Romanian Deadlift: Muscles Worked & Technique

Romanian deadlift exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Romanian Deadlifts

Muscles worked in romanian deadlift

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Do Romanian Deadlifts

  • Lift a barbell similar to a regular deadlift, or unrack the bar from a rack to get in the default position: standing straight up with the bar hanging from your arms.
  • Inhale, brace your core slightly, lean forward by hinging in your hips. Keep your knees almost completely extended.
  • Lean forward as far as possible without rounding your back.
  • Reverse the movement and return to the default position. Exhale on the way up.
  • Take another breath, and repeat for reps.

Commentary

The Romanian deadlift is a variation of the deadlift, where you almost entirely have shifted the work to your posterior chain. The exercise resembles stiff-legged deadlifts, with the difference that Romanian deadlifts are done “from top to top”, while stiff-legged deadlifts are done “from floor to floor”. You don’t necessarily have to touch the floor with the bar in Romanian deadlifts (but it is OK if you do). If your mobility is excellent, you can stand on a plate or something similar while performing this exercise to increase the range of motion even further without hitting the floor.

Romanian Deadlift FAQ

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we get about the Romanian deadlift (RDL).

What’s the Difference between Romanian Deadlifts and Conventional Deadlifts?

Normal, or conventional, deadlifts begin with the barbell on the floor. You bend forward and pick it up by flexing both your hip, knee and ankle joints.

In the Romanian deadlift, you lock your knees at a slight bend (about 15°) and only flex your hip joint. In addition, the Romanian deadlift doesn’t necessarily have to begin and end with the barbell on the floor. You can reverse the motion before the bar hits the floor, and stand on a weight plate or a block if necessary.

By keeping your knees close to extended throughout the Romanian deadlift, your quadriceps are relieved from the load. Instead, the work is focused on your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.1 2 3

Romanian deadlift vs conventional deadlift
Comparison of the bottom position in the Romanian deadlift (left) vs. conventional deadlift (right).

What’s the Difference between Romanian Deadlifts and Stiff-Legged Deadlifts?

Stiff-legged deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts are very similar in technique, with the difference that stiff-legged deadlifts usually begin and end 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.

What are the Benefits of the Romanian Deadlift?

The Romanian deadlift is an effective exercise for targeting your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. It is a handy exercise for training those muscles when you don’t want to place additional stress on your knees or quadriceps.

What Are Some Common Variations of the Romanian Deadlift?

  • Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts. 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 Deadlifts. 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 Deadlifts. While challenging for your balance, this exercise 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.
  • Stiff-Legged Deadlifts. Finally, you can opt to do stiff-legged deadlifts instead. The main difference is that you begin and end with the barbell on the floor in each rep.

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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.