RDL Form: How to Master the Romanian Deadlift

RDL Form: How to Master the Romanian Deadlift

So, you want to learn how to master Romanian deadlifts (RDL), huh? Well, that’s good to hear because you’ve really been missing out!

Romanian deadlifts are a staple exercise for many and can be an excellent workout for your legs. They aren’t just good for muscle growth either.

When it comes to RDLs, it doesn’t really matter what your goals are. 

You could have a goal to lose fat, increase performance, or compete in bodybuilding. Whatever it is you’re trying to achieve in fitness, RDLs can help.

Yes, a traditional deadlift targets a lot of the same muscles. However, RDLs emphasize the hamstrings and glutes a little more. In addition to that, they focus a bit more on eccentric loading than a traditional deadlift.

Don't get me wrong, traditional deadlifts are still an awesome exercise. Romanian deadlifts aren’t meant to take their place. If anything, RDLs should be done in addition to normal deadlifts.

But, before we jump into the “How-To”, let’s cover the benefits Romanian deadlifts have to offer.

Benefits of Romanian Deadlifts

All exercises have their benefits, but some have more than others. The Romanian deadlift is one that certainly leans toward having more. So, let's talk about all of these benefits.

Romanian Deadlifts Are Great For Muscle Growth

This may be a no-brainer, but it's the truth. All resistance exercises can help you build muscle, but Romanian deadlifts especially.

The reason I say this is because of how important eccentric loading can be. It's an often overlooked principle that can help with muscle growth. If you don’t know what eccentric loading is, don’t worry!

The eccentric phase of any resistance exercise is when your muscles are lengthening. In a Romanian deadlift, this is when you are lowering the weight. Your muscles are contracting and resisting the weight in this phase while lengthening.

Because of these opposing forces, you create more microtears in your muscle than when you are actually lifting the weight. This increase in muscle damage is what can lead to more muscle growth (1).

Now, that's not to say that only lowering the weight is beneficial for muscle growth. Lifting the weight is too. But, RDLs do have an eccentric focus. That's one advantage they can have for building more muscle!

Romanian Deadlifts Can Help Boost Strength in Other Exercises

I also love Romanian deadlifts because they can build strength in other exercises. Let's take a look at a few examples.

For one, a traditional deadlift is very similar and uses a lot of the same muscles. Increasing strength in a Romanian deadlift can help in a traditional deadlift because of this.

Hang cleans are another good example. One portion of the hang clean is very similar to an RDL. A snatch is the same way as well.

Without the RDL-like motion in these exercises, you would have trouble lifting the weight. It's how you build enough explosive power to get the weight to move.

So, as you build strength in your RDLs, your other lifts can benefit too.

Romanian Deadlifts Can Help With Injury Prevention

This is a big benefit that Romanian deadlifts can offer.

The hamstrings are a muscle group that gets injured often. Knee injuries are also very common. But, how can Romanian deadlifts help prevent these injuries?

Studies show that eccentric hamstring training can reduce the risk of injury to your hamstrings (2). As I’ve already mentioned, RDLs have a heavy eccentric focus.

Also, what’s the most common knee injury you hear about in sports?  Personally, I hear about ACL tears more than anything else.

When it comes to ACL tears, the strength of your hamstrings matters a ton. In fact, increased strength in your hamstrings can reduce your risk of tearing an ACL (3). 

The Romanian deadlift is one of the best exercises for strengthening your hamstrings. Do them enough, build enough strength, and your chances of hamstring and knee injury both go down.

Romanian Deadlifts Can Be Great For Improving Posture

When it comes to the health of your spine and your joints, posture is important! I mean, if you think about it, everything stems from your spine.

Well, Romanian deadlifts work most of your posterior chain. These are all the muscles on the backside of your body. Your hamstrings, glutes, and erector spinae are the main muscles used in a RDL.

To do a proper RDL, you’re training those muscles to become stronger at keeping you upright. The increase in strength could potentially help your spine stay in better alignment.

But, now that we have the benefits out of the way ... Let's talk about some techniques for mastering your Romanian deadlifts!

How to Properly Perform The Romanian Deadlift

This is an exercise I see people do wrong all the time, so pay close attention. While doing these properly can reduce your risk of injury, doing them wrong could increase that risk.

Setting Up For a Romanian Deadlift

You can really do a Romanian deadlift with most pieces of equipment. This includes a barbell, bands, cable machines, dumbbells, and more.

To start the RDL, you must be standing upright with the weight. For the sake of simplicity, let's talk through this as if you'll be using a barbell. Either way, the technique will be very similar.

With a barbell, you can get to standing with the bar on the safety rack or from the ground. In case you don't have a safety rack, here's how to stand up with the bar properly...

Walk up to the bar with your feet hip-width apart, and your shins an inch or two from the bar. Squat down to grab the bar with an overhand grip slightly outside your knees.

Pull up on the bar to pull your body into a deeper squat before lifting it. Your back should be flat and core tight. Drive your feet into the floor and squeeze your glutes as you stand up with the bar. Try to straighten your knees and hips simultaneously as you stand upright.

From here, you will begin your Romanian deadlifts!

RDL Form: Proper Romanian Deadlift Technique

The first step is breathing into your belly and sides, then bracing your core. This increases intra-abdominal pressure and helps to stabilize your spine.

The next step is unlocking your knees. You want a soft/passive bend in your knees throughout the RDL. That way when your knees bend, they don’t move forward.

Once your knees are unlocked, start lowering the bar slowly. You’ll do this through bending at your hips, and pushing them as far behind you as you can.

As your hips push back, your spine will become closer to parallel with the ground. Your knees will also bend more, but again, it's a passive bend. You don’t even need to think about them bending as long as they aren’t locked out.

As the bar lowers, keep it close to your body and allow it to slide down your legs. Your back should remain flat the entire exercise. Your head and neck should also be aligned with your spine.

Once the bar passes below your knees, keep going until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. You will hit the end of your range of motion when your hips cannot push back any further.

Once in the stretched position at the bottom, reverse the movement by engaging your hamstrings and glutes. Think about lifting your chest upward while squeezing your glutes.

Make sure the bar stays close to your body on the way up as well. Squeeze your glutes hard at the top for a second, and repeat for reps.

Things to Avoid When Doing Romanian Deadlifts

When doing the RDL, there are a few things to watch out for. This is for your own safety, so make sure to take note of these things.

Keep The Weight Close to Your Body

Anytime you’re holding something, it’s important to keep it held against your body. This is for a couple of reasons.

The further away from your body you hold the weight, the more torque it places on your lower back. Holding the bar away from you is just asking for a back injury.

The further the weight is from your body, the harder it will be to lift the same weight.

To get a better idea about what I’m referring to, try this out. Load one end of a barbell with some weight, but leave the other end empty. Walk over to the side with the weight on it, and lift it up. It might feel awkward and unbalanced, but not too difficult to lift the whole thing off the ground.

Now walk over to the side without any weight on it, and try to lift the whole bar off the ground. Odds are you either had a lot more trouble lifting the weight or couldn’t lift it at all.

This is because the closer the weight is to you, the less force it requires to lift. So, when that bar is not held close to your body, it could overpower you. 

It can become too difficult to lift safely, so do yourself a favor and hold the bar close every rep!

Don’t Lock Out Your Knees Or Go Too Low

These are very common mistakes people make in a Romanian deadlift. Both of these mistakes can increase the risk of injury.

When doing an RDL, you’re using a range of motion in your knees and hips to raise and lower the bar. 

If you lock out your knees as you lower the bar, you’re cutting out that range of motion. Your lower back will compensate for that by rounding to help you lower the bar. This can increase the risk of injury to your back.

The same thing happens if you go too low. 

Once your hips can't push back any further, the bar will likely be at your mid to upper shin. If you continue going lower, the extra range of motion will come from your lower back.

Always remember to keep your back straight, and don’t let your spine round when you have weight in your hands. It’s a recipe for disaster!

Romanian Deadlift Alternative Exercises

While I am a huge advocate for RDLs, sometimes it’s good to switch it up. There are some good variations out there too!

I’m just going to give a brief description of each here. I won’t go too in-depth. But, if you ever want to switch it up, these can all be great options.

Good Mornings

This is another great exercise similar to the Romanian deadlift. The main difference is the weight is held on your upper traps like in a back squat. 

Personally, I would rather do the RDL over this exercise every time. It’s easier on your back and puts less pressure on your neck.

With that being said though, it will strengthen your spinal erectors more than the RDL. Also, a lot of people swear by it.

Weighted Hip Bridge

This is a simple exercise that more people should do. It’s not very difficult, and you’d be surprised how strong your hips already are.

To do this, you must be in a sit-up position on the ground. I recommend finding something padded to place on your hips because that’s right where the weight will go.

Hold a dumbbell over your hips and squeeze your hamstrings and glutes to thrust the weight up. Start light and work your way up.

This is a great exercise to add to any leg day routine!

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

This is a great variation that also incorporates balance into the mix. It works best with a dumbbell instead of a barbell.

Just remember to hold the dumbbell in the opposite hand of whichever foot is on the ground. It’s better for balance and teaches you how to fire those muscles properly.

Putting Everything Into Practice

The Romanian deadlift is a phenomenal exercise. If you want to maximize your results, I highly recommend you do it!

It doesn’t matter what your goal is. Truly, it doesn’t.

Romanian deadlifts can help you: 

• Increase strength
• Build muscle
• Prevent injuries
• Burn more calories 

All of these things can be helpful for muscle growth, fat loss, and performance. With that being said, doing RDLs isn't the only thing you need to pay attention to. If you want to reach your goals, your workouts are only one piece of the puzzle.

By that I mean your nutrition is crucial as well. You need to get enough protein and the right amount of calories every day. Otherwise, there is no guarantee you will earn the results you want.

Obviously, this part can be more challenging. It's also hard to know exactly what to do. That includes the types of foods you eat, the protein you need, the calories you need, and much more.

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(1) Roig M, O'Brien K, Kirk G, Murray R, McKinnon P, Shadgan B, Reid WD. The effects of eccentric versus concentric resistance training on muscle strength and mass in healthy adults: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2009 Aug;43(8):556-68. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2008.051417. Epub 2008 Nov 3. PMID: 18981046.

(2) Bourne MN, Timmins RG, Opar DA, Pizzari T, Ruddy JD, Sims C, Williams MD, Shield AJ. An Evidence-Based Framework for Strengthening Exercises to Prevent Hamstring Injury. Sports Med. 2018 Feb;48(2):251-267. doi: 10.1007/s40279-017-0796-x. PMID: 29116573.

(3) Myer GD, Ford KR, Barber Foss KD, Liu C, Nick TG, Hewett TE. The relationship of hamstrings and quadriceps strength to anterior cruciate ligament injury in female athletes. Clin J Sport Med. 2009 Jan;19(1):3-8. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0b013e318190bddb. PMID: 19124976; PMCID: PMC9928500.