Whether you're brand new to the weight training world or you're queen of the squat rack, there's one exercise that should definitely be on your radar: Romanian deadlifts. While they might sound intimidating, “RDLs are one of, if not the most effective hamstring and glute exercises around,” says Darin Hulslander, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and personal trainer with This Is Performance.
Romanian deadlifts are a variation on the traditional deadlift, and they come with some major benefits. First of all, they target your glutes and hamstrings with laser precision. You'll also build mass and strength in the lower back, and even your lats will feel the burn. RDLs can majorly sculpt your core, too, if that's on your list of fitness to-dos. And, they're great for improving mobility—more on that in a sec.
Meet the experts: Darin Hulslander, CSCS, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and personal trainer with This Is Performance. He has coached more than 10,000 hours with clients, and his specialties include training for weight loss and body recomposition. Kristen McParland, CPT, offers one-on-one coaching, personal training, and nutrition programs as a NASM certified personal trainer and certified nutrition coach with more than 10 years of experience.
Best of all, you can reap the RDL rewards no matter what your experience level is or equipment you have available. "Anybody who's doing any type of strength training program should add in Romanian deadlifts somewhere in the program," explains Kristen McParland, CPT. You can use a barbell or a pair of regular old dumbbells.
Ready to get started? Here's a full guide to Romanian deadlifts, from how to do them properly to which common mistakes to avoid and all the benefits when you nail the lower body move:
How To Do A Romanian Deadlift
- Stand with feet hip-width apart. Hold the barbell or dumbbells out in front of you.
- Keeping your back and legs straight, bend at the waist (not at the knees) and focus on sending your hips and butt back as you lower the barbell/dumbbells toward the ground. Make sure your weight is in your heels and inhale, McParland adds.
- Maintain that position and lower yourself as far as your flexibility allows, ideally with the weight(s) landing at least in the middle of your shins.
- Engage your glutes, contract your hips, and drive back to the starting position, locking your hips out at the top. Exhale. You should feel a squeeze in your hips and quads as you lock them out.
Common Form Mistakes And Fixes
- Bending your knees. It's a mistake people often make to allow them to hit a lower bottom. This takes the engagement off of your glutes.
- Letting the bar or weights touch the floor in between reps. "Most people just don't have the flexibility to have that stiff leg deadlift position and hit the floor," McParland explains. Instead, the safer, more effective method is to stop when the weight reaches the middle of your shins.
“RDLs are one of the most effective hamstring and glute exercises around.”
- Arching your back. If you notice a curve in your spine, lessen your load or shorten your range of motion. Stick to going down only as far as you can keep the back straight, Hulslander says.
- Hold the weights far out. Keep the bar or dumbbells close to your legs when you shift your hips back, says McParland. "I like to tell clients to almost drag the bar up and down their leg because you want the load as close to your body as possible, or else you can end up loading your back instead of the legs."
- Rushing into a too-heavy load. You need to build strength in your hamstrings and glutes effectively to handle the weight, Hulslander says. First, perfect your form with a PVC pipe, and then with an unloaded barbell.
Benefits Of Romanian Deadlifts
The hip-hinge motion in RDLs is “probably the most important pattern for overall movement health,” according to Hulslander. And, to nobody's surprise the move comes with so many benefits for your workouts and life outside the gym. because it can boost mobility in your hips, hamstrings, and lower back.
- Better mobility. The hip-hinge motion helps boost mobility and range of motion in your hips, hamstrings, and lower back, per Hulslander.
- Less stress on joints. RDLs can be done with less weight than traditional deadlifts, which minimizes joint stress, Hulslander says.
- Sculpted abs. RDLs also work your core "because having to keep your core really rigid and brace throughout that movement pattern is a challenge," says McParland.
- Strong back. Keeping the weight(s) close to your body tones your lats (a.k.a. the latissimus dorsi muscles in your back). "If you actively pull the bar into your legs, you're going to feel your lats turn on in a second," McParland adds.
- Improved grip strength. RDLs are clutch for enhancing your grip strength, she says. That can set you up to effortlessly achieve your other fitness #goals in the gym. You may not realize it, but grip strength is useful in racket sports, picking up basically anything, cooking, and so much more out of the weight room.
How To Add Romanian Deadlifts To Your Workout
There are several smart ways to incorporate Romanian deadlifts in your routine. For starters, you can kick off your sweat sesh with them Bodyweight RDLs (with no equipment or a PVC pipe) can be a great warm-up to get blood flowing and practice the movement pattern, Hulslander says.
Romanian deadlifts should definitely be on your list for a lower-body training day, since they build serious strength. Or, you can add it to total-body circuits. Combine RDLs with an upper-body push move (overhead presses, pushups, or dumbbell presses). “The muscles of the back get taxed as well during RDLs, so pairing it with something that’s almost entirely opposite allows for recovery and to maintain a more elevated heart rate too.”
Pro tip: Start with a light weight and do three sets of eight the first week, three sets of 10 the second, and three sets of 12 the third. Week four, you’re ready to up your weight—start back at three sets of eight and repeat the pattern.
Either way, Hulslander advises hitting RDLs twice a week. Sequence it at the beginning of the strength part of your workout: "It’s very taxing on the body, so you want the most energy to execute it right."
Potential Risks Of Romanian Deadlifts
RDLs are great for weightlifters of any experience level. But, if you have a sensitive lower back, McParland suggests easing into the move. "This could irritate them if they load too much too soon."
If that's you, "start with a set of light dumbbells and practice the movement and then increase the load over time," she says. You can also stagger your stance or opt for a single leg Romanian deadlift instead—this can protect your lower back from irritation.
Rachael Schultz is a freelance writer with years of experience covering health, nutrition, and physiology. In addition to Women's Health, she has written for Men's Health, Men's Journal, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Weight Watchers, among other publications. She’s most passionate about hiking, traveling, mindfulness, cooking, and really, really good coffee.