- The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is an exercise developed by Romanian weightlifter Nicu Vlad and his coach Dragomir Cioroslan to strengthen the back for the clean and jerk.
- RDLs mainly target the hamstrings, which are crucial for maintaining knee joint stability and proper positioning of the hip and torso.
- RDLs also work secondary muscles such as the abs, forearms, glutes, lats, lower back, traps, and upper back.
- RDLs are part of the posterior chain, a collection of muscles located at the back of the body that spans from the upper back down to the calf muscles.
- Weakness in the upper body muscles of the posterior chain can lead to various back problems.
- RDLs differ from traditional deadlifts in that they start from a standing position and target the glutes and hamstrings more extensively.
- Incorporating RDLs in your workout routine can help improve your posture and reduce the risk of back pain.
- Proper technique is essential when performing RDLs to avoid injury and maximize results.
- Balance quadriceps and hamstring development to reduce the risk of injury to both the knee joint and the hamstrings themselves.
The Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
In 1990, the Romanian weightlifter Nicu Vlad and his coach Dragomir Cioroslan were invited to the US to demonstrate a few of their training techniques.
Nicu first held a Q & A session with American lifters, discussing the intricacies of weightlifting before proceeding to train. His exceptional strength was evident when he clean and jerked over 215 kilos with ease.
However, it was an exercise he performed after the main lift that caught the attention of the Americans. Loading 250 kilos onto the bar, Nicu executed several sets of triples, which resembled a mix of a stiff-legged deadlift and a conventional deadlift.
The US lifters were curious about the exercise and Nicu explained that he and his coach developed it to strengthen his back for the clean and jerk.
When asked what it was called, no one knew, so the US trainer, Jim Schmitz, proposed that it be named the Romanian deadlift as a tribute to Nicu and Dragomir.
Schmitz shared the lift’s potential with Milo, a strength-based sports journal, and it gained widespread publicity, leading to its adoption in gyms worldwide within two decades.
Continue below and learn more about this exercise and why you should absolutely incorporate Romanian Deadlifts in your workout routine.
Nicu Vlad is the most famous name in Romanian weightlifting ©Getty Images
Romanian Deadlifts Muscles Worked & Benefits
Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs) is a hip hinge exercise mainly targeting the hamstrings.
Hamstring muscles are skeletal and voluntary, this means you control how they move and work. They are located in the back of the thigh, starting at your hip and inserting to the knee.
The hamstring muscle group consists of three primary muscles. Among them, the biceps femoris is a sizable, elongated muscle positioned at the rear of the thigh, which comprises a lengthy and a short head. The semitendinosus is situated at the inner and back portion of the thigh, while the semimembranosus is the innermost muscle in the hamstring group.
Together, the hamstrings are made up of three muscles that are involved in various leg movements such as walking, climbing stairs, doing squats, and more.
All athletes running or sprinting gotta treat their hamstrings with care because they’re more likely to get hurt when suddenly stopping, slowing down, or switching directions.
Similarly, extending your leg while running can also overstretch these muscles, resulting in what’s commonly known as a “pulled hamstring.”
The hamstrings are responsible for:
- Bending the knee joint.
- Extending the hip joint.
- Rotating the hip joint.
Having well-developed hamstrings is crucial for maintaining knee joint stability and proper positioning of the hip and torso.
Conversely, overdeveloped quadriceps with insufficient hamstring development can significantly increase the risk of injury to both the knee joint and the hamstrings themselves.
The posterior chain
The “posterior chain” is a group of muscles located at the back of the body, starting from the upper back all the way down to the calf muscles.
Weakness in the upper body muscles of the posterior chain, responsible for pulling and extending the torso and arms, can lead to various back problems. Symptoms such as pain, discomfort, fatigue, and a rounded back may indicate a weak posterior chain.
When the glute muscles are weak, it can cause the opposite hip to drop during the gait cycle – the duration when the foot is in contact with the ground. This, in turn, may lead to increased lower back and hip pain while walking or running.
While the primary function of the glute muscles is to stabilize and extend the hip, many individuals tend to concentrate on the muscles of the anterior chain – such as the abs and quads – during their training.
A weak posterior chain is very common these days as our lifestyle frequently forces us to neglect this muscle chain and finally, we pay the price in the form of bad posture and/or back pain.
Increasing posterior strength should be at the top of the list of a person who is looking to cure back or posture issues through resistance training.
Deadlifts – no matter in which form – are a versatile movement that greatly helps in achieving the goal of a strong and healthy back.
Secondary Muscles Worked
Not only does the Romanian Deadlift stress our hamstrings, but it also works a number of secondary muscles – “secondary” in the sense of RDLs.
To perform the Romanian deadlift with proper technique, you have to also engage these muscles :
- Lower Back
- Upper Back
So, you see – it´s not just about “picking up some weight”! Romanian Deadlifts are in fact an exercise that nearly works your whole body. Just like the traditional deadlift, RDLs will also have very beneficial effects for you when done correctly.
Romanian Deadlift vs. Conventional Deadlifts
Unlike the conventional deadlift, which starts from a bottom position and primarily engages the quads and mid-back, the Romanian deadlift begins from a standing position and targets the glutes and hamstrings more extensively.
Although you can lift heavier weights with a traditional deadlift, the Romanian deadlift is a valuable exercise for strengthening the posterior chain.
In a traditional deadlift, you also see much more knee flexion and movement in the legs overall.
I would not call the Romanian Deadlift a “deadlift variation” – it rather is an exercise on its own with a different movement pattern and different muscle groups as its target.
In general, we should refrain from consolidating the deadlift, Romanian deadlifts, and also the sumo deadlift into the “deadlift main category”.
Each one is an exercise with its own unique purpose.
Proper execution of the standard (not Romanian!) deadlift
Romanian Deadlift vs. Good Mornings
In terms of barbell placement, the good morning and the Romanian deadlift differ. For the good morning, the barbell is positioned similarly to a back squat behind your neck.
In contrast, for the Romanian deadlift, the barbell is held with a deadlift grip in front of your body, and the arms are extended while standing.
Although both deadlifts and good mornings work the posterior chain of the body, they activate the muscles differently.
Good mornings focus more on the upper posterior chain, whereas the different deadlift exercises target more of the lower posterior chain.
Romanian Deadlift vs. Stiff Leg Deadlift
The stiff-leg deadlift involves maintaining almost fully extended legs while performing the movement.
In contrast, conventional deadlifts entail a greater degree of knee bending, particularly at the starting position. The disparity is most noticeable during the initial stance of the normal deadlift.
On the other hand, the Romanian Deadlift begins from a standing position and involves a hip hinge motion that does not involve touching the ground.
In contrast, the stiff-leg deadlift starts from the ground and follows the same movement pattern as the regular deadlift, with the only difference being that the legs remain rigid throughout the exercise.
Romanian Deadlift Form & Technique
Proper Form - How To
- RDLs starting position is an upright standing position with the barbell in front of the body. To achieve this position, you could either pick the weight up from the ground by performing one standard deadlift, or you could place the weight at about waist height in a rack to start from there.
- Hold the bar with a closed pronated grip at about shoulder width just as you would for a normal deadlift.
- Place your feet about hip-width apart with your toes pointing straight ahead.
- Add a slight bend to your knees and keep your knees only slightly bent throughout the whole exercise. There will be no further movement in your legs when performing Romanian Deadlifts.
- Begin the lowering phase by moving your hip back – just as if you would close a door with your butt while holding your groceries.
- Keep a neutral spine all the time by pushing your chest out, engaging your lats, your core, and your glutes.
- Your shoulders stay slightly in front or right above the bar during the exercise.
- Keep the barbell as close to your body as possible at all times while lowering the weight. Try to stay in touch with the barbell while it moves down and back up.
- Make sure to hold a stable stance and keep the weight centered in your mid-foot.
- You have reached the lowest point when you are no longer able to keep a neutral spine. At that point, you should also feel your hamstrings the most.
- Now begin with your hip extension and start bringing the bar back up.
- As your torso reaches its vertical position, move the hip forward and bring your shoulders back.
RDLs - Points of Performance
- Overhead bar grip shoulder width apart
- Feet hip-width apart, toes pointing straight ahead
- RDLs start in the top position
- Knees slightly bent – no change during the exercise
- Start with moving hips back and shoulders forward
- Shoulders stay slightly ahead or over the bar
- Stable stand – weight rests midfoot
- Neutral spine
- Barbell stays close to the body at all times
- Lowest point is reached once a neutral spine can not be maintained anymore
- Finish the movement with full hip extension and shoulders back
Common Romanian Deadlift Mistakes
- Feet either too close or too far apart
- Rounded back – in fact in the very beginning, way back in the days, deadlifts were performed with a rounded back. Only later was the straight back considered to be the correct way to perform deadlifts.
- Bar too far away from the body
- Knees bent too much, or not bent enough
- Not moving the hip back when initiating the exercise
- Shoulders too far in front of the bar
- Overextension of the torso in the top (vertical) position
The Right Grip for RDLs
The right grip for RDLs is kind of an everlasting source for discussions among athletes.
You might have seen people using the mixed grip on any deadlift exercise they do. which might be ok for the standard deadlift.
Personally, I get the feeling of an uneven weight distribution when using the mixed grip on RDLs.
Additionally, I am convinced that this exercise is meant to be executed with a standard pronated grip on the bar. But that is just me…
However, there are in fact no strict rules as to which grip is the absolute correct one for Romanian Deadlifts.
I have also had a conversation with a fellow athlete who uses lifter straps on any deadlift exercise he does. I know for sure that a lack of grip strength is not his issue.
His reason for using straps is simply due to the fact that he believes that a tight grip and the resulting close connection to the bar is a basic “must-have” on any heavy deadlifting exercise. Admittedly he does have a point.
But you see – some like a standard grip, others like a mixed grip, some like to use straps… and there is no right or wrong in place. So make your choice.
Mixed grip on a deadlift
Snatch Grip RDLs
This variation of the Romanian Deadlift is an interesting one for anybody who has to fix an athlete´s posture and/or hip hinge issues (coaches, trainers, physiotherapists)
There is no need for me to flood you with a lengthy paragraph about the benefits and the theory behind the snatch grip RDL – if you are interested in learning about what this Romanian Deadlift variation can do for you or your athletes, then check out this excellent video by Zac Cupples explaining the snatch grip RDL in every detail:
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
The single-leg Romanian deadlift (single-leg RDL) involves balancing on one leg, hinging at the hips, lowering your torso until it’s nearly parallel to the ground, and then reversing the motion to return to the starting position.
It can be performed without any weight, or with a dumbbell or kettlebell.
This vertical hip-hinge exercise is a unilateral lower-body workout that can enhance the health of your hamstrings and glutes, improve hip joint function, and reinforce proper hamstring engagement.
These benefits can ultimately contribute to improved bilateral strength and overall health.
During the exercise, you stand on one leg and extend your free arm and leg for balance as you bend forward. This unilateral movement promotes greater mobility and balance while still effectively working all of your posterior chain muscles.
The added balance component, created by shifting all of the weight onto one leg, further challenges the posterior chain muscles, forcing them to work harder to maintain stability.
Romanian Deadlifts with Dumbbells or Kettlebells
Basically, there is no change in the movement pattern when doing RDLs with dumbbells or kettlebells compared to RDLs with a barbell.
However, dumbbell or kettlebell RDLs do provide a slight advantage for beginners or people who are very restricted in their range of motion in their upper body, shoulders, or wrists.
A barbell RDL is quite restrictive due to the barbell’s fixed shape.
As a coach, if you have an athlete who struggles with complying with all the points of performance of the RDL, you might shift to dumbbells or kettlebells.
By doing so, grip width, and bar distance from the body together with mobility issues can be neglected (for now) and the athlete can concentrate on the proper hip-hinge movement, knee bend, and spine position.
Once all these points of performance are executed satisfactorily, add the barbell again.
In conclusion, the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is a highly effective exercise that targets the hamstrings, glutes, and entire posterior chain.
Incorporating RDLs into your workout routine can improve your posture, back strength, and reduce the risk of injury.
Unlike the conventional deadlift, RDLs engage the glutes and hamstrings more extensively, making them an excellent exercise for strengthening the complete posterior chain.
The RDL is a versatile movement that engages various muscles, including the abs, forearms, lats, calves, and upper back. So, if you want to improve your overall strength and stability, give the Romanian Deadlift a try.