Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: January 31, 2022

Romanian deadlifts are a powerhouse exercise that should be a part of any leg-building routine. And they will even help you improve your conventional deadlift.

But this exercise can be intimidating at first. And even experienced lifters don’t always hit the target muscles properly.

With the Smith machine Romanian deadlift, you simplify the exercise and increase muscle activation. From beginner to advanced, this exercise has benefits for all!

Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift

What Is a Romanian Deadlift?

The Romanian deadlift or RDL is a posterior chain exercise. It’s like a traditional deadlift, except you bend more at the hips than the knees.

Usually, you do this exercise with a standard barbell. But the Smith machine Romanian deadlift uses a guided bar instead.

Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked

As a posterior chain movement, the Romanian deadlift works several muscle groups on the backside of your body, including your back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

However, the primary muscle groups targeted are the hamstrings and glutes.

Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked

Barbell vs Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift

The main difference between the barbell and Smith machine Romanian deadlift is how the bar moves.

The bar can move up/down, left/right, and front/back with the traditional barbell. However, the Smith machine limits the movement to up and down only.

Therefore, you don’t need to expend as much effort balancing the bar on the Smith machine.

Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift Benefits & Limitations

One benefit of the Smith machine is that it limits the degrees of freedom. And the Smith machine bar weight is less than an Olympic barbell, so it’s easier for beginners.

In addition, the stability of the Smith machine puts more of the load on the hamstrings and glutes, which can help to increase muscle size and strength.

Of course, the Smith machine is not without drawbacks. For example, it can be trickier to line up your body to ensure proper form.


  • Can start with less than 45 lbs of resistance
  • More accessible for beginners to learn the RDL movement
  • Puts more load on the larger muscles


  • Movement path is not as natural as free weights
  • Must position body properly since the bar doesn’t move in all directions

How To Do Romanian Deadlift on Smith Machine

Before beginning the exercise, step up to the bar so that it’s grazing your thighs. Then, with your feet shoulder-width apart, grasp the bar with an overhand grip just outside your thighs.

Stand up with your arms, legs, and back straight. From this starting position, bend at the hips and slowly lower the bar down the front of your legs.

As you lower the bar, bend your knees slightly while keeping your back straight. Once the bar passes just below your knees, squeeze your hamstrings and drive your hips forward.

Return to the starting position and repeat this movement for the desired number of reps.

To recap, here are the step-by-step directions:

  1. Stand in front of the bar with feet shoulder-width
  2. Grab the bar with an overhand grip just outside the thighs
  3. Stand with arms, legs, and back straight
  4. Push your hips back and bend your knees slightly to lower the bar
  5. Keep your back flat as you lower the bar just past your knees
  6. Squeeze your hamstrings and drive your hips forward to raise the bar
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps

Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift Form

As I mentioned already, one of the most critical steps to good form is getting set up correctly before the exercise.

First, adjust the Smith machine bar to a height of about 2 feet off the floor. It should sit above your knees but below your mid-thigh. Also, make sure the safety stops are down and out of the way.

Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift Setup
Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift Setup 2

You do not want the bar to be too far away from your legs, or you’ll put extra strain on your lower back. So make sure you stand close enough that the bar touches your thighs at the start.

Now, if you drew an imaginary line straight down, the bar should intersect the middle of your feet. Accordingly, it should pass just in front of your knees as you lower it from this position.

Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift Setup
Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift Form 2
Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift Form 3

Always think about maintaining a straight or “flat” back throughout the movement. And only go down until you feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings.

Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift Variations

So far, I’ve shown you one way to do the Smith machine Romanian deadlift. But other variations depend on equipment and foot placement.

Angled Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift

Some Smith machines have guide rails that are slightly angled instead of perfectly vertical. With the intent of replicating the natural movement path of free weights.

You can do RDLs on an angled Smith machine. But make sure you face the bar so that it travels at an angle toward you as you lower it.

Wide Stance Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift

Another way to vary the Romanian deadlift exercise is by changing the width of your feet. A stance wider than shoulder width involves more of the gluteus maximus muscles1.

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Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift Alternatives

While the Smith machine is a standard piece of equipment at most gyms, you may not have access to one. Or it might just be in use at the time when you want to do RDLs.

So here are some Smith machine Romanian deadlift alternative exercises.

Barbell Romanian Deadlift

The traditional barbell Romanian deadlift is still an excellent option for targeting hamstrings and glutes. In addition, building your strength on this exercise is a great way to improve your deadlift!

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

The dumbbell Romanian deadlift is a popular variation if you work out at home since you don’t need a bar or machine. Also, the dumbbells give you more freedom in range of motion since there is no bar to hit your thighs.

When using the DB RDL to target hamstrings, try elevating your toes on weight plates or a piece of wood. You will feel a lot more stretch on the back of your legs!

Stiff Leg Deadlift

Next, the stiff leg deadlift is a close cousin of the Romanian deadlift. Both are essentially a partial deadlift, but you keep your legs straighter during the SLDL.

As a result, you bend more at the hips and use your lower back muscles. So you can’t (and shouldn’t) use as much weight.

Good Mornings

The good morning exercise is basically the same movement as an RDL except you hold the bar on your shoulders. By moving the bar away from the pivot point, you make the exercise more challenging.

Again, you don’t need to use as much weight to get the same amount of muscle activation.

Smith Machine Good Mornings

Finally, if that Smith machine is open, you can do the good morning exercise on it. This variation is not a common one, but it’s less intimidating than the barbell good morning due to the guide rails and safety stops.

My YouTube channel has dozens of videos showing you how to do a variety of bodybuilding exercises. You’ll learn how to target and build specific muscle groups in 90 seconds or less. Click HERE to subscribe, or click on the button below!

More Hamstring Exercises

The Smith machine Romanian deadlift is an excellent addition to your hamstring and glute-focused leg days. And I’ve also shown you several other hip hinge movements you can use as alternatives.

But there is another type of hamstring exercise that involves hinging at the knees. These are called hamstring curls or leg curls.

One of the top exercises for isolating hamstrings is called the Nordic curl. And the best part is you don’t need any weights to do it!

Click the image or button below for my complete guide to the Nordic hamstring curl.

With this information, you’re now an expert on the Romanian deadlift. To become proficient in all things fitness and nutrition, check out some of my other popular articles below!

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By |January 31, 2022|Workouts|0 Comments
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