Romanian Deadlift: Muscles Worked & Proper Form

Romanian deadlift

Muscles Worked in Romanian Deadlifts

Muscles worked in romanian deadlift

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Do Romanian Deadlifts

  1. Get into the starting position by deadlifting a barbell off the floor, or by unracking it from a barbell rack.
  2. Inhale, brace your core slightly, and lean forward by hinging in your hips. Keep your knees almost completely extended.
  3. Lean forward as far as possible without rounding your back. You don’t have to touch the barbell to the floor, although it is OK if you do.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position. Exhale on the way up.
  5. Take another breath, and repeat for reps.

Note: you can stand on an elevation (for example a weight plate) if you want to extend the range of motion without hitting the floor.

Text and graphics from the StrengthLog app.

What is The Romanian Deadlift?

The Romanian deadlift (or RDL) is a classic barbell exercise for strengthening your posterior chain muscles, such as your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

It is usually performed with a barbell, but dumbbells and kettlebells are common variations.

Because the Romanian deadlift is a compound exercise that works several muscle groups at the same time, it can be a time-efficient addition to many training programs.

Romanian Deadlifts vs. Deadlifts

There are two main differences between the Romanian deadlift and the traditional deadlift.

  1. From top to top. The Romanian deadlift starts and stops in a upright, standing position. The standard deadlift starts and stops at the floor.
  2. Knees are locked. In the Romanian deadlift, you lock your knees at a slight bend (about 15°) and only bend at your hip.

By keeping your knees almost completely extended throughout the exercise, you shift almost all of the work to the muscles on the back of your body while unloading your quadriceps.1 2 3

Romanian deadlift vs conventional deadlift
Comparison of the bottom position in the Romanian deadlift (left) vs. conventional deadlift (right). Note that the barbell doesn’t have to touch the floor in the Romanian deadlift.

Romanian Deadlifts Strength Standards

Romanian Deadlift to Deadlift Strength Ratio

Typically, men and women can lift about 15–25% more weight in the regular deadlift compared to the Romanian deadlift.

This is because the standard deadlift has a more effective lifting technique, that better utilizes your quadriceps while shortening the moment arm of your hips and back.

Romanian Deadlifts vs. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts

The Romanian deadlift and the stiff-legged deadlift are very similar in technique, with the main difference that the stiff-leg deadlift usually starts and stops with the barbell on the floor.

In the Romanian deadlift, this is not necessary; you can reverse the rep before you hit the floor, and only put the bar back on the floor (or in a rack) when your set is finished.

Benefits of Romanian Deadlifts

The Romanian deadlift is a great exercise, with many benefits.

  • Strengthens and develops your posterior chain. Your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back are all worked hard in this exercise. If you want to grow these muscle groups bigger and stronger, the Romanian deadlift is a great tool.
  • Improve your squat and deadlift. Strong hip extensors are important for both the squat and the deadlift, and the Romanian deadlift thus carryover to these lifts.
  • Easy on the knees. Because the Romanian deadlift is primarily a hip hinge movement, it offers a knee-friendly way to improve your hip and back strength, without adding to the training volume of your knees.

Romanian Deadlift Variations

  • Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift. Some people prefer using dumbbells in this exercise instead of a bar. You might find it more comfortable, or maybe it’s the only piece of equipment you’ve got access to.
  • Deficit Romanian Deadlift. If your mobility is excellent, you might want to stand on a plate or a block when performing the Romanian deadlift, so that you can go deeper without hitting the floor.
  • Romanian Deadlifts from Blocks. If your mobility is not as great, or you want to avoid reversing a heavy weight in mid-air, you can place the bar on a pair of lifting blocks, and use them to help stop the downward motion.
  • Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift. While challenging for your balance, this deadlift variation can help you increase your coordination and control of your hips and leg muscles. At the same time, it can help you address and even out any side-to-side strength imbalances.
  • Smith-Machine Romanian Deadlift. By doing the Romanian deadlift in the smith-machine, you add stability to the exercise, and can focus on working your muscles instead of keeping the balance.

Read more: Free Weights vs. Machines – Which Should You Train With?

Romanian Deadlift Alternatives

If you can’t or want to do the Romanian deadlift but still work the same or similar muscles, here are some alternatives.

Good Mornings

The good morning is a hip hinge just like the Romanian deadlift, and works similar muscles.4

The biggest difference is that instead of holding the bar in your hands, you’ve placed it over your shoulders. This makes the good morning a bit more like the squat (at least the hip extending part of a squat), which might make this exercise a better choice if the squat is what you want to improve.

Stiff-Legged Deadlift

The stiff-leg deadlift is very similar to the Romanian deadlift, with the main difference being that you begin and end with the barbell on the floor in each rep.

Because you reset at the floor between each rep in the stiff-leg deadlift, you are probably going to be able to lift slightly heavier loads. On the contrary, because you maintain tension in your muscles throughout the Romanian deadlift, it might be slightly better for muscle growth.

Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing is another exercise that works similar muscles as the Romanian deadlift. Typically, you want to use light weights in this exercise and go for a higher number of reps.

Barbell Hip Thrust

The barbell hip thrust is a great alternative if you want to work your glutes, but not put as much load on your lower back as you do in the Romanian deadlift.

Seated Leg Curl

If you want to avoid loading your back and glutes altogether, you can isolate your hamstrings with the seated leg curl.

Back Extension

Finally, the back extension is an effective exercise for isolating your erector spinae, without using heavy loads.

Romanian Deadlift FAQ

Here are quick answers to some of the most common questions about the Romanian deadlift.

Does Romanian Deadlift Work Back or Legs?

The Romanian deadlift works both your back and legs. Primarily your low back, your glutes, and your hamstrings which are on the back of your thighs.

Do Romanian Deadlifts Build Muscle?

Yes, the Romanian deadlift is an effective exercise for building muscle in your back and lower body. The primary muscles worked in the Romanian deadlift are your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. The secondary muscles worked in the Romanian deadlift are your adductors, trapezius, and grip.

Should You Go Heavy on Romanian Deadlifts?

How heavy you should go in the Romanian deadlift depends on your goal. For strength gains, the low-to-medium rep range of about 3–8 reps is a good idea. Just make sure you ease into heavy low-rep training gradually. For muscle hypertrophy, we generally recommend a medium rep range in the Romanian deadlift: about 8–15 reps.

In general, the Romanian deadlift seems to lend itself best to medium rep ranges; not too heavy, not too light.

Read our article on rep ranges to learn more:

How Many Reps to Build Muscle vs. Strength?

Why Does My Back Hurt after Romanian Deadlifts?

There are several reasons why your back might hurt after doing Romanian deadlifts, the two most likely being:

  1. Doing too much too soon. Ease up on the training volume, and give yourself and your back time to adapt to the exercise.
  2. Technique. It is generally recommended that you keep your spine in a neutral position (“straight”) when performing the Romanian deadlift. Try to do that, and also experiment with bracing your core muscles when lifting.

If your back pain is causing you severe discomfort or doesn’t go away after a few days or up to a week of rest, we recommend you get a diagnosis from a professional.

Does Romanian Deadlifts Improve the Squat?

The Romanian deadlift strengthens your back and hip extensors, both of which are prime movers in the squat. Therefore, getting stronger in the Romanian deadlift is likely to help you improve your squat.

Should I Use Lifting Straps in the Romanian Deadlift?

If you find that your grip strength is limiting your performance in the Romanian deadlift, using a pair of lifting straps can be a good idea. It all comes down to your reason for doing the exercise: is it to work your grip, your back and hips, or a little bit of both?


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References

  1. J Exerc Sci Fit. 2018 Dec; 16(3): 87–93. An electromyographic and kinetic comparison of conventional and Romanian deadlifts.
  2. J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Oct;33(10):2595-2601. Comparison Between Back Squat, Romanian Deadlift, and Barbell Hip Thrust for Leg and Hip Muscle Activities During Hip Extension.
  3. PLoS One. 2020 Feb 27;15(2):e0229507. Electromyographic activity in deadlift exercise and its variants. A systematic review.
  4. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jun;28(6):1573-80. Muscle activation during various hamstring exercises.