As someone who is new to the world of weightlifting, or even if you’ve been doing it for awhile, you may spend a lot of your time trying to master your deadlift. If you’ve done your research, you know that deadlifts are a great way to gain overall strength when weightlifting.

A standard deadlift, when done properly, can help you build up your core strength and improve your muscle mass; many people do deadlifts for a complete body workout. While standard deadlifts provide excellent results, the lesser known Romanian Deadlift or RDL can help to round out your lifting routine.

We’ll give you all the information you need to know about an RDL and how to do one correctly and safely, so you can incorporate it into your weightlifting routine. We will also provide you with a few variations of the RDL.

Where Did The Romanian Deadlift Get Its Name?

a set of weight plates in different colors

Where does the Romanian Deadlift get its name? According to the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), American weightlifters witnessed a weightlifting champion from Romania doing a variation of a standard deadlift, and the new technique (and name) was born.

You might hear RDLs referred to as “keystone deadlifts,” but for this article, we’ll stick with its better-known name.

Differences Between Standard
Deadlift and Romanian Deadlift

If you are learning how to do a standard deadlift, you may have inadvertently already done an RDL as it’s similar to a conventional deadlift.

One of the main differences between a standard deadlift and RDL (other than the technique) is that the Romanian targets the back side of your muscles such as the hamstrings and glutes. An RDL also targets your lower back better than a standard deadlift.

Wondering if the RDL is superior to the standard deadlift? Not necessarily. If you want a full-body workout and well-balanced muscle mass, you should do both deadlifts. Many lifters have strong (and even overdeveloped) muscles in their anterior chain, such as the quads and abs (also referred to as “beach muscles”).

 

While a well-toned upper body may look impressive, you need to build up a strong posterior chain (bottom-half) chain of muscles as well. RDLs are an excellent way to build up your posterior muscles, especially the back part of the muscles. We aren’t one-dimensional beings, so it’s essential that our muscles aren’t either.

Not only do RDLs help to keep the body’s muscle mass better balanced, but here are a few more reasons to try a Romanian Deadlift:

  • Increased strength and flexibility
  • Lowers the risk of injury when lifting
  • May improve your deadlifting performance (increased weight)

How To Do The Romanian Deadlift

a man about to lift the weights

Assuming you already know how to do a conventional deadlift, a Romanian lift shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out, but it’s still important to do it right to avoid injury.

If you are performing the lift from the rack, it’s important to hold the deadlift bar about mid-thigh. If you prefer to start the deadlift from the floor, just load the bar the same way you would when doing a conventional deadlift from the floor.

Is one way better than the other? Some people lifters prefer to start from the rack to save a little energy, while others like the floor. As long as you have proper form, your starting point is completely up to you.

Doing A Romanian Lift

To get started with your RDL, stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the bar at your thigh level. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart and use a double overhand grip. Keep your back straight, and your knees slightly bent.

Holding the bar and keeping your back straight, bend slowly at the waist. Pushing your hips back to lower the bar, keep bending until you feel a little stretch in your hamstrings (the bar is usually past your shin). Your hips should be doing more of the work (bending) not your knees.

Your bar should not stray far from your shins, and you should lower as far as you comfortably are able. Keep your back straight (with a slight curve) and don’t lower the bar completely to the ground.

To stand back up, contract your glutes, thrust your hips forward, and rely on the power of your hamstrings to straighten up.

Variations Of The Romanian Deadlift

While you should get familiar with an RDL before you try some variations, here are some other ways to do the lift and work the back of your muscles. Keep in mind that you must be mindful of your moves and maintain proper form. Moving too quickly or getting “sloppy” can put you at a higher risk of injury.

One-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Start with a typical RDL position (holding the bar with hands shoulder-width apart) and stand on a leg, leaning forward with your knee slightly bent. Lower the bar as you normally would when doing an RDL. Moving slowly and keeping proper form is essential to this move (and to stay balanced).

Dumbbell Split-Leg Romanian Deadlift

This variation of an RDL is similar to the one-leg lift, but rather than lifting your back leg off of the ground you keep the ball of your back foot grounded. While this variation uses dumbbells, you could try the standard lift bar.

Stiff-Leg Romanian Deadlift

The stiff-leg RDL is a variation that should be done with extreme caution. If you’re new to lifting and you’re still trying to figure out your flexibility and your limits, this variation may not be your best option.

Much as the name suggests, rather than allowing your knees to bend slightly when doing an RDL, you must keep your back straight (and your legs). Be mindful of your flexibility and don’t push yourself too much.

Some Tips To Consider When Doing A Romanian Deadlift

a man doing the romanian deadlifts with the straight back position

Whether you’re a weightlifting novice or you consider yourself relatively experienced, you can always benefit from a few helpful tips. Here are some things to consider when working on mastering an RDL.

Don’t Slack Off

Even though it’s not safe (and a waste of good energy), almost every lifter makes the mistake of not focusing on proper form. Whether you speed through the steps or slack off on the little details, you can end up hurting yourself (or never master the lift).

Take your time and be deliberate in your movements. Rushing through the steps won’t strengthen your posterior chain muscles, and you may increase your chances of an injury.

Maintain Proper Form

Maintain proper form each time you do an RDL. Keep your feet under the bar, your hips high, and shoulders on top of the bar. Your feet should be hip-width apart, and your arms should be shoulder-width apart.

Whether you’re using a lifting bar or dumbbells, keep them in a straight line. Your aligned form will keep you in better control of your lift.

Focus On Your Footwear

close-up photo focused on the footwear of a man about to lift a barbell

Wearing the wrong shoes can make an RDL nearly impossible. Your shoes should be lightweight and snug. You don’t want your feet to move around in your shoes while you’re lifting. Traction is equally as important because it will keep you better grounded while doing all the movements of the lift.

Don’t Overdo The Leg Exercises

RDLs are a great way to incorporate more hip extensor exercises into your workout routine. Splitting up your leg days is important. Do your RDLs on a separate day than other legwork (such as quad exercises).

By allowing a few days of rest between your leg workouts you’re less likely to overstress any of your muscles or have an injury. Doubling up on legwork might make you too sore to do much else for the rest of the week.

Ask For Help

Learning how to deadlift takes a lot of time, practice, and patience. If you’re unsure if you’re doing your RDL right, ask someone who knows how (like a trainer). Don’t let your pride get in the way of your success.

Don’t know anyone who can double check your form? Take some time to watch online tutorials on the RDL; there are plenty of them available.

Don’t Give Up

If you want to master an RDL, you need to be open to mistakes and maybe not doing the lift right after the first time. When it comes to weightlifting, there is always room for improvement, and once you master the RDL, you can add more weight or refine your movements even more.