How To Perform the Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian Deadlift – according to an old story – got its name way back in 1990. Nico Vlad, a weightlifter from Romania, was demonstrating a movement. This was a cross between a stiff-legged deadlift and a standard Deadlift. Confusion was felt across the audience and someone shouted out “What is the movement called?”. “A Romanian Deadlift” replied (or made up by) the USA weightlifting coach.
Romanian Deadlifts or RDL’s are an awesome compound exercise. They build massive Hamstrings as well as work on secondary muscles such as the lower back and core. The Romanian Deadlift is like the standard barbell deadlift however it has these differences:
  1. The Romanian Deadlift works the hamstrings and glutes. The barbell Deadlift concentrates on the lower back with the hamstrings worked as secondary muscles.
  2. While doing the Romanian Deadlift, you would keep your legs slightly bent at the knees throughout the entire movement. With a Barbell Deadlift you would start off with bent legs and end with straight legs at the top of the movement.
  3. The Romanian Deadlift starts with a bar on a low rack of a squat rack. The movement starts with the bar slightly below your knees. A standard Barbell Deadlift starts with a loaded barbell on the floor instead of from a low rack.

What’s the difference between the Stiff-Legged deadlift and the Romanian Deadlift?


Stiff Leg-Deadlift

To be honest, there is not much difference between the two. The stiff-legged deadlift starts with the bar either on the floor or about an inch above the floor.The Romanian deadlift starts with the bar much higher and just below the knees.
Both movements end in the same position and for both – legs should be slightly bent at the knees from start to finish. The stiff-legged deadlift puts more tension on the glutes and hamstrings due to its increased range of motion.
Most people will struggle with this range of motion due to flexibility issues. You should be able to lift heavier weights with the Romanian Deadlift.
Compound exercises are a great way of increasing muscle engagement while working out. As the Romanian Deadlift is a compound exercise, it works the following:
Romanian Deadlift Start and Finish
Primary Muscles:
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Back – Especially the lower Back muscles
  • Traps
  • Forarms
Secondary Muscles:
  • Shoulders
  • Calves
  • Quads

What is the correct way to perform Romanian Deadlifts?

  1. Place a bar on a low rack of a squat rack. Start with a very light weight until you have the movement perfected.
  2. Starting position should be when the bar is above the middle of your feet. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
  3. You can use a mixed grip or a double overhand grip – whichever you feel more comfortable with. I have always used a double overhand grip for any deadlift exercise as I find a mixed grip a bit awkward. Grip the bar slightly more than shoulder width apart.
  4. Keep your core tight and slowly lift the bar while also keeping your legs slightly bent. Depending on the rack used you may need to take a step backwards. With your core tightened, lower the bar while keeping it close to your legs. Your butt will move backwards during the movement in a natural way.
  5. Lower the bar until you feel a good but not uncomfortable stretch in your hamstrings. Don’t try and lower the bar to the floor. Once you are unable to go any lower while still keeping your back from rounding, its time to start raising the bar.
  6. Push your hips forward while keeping your knees bent, core tight, and shoulders back. That’s all there is to it. One rep completed – well done.

Romanian Deadlift Variations:

There are many variations on this movement. Our two favourites are the Dumbell Romanian Deadlift and the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift.

Dumbell Romanian Deadlift:

As the name suggests, dumbbells would be used instead of barbells. You may choose to use dumbells as your gym or home gym may not have barbells or a squat rack. Sometimes when I have gone to gym at peak times, all the barbells are being used. There always seems to be enough dumbbells.
The movement is the same and has the advantage that you would use stabiliser muscles to make sure the dumbbells don’t drift from position. The disadvantage is you won’t be able to lift as much weight as you could with a barbell.

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift:

This is a much more difficult movement. You keep one leg extended backwards as you lower the weight. You would then alternate the movement between each leg as you do your sets. You would only be able to lift a much lighter weight when compared to the standard Romanian Deadlift. It is a great variation for practising balance.
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

How many reps and sets should I do for Romanian Deadlifts?

The topic of sets and rep ranges is always hotly contested. Some people swear by higher rep ranges and others by lower rep ranges. My preference is 6 reps for maximum muscle growth. Anything above that does not enable the tension required to build maximum muscle. Anything below 6 starts to put too much strain on the joints and increase the chance of injury.
When doing low rep sets I prefer a longer rest between each set of around 2 minutes. This allows me to give my max intensity for the next set. My suggestion would be as follows:
  • Set 1 – Warmup 20% or 1 rep max – 3 reps
  • Set 2 – Warmup 40% of 1 rep max – 3 reps
  • Set 3 – Warmup 60% of 1 rep max – 3 reps
  • Set 4 – Working Set 85% of 1 rep max – 6 reps
  • Set 5 – Working Set 85% of 1 rep max – 6 reps
  • Set 6 – Working Set 85% of 1 rep max – 6 reps
If you find that your grip strength is not strong enough to hold the weight and you are failing due to your grip as opposed to your hamstring strength then I would advise using straps.
Unlike the deadlift which enables you to rest your grip at the end of each rep, the Romanian Deadlift requires you to maintain tension in your grip throughout the movement. This is very tough to do with heavy weights.

Any Final thoughts?

Like any exercise, continuous progressive overload is key to success. If you go to the gym every week and perform the same exercises with the same weights and never push to increase sets, reps, or weight, your progress will remain stagnant. This also leads to lack of motivation.
Keep pushing hard and improving on what you do – you will be amazed at what you can achieve. The Romanian Deadlift is a great tool in your arsenal for getting in the best shape possible.
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