The Romanian deadlift is a variation of the deadlift that puts the main emphasis on the posterior chain muscles. It helps to build both the size and strength of hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors.
The Romanian deadlift exercise is in the training plan of nearly all bodybuilders as the most basic and effective move to pump the back of your body. As for the other athletes, it is often used as an accessory exercise to develop essential muscles for particular sports. For example, strong spine erectors are important for snatching and cleaning and hamstrings are crucial for fast running and jumping.
Another reason for the RDL popularity is that it doesn’t demand any specific equipment or machines. All you need is just a barbell and some plates which are accessible in literally any gym.
What muscles are involved
The Romanian deadlift exercise aims to develop the whole posterior chain. Athletes usually perform it to involve the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Additionally, it strengthens the quads, lats, abs, and stabilizers.
If you regularly perform the RDL, it also helps to improve your muscle control, flexibility, mobility, stability, and balance.
Romanian deadlift technique and phases
It takes some time and effort to learn how to do Romanian deadlift properly. This exercise may need a few workouts before you grasp all key points and start involving and feeling all target muscles.
In order to speed up this process, read this detailed guide on how to do rdls with barbell and try to follow all the steps precisely.
The starting position for the Romanian deadlift differs from the conventional variation. The exercise itself starts in the lockout position with the barbell in your hands at the thigh level. Use the hip-width stance and the shoulder-width grip.
The safest way to get to this position is to lift the bar off the racks at the same level or slightly lower. But if you don’t have such equipment, you can deadlift the bar in the traditional way and then start doing the RDL.
Starting the Romanian deadlift from the platform right away isn’t the best decision if you lack flexibility or don’t have enough experience. It is quite challenging to lift the bar off with your legs almost straight. In this case, you are very likely to round the back and get an injury.
At this point, you should fully concentrate on the move and target muscles in order to learn how to do rdls rather than the conventional deadlift.
Push your glutes back as if you want to touch something behind you. Try to focus on them and exclude your back just keeping a natural arch. Maintain a slight bend in your knees. You shouldn’t keep them completely straight or squat the way you do in the conventional deadlift.
Go down very slowly trying to feel every target muscle, especially the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. The most optimal point to stop descending and start pulling the bar is the mid-shin level. However, you should always mind your flexibility. If it doesn’t allow you to reach that point, make the range of motion shorter and vice versa.
As soon as you feel that your back is going round, stop lowering the bar and go up immediately. The main point of the RDL is feeling your posterior chain working whereas the range of motion doesn’t make any difference if you can’t stick to the proper technique.
Start extending your back to go back to the starting position. Keep your shoulders over the bar all the time. Maintain a slight knee bend and your back flat.
Stay focused on your hamstrings throughout the whole exercise. Squeeze your glutes when you are finishing the upward movement.
Don’t drive your hips forward in the last phase and don’t lean backward. Just reach the full extension and start lowering the bar again. At the top, don’t lock out your knees completely, keep them soft.
It is very easy to make some mistakes while doing the Romanian deadlift, especially if you are a novice athlete. If you feel any discomfort or think you are doing something wrong, you better ask a coach to have a look from the side.
But here are the most common mistakes that athletes tend to make while doing the RDL:
- Back rounding
It is even harder to keep your back flat in the RDL compared to the conventional deadlift. Since you can’t bend your knees significantly, you need incredible flexibility to lower the bar without this mistake.
Don’t try to go down too low at once. If you feel that your back is going round or your shoulders are tilting, stop a descending movement and go up.
- Lifting with your back
Focus on pushing your glutes backward and involving your hamstrings rather than reaching forward. Don’t lower or pull the bar with your back, it should be in a neutral position.
The RDL is mainly about concentrating and controlling target muscles so it may take some time to grasp all the mechanics and feel the proper tension.
- Too heavy weights
The RDL is not about heavy weights but rather muscle control and isolation. Moreover, it is really difficult in terms of mechanics.
If you lift too heavy weights, it becomes even harder to stick to the proper and safe technique. Use other exercises to check your peak strength and power and go for the RDL only to pump your hamstrings and glutes.
- Head tilt
Always keep your head and neck in a neutral position. Don’t tilt it either back or down. Just keep a straight line with the spine.
Many athletes make this mistake though it can be really dangerous for your neck. To avoid it, try to look in front of you rather than up or down.
- Straight legs
Don’t try to keep your legs straight in the Romanian deadlift. They should be slightly bent in the bottom position and soft at the top. Locking knees out might be dangerous for your joints.
If you seek some variety and challenge, try out these variations of the Romanian deadlift.
- Dumbbell Romanian deadlift
This variation is very similar to the barbell Romanian deadlift so even beginners can handle it successfully. The exercise is performed with dumbbells instead of the bar.
If you wonder how to do rdl for glutes, the dumbbell Romanian deadlift is a must-do exercise for you. Because of a different weight position, this option is even easier in terms of mechanics and allows you to target your glutes and hamstrings more specifically.
- Single-leg Romanian deadlift
The single-leg Romanian deadlift is a more advanced variation. You can use the barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells in one hand or both.
This exercise demands incredible balance and coordination. It also strengthens your stabilizers well. If you need such skills in your sport, performing this variation regularly will enhance them significantly.
- Deficit Romanian deadlift
The deficit Romanian deadlift is performed on the elevated platform. This variation is really challenging because of a longer range of motion so it is more suitable for advanced athletes.
It targets your lower back and develops flexibility and stability well. However, you should be especially careful with this variation in order to keep your back constantly flat. Don’t do it if you lack flexibility and round your back since it is extremely dangerous for your spine.
Olympic weightlifters can perform the Romanian deadlift within the transition period or off-season. Also, it can be occasionally included in the training plan during the preparatory period to add some variety and hit the posterior chain.
However, it isn’t the main exercise for weightlifters so don’t get carried away – there is no need to perform it too often. Several sets of 6-8 reps once in a few weeks will be enough to strengthen your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.