deadlift vs Conventional Deadlift Differences.

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift Body Mechanics

Romanian Deadlift vs. Stiff-Leg Deadlift

The main difference between the Romanian deadlift and stiff leg deadlift is the amount of knee bend. Moreover, the varying degrees of knee bend affect the range of motion and muscles worked in each exercise.

Learn more about Romanian Deadlift vs Stiff Leg Deadlift muscle activation.

Romanian Deadlift vs Stiff Leg Deadlift

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By |April 17, 2024|Workouts|0 Comments
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