The Romanian deadlift (RDL) is great for developing your posterior chain — muscles that make up the back of your body, including the glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, lats, and calves.
A variation on the conventional deadlift, the RDL is a useful accessory exercise for people who deadlift regularly. It’s also an apt pregression for those who are limited in their conventional deadlifting range and anyone who struggles with hinging.
The RDL begins at the top of a conventional-deadlift position: barbell close to the body at upper-thigh height.
With your back straight, neck neutral, core and lats engaged, and knees bent only softly, the hips hinge back as if reaching for a wall. Your upper body (and with it, the weight) lowers as a result of the hips moving back. (In other words, the hips lead the move — not the weight.) When the hips stop moving back, that is the cue to return to standing.
Many people experience an intense hamstring stretch at the end of the range of motion, but those who are more flexible may not. Some people will also experience a rounding of their lower back if they move past their controlled range of motion; in other words, if they continue to bend forward with straight legs once their hips can no longer hinge back.
While neither a lack of stretch nor a bit of rounding is “bad,” these physiological markers are not ideal cues for everyone to determine how far the bar will lower. For some, the stopping point will be just past their knees; others may be able to descend to the floor.
Focusing on the hip hinge is a better way to reap the rewards of this exercise while keeping the lower back safe and feeling great as it gets stronger. As your mobility increases, your hinge will improve and you will naturally be able to control a deeper descent.
1. Begin by holding a weight at the top of your deadlift, either by deadlifting the weight from the floor or unracking it at hip height.
Tip: Brace your core and engage your lats.
2. Initiate the movement by hinging your hips back. Keep the weight close to your body as it travels down your legs.
Tip: Maintain a straight, flat back.
Tip: Keep a soft bend in the knees throughout the movement.
3. Once your hips can no longer reach back, squeeze your glutes and thrust your hips forward to return to standing.
Tip: Avoid shrugging the shoulders, especially when returning to standing.
Tip: Squeeze your glutes at the top of the exercise in each rep.
Mix Up This Move
While the RDL is considered a deadlift variation, it has its own variations, too. Try the following as your body awareness and strength improve:
- Holding a barbell in both hands, with both feet on the floor.
- Holding a barbell in both hands, with one foot flat on the floor and the other foot behind you, either in a supported kickstand position or hovering off the floor.
- Holding dumbbells or kettlebells in both hands, with both feet on the floor.
- Holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand, with the opposite-side foot on the floor.
- Holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand, with the same-side foot on the floor.