Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sam Kang. Product Credits: POPSUGAR 8lb Dumbbells, Halara Sports Bra, Lululemon Leggings, Avre Sneakers.
Tired of doing traditional deadlifts? Are you looking to strengthen your hamstrings? Do you like the sound of the acronym RDL? If so, you’ll love Romanian deadlifts. This move is a great way to break up the boredom of traditional deadlifts, focus more attention on your hamstrings, and improve hip hinge movement. Plus, they’re beginner-friendly and you can do them at home with dumbbells or kettlebells.
We spoke with Grace Taylor PT, DPT at H&D Park Slope in New York City to learn how to do a Romanian deadlift correctly, the difference between Romanian deadlifts and traditional deadlifts, and tips on variations to try.
Romanian deadlift: muscles worked and benefits
Romanian deadlifts target the entire posterior chain (the muscles along the back of the body), but especially the hamstrings (the muscles along the back of the thighs) and the glutes. They also activate the core muscles and erector spinae (the muscles that run along the vertebrae) to protect the lower spine.
A huge benefit of the Romanian deadlift (sometimes called the RDL) is that it encourages hip-hinge movement while maintaining a neutral spine, a movement pattern many people don’t know how to do. Learning this movement correctly can help you get the most out of other exercises that rely on the hip hinge like glute bridges or hip thrusts, and also help you optimize your movements during other daily activities, like vacuuming and lifting. groceries or heavy laundry baskets.
If you perform Romanian deadlifts consistently, they can also help maintain flexibility in the posterior chain, especially in the hamstrings. Finally, they can also help improve grip strength, which is a huge functional benefit that complements most gym activities and is also linked to increased endurance.
Romanian Deadlift vs Traditional Deadlift
While these movements both strengthen the posterior chain, they work differently and place emphasis on different muscles.
First, in Romanian deadlifts, you usually start by standing up, holding the weights in front of your thighs with your knees slightly bent; with traditional deadlifts, you typically start with the barbell or kettlebell on the ground and your starting position mimics that of a squat. Romanian deadlifts are more focused on hip flexion, whereas conventional deadlifts require you to bend both your hips and knees at the same time.
In terms of muscles worked, both Romanian deadlifts and conventional deadlifts work the hamstrings and glutes; however, Romanian deadlifts really emphasize the hamstrings, and traditional deadlifts also allow the quadriceps (the muscles on the front of the thigh) to do some work.
Because so many large muscle groups are working during regular deadlifts, it’s considered a compound exercise that has serious potential for developing strength and power. You can also work your way up to lifting Truly heavy in a traditional deadlift. On the other hand, Romanian deadlifts are a bit more focused, probably won’t be as heavy in terms of weights lifted, and will also have less of a learning curve. For this reason, while both Romanian deadlifts and traditional deadlifts have a place in your routine, RDLs are generally better suited to beginners. That said, “working with a professional who can assess an individual’s flexibility restrictions, strength limitations, and ultimate strength goals can help determine which move is best suited,” says Taylor.
Romanian deadlift form tips
Maintaining a neutral spine is key, and engaging your core and keeping your shoulders back helps with this. The focus in this move is on the hip hinge (aka bending at the hips), so make sure you don’t bend your knees too much, don’t allow your back to arch or sag, or bring your chest forward too much. To practice that hip hinge movement, try this exercise: Stand about six inches away from a wall, facing it. Keeping your back straight and knees slightly bent, lean forward at the hips and reach your butt back until it touches the wall. Squeeze your glutes to stand up. You should feel the same “hips back” feeling when you do RDLs.
Whether you’re performing Romanian deadlifts with a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell, it’s also important to keep the weight close to your body (think: right along the front of your shins). Taylor recommends starting with just a barbell or two dumbbells if the bar is too heavy. Maintaining a good pace and not completing the movement too quickly is also important to keep pressure off the spine, he says.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sam Kang. Product Credits: POPSUGAR Dumbbells, Splits59 Sports Bra, Splits59 Leggings, APL Sneakers.
How to do a Romanian deadlift
Here’s exactly how to do a Romanian deadlift using dumbbells with proper form, according to Taylor. See the image above for a visual of the correct Romanian deadlift form.
- Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward. Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs with your elbows straight and palms facing your thighs.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and engage your core without holding your breath. Make sure both knees are slightly bent and inhale as you slowly sit back as if trying to touch the wall behind you.
- Lower the dumbbells along the front of your thighs, keeping the weight close to your body. Stop when the weights are just below knee level or until you feel a slight stretch in the backs of both thighs.
- Exhale and push your hips forward, engaging your hamstrings and glutes to lift your chest and return to standing.
Romanian variations of the deadlift
If you don’t have a barbell or dumbbells, you can also do Romanian deadlifts with a kettlebell: Hold the kettlebell in front of your body by the handle, with both hands.
To make them more challenging, you can also try single-leg Romanian deadlifts, as shown below. To do them, hold a weight in one hand in front of your standing leg. Shift your weight onto that standing leg while maintaining a slight bend in that knee. Hinge at the hip, as you would with a traditional deadlift, as you extend the opposite leg behind you. Try to drop the weight far enough that it is parallel to the ground. Single-leg deadlifts place a greater emphasis on balance and stability.
You can also change your stance to a Romanian sumo deadlift. Just like a regular sumo deadlift or sumo squat, you’ll stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and pointing slightly outward. Keep the weight between your thighs. Remember to always hinge at the hips; don’t bend your knees much.
If you’re using a barbell, you can also try a snatch grip deadlift, which increases activation in your upper back and shoulders. To do this, perform an RDL but with your hands much wider on the bar.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sam Kang. Product Credits: Cream Yoga Sports Bra, Cream Yoga Biker Shorts, Avre Sneakers, POPSUGAR Kettlebell.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sam Kang
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