Romanian Deadlift Exercise Guide
The Romanian deadlifts target the power zone of hamstrings, glutes and lower back (erector spiane). This area of the body is vital in most sports that require lifting, jumping or sprinting. Standard (traditional) deadlifts use these same muscles but also involve the muscles on the front of your thighs – the quadriceps. Are you just bending forward (Romanian deadlift) or are you squatting down to the floor to let the bar settle between reps (Standard deadlifts)? That’s key.
This exercise requires technical advice and it may sometimes be inadvisable, given the strain on the spinal erector muscles and the intervertebral discs. While the deadlift is not dangerous per se, it is technically difficult and the weight used can cause problems. Nevertheless, it is a very good exercise if done properly.
Romanian Deadlift Exercise Instructions
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Hold a lightly weighted barbell at mid-thigh level, with your hands little farther than shoulder width apart. Grasp the bar with an alternating grip (with one palm facing towards you and the other away). Keep the barbell against your legs, with your arms fully extended. Keep your back straight (in a neutral position), your shoulders back, and your chest out so that your head, shoulders, and hips are in a straight line.
ACTION (MOVEMENT): Bend from the hips (by moving your buttocks backward), keeping the bar close to your thighs. Your back should stay straight (or slightly arched), your knees slightly bent. Lower the bar slowly and under control toward the floor, going as far as you comfortably can (but not to far below the knees) and without separating the barbell from your body. Using a slow, controlled movement, return to the starting position, keeping your back straight.
Additional Tips & Key Points
- Always start the movement by leaning forward from your hips, pushing your glutes back and maintaining the arch in your lower back as you guide the bar down the front of your legs until it comes to about mid-shin.
- While bending forward at the hips to lower your torso do not separate the barbell from your body. Keep the barbell very close to your body all the time.
- Focus on using your hamstrings to return to the upright position.
- Always keep a slight bend in your knees with your back straight and shoulders back.
- Begin with a very light weight when learning this exercise.
- Look for your spine to remain completely stable from hips to head.
- Look for your head to be up, with your eyes forwards and looking upwards.
Muscles Involved in the Romanian Deadlifts
Most of the force behind exercises in the deadlift category comes from muscles that act on the hip joints. But those muscles aren’t the only ones that come into play.
- Main muscles: gluteus maximus, hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus and long head of the biceps femoris), erector spinae – muscles of the lower back and along the spine.
- Secondary muscles: gluteus medius (rear), great adductor, smallest adductor, piriformis
- Antagonists: iliopsoas, front quadriceps, tensor fasciae latae, pectineus, sartorius
Romanian Deadlift Variations
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift. You can use dumbbells for this exercise. Stand holding dumbbells in front of your thighs, palms turned toward your body. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, toes pointed forward. Start the movement by taking a deep breath, than holding it as you push your hips back, allowing your torso to bend forward. Let your knees bend slightly. Lower the weights until they’re just past your knees, then push your hips forward to return to the starting position, and exhale at the top. Keep your core tight and back flat throughout the movement.
Stiff-Legged Deadlits vs. Romanian Deadlift
Although very similar, the Romanian deadlift is not a stiff-legged deadlift, in which you bend forward without pushing your hips back, thus keeping your legs straight. Any time you see “Romanian” in front of a deadlift variation, you’re supposed to start the movement with your hips moving back, allowing your knees to bend. Furthermore, when you perform the Romanian deadlift you need to keep the bar close to your body all the time (during the entire range of motion). Some bodybuilders and trainers use the two terms interchangeably, but there is a difference. In addition to building muscle, both exercises can help improve your squat and deadlift by building lower-body strength.
Romanian Deadlift Common Mistakes
- Allowing your spine to round (by flexing forwards) or change position in segments as it moves.
- Bending so that your hips are above your shoulders during the movement.
- Bending your elbows or shrugging your shoulders.
- Allowing your weight to rest in the front part of the foot or the bar to be forward of the toe line.
To add variety to your back workout routine, replace the Romanian deadlift with a different exercise that works the same muscles you need to target (erector spinae).
Let’s look at the best lower back exercises for building muscle, strength, and flexibility.
- Good Morning Lift
- 45-degree back extension (incline back extension)
- Traditional Deadlift
- Roman Chair Back Extension (90-degree back extension)
- Reverse back extension (reverse hyperextension)
- Machine Lumbar Extension
- Lying back extension
Closing Thoughts About the Romanian Deadlift
A full deadlift (traditional deadlift) is an exercise practiced by powerlifters for sheer strength. Coaches and trainers prefer to modify the deadlift by using a version known as the Romanian deadlift that takes a little pressure off the lower back. Also, in this variation you use less weight that for a regular deadlift.
The Romanian deadlift requires good foundational strength and extremely good technique. The key is to keep the bar as close to your body as possible. If the bar travels too far away from your body or your form deteriorates, you may do considerable damage to your back. Do not do this exercise if your back is sore.
The Romanian deadlift makes an excellent, though difficult, addition to your general training programme, especially if you wish to improve your power and leg speed.
Safe and effective performance of this lower back exercise depends on you keeping your back neutral. Do not bend over or be tempted to take the weight down far below your knees. Be aware that this is an advanced move, first developed to help weightlifters train for the first part of the clean or snatch. When beginning, perfect the move with an unloaded bar and do not attempt too many repetitions.
If using heavy weights, you should work off a rack adjusted to suit your heights, reverse the grip on one hand (one over, one under grip) to stop the bar rolling. You can also use wrist straps, which provide protection and enhance your grip.