Romanian Deadlift: Use this Deadlift Variation to Increase Hamstring Strength

The Romanian Deadlift is a different kind of exercise tool that can help you target specific muscles and bring you further along in your fitness journey.

Many people choose to do Romanian deadlifts with regular deadlifts to give them an overall boost of performance. 

Continue reading to find out how Romanian deadlifts work and how to incorporate them into your daily fitness routine. 

Romanian Deadlift

If you do regular deadlifts, you know that they are one of the most important strength exercises.

They also provide many benefits both in health and muscle building. Deadlifts can also increase your range of motions in the hips and knees which may help you in your daily work or personal life. 

An increased range of motion can enhance joint stability and improve bone density. It can also boost your overall athletic performance.

The Romanian deadlift also doesn’t require as heavyweights as the regular deadlift to be effective. This means you can practice it easier and from anywhere in the world. 

You can also use free weights or other heavy objects rather than a barbell. This makes the movement easy to complete and keeps you from going to the gym if you don’t feel like going.

It’s also better for people who may be experiencing back problems or who have had a back injury. Standard deadlifts can give you back problems and are the best for people who need to watch their back. 

How To Do a Romanian Deadlift

A Romanian deadlift is done differently than the standard deadlift and you will need to learn a new form.

You always want to make sure you start with the bar or the weights in your hand, not on the floor. 

Slowly lower the weight with a bend in your knees. Bend at the hips and keep the back straight as well. You should lower it until you begin to feel a slight stretch in the hamstrings.

It should be a stretch only and not any burning or pain. Most people begin to feel the stretch when they have the weight just past their knees. 

Drive your hips forward and use your hamstrings to pull you back up.

Always start standing straight. If you begin to feel fatigued, slowly lower the weight and take a break. Having improper form increases your chance of having an injury. 

If you begin to feel tired, drop the weight. Don’t over-push yourself because you may begin to have the wrong form and end up giving yourself an injury. 

Here is a more detailed step-by-step guide:

  1. Start standing tall with your feet about hip-distance apart. Hold the barbell in both hands directly in front of your thighs with your hands shoulder-distance apart. This should be slightly wider than your thighs. 
  2. Start with the knees slightly bent. Roll the shoulders back and draw your shoulder blades toward your spine. This will engage your upper back and take the strain from your lower back. Keep shoulders pulled back for the entire exercise. 
  3. Inhale and press your hips back. Continue pressing them back and allow your torso to naturally lean forward and go towards the floor. Don’t tip forward at the wait though. This movement will just make your hips hinge forward; it shouldn’t make you lean forward with your whole body. Check your posture in a mirror and make sure your shoulders are still rounded. 
  4. Keep the barbell close to your thighs. It should graze them but not be firmly pressed onto them. Hinge forward at the hips keeping the barbell grazing your thighs. If you notice a gap that is too large, roll your shoulders back and pull the barbell closer to your body. 
  5. Let your arms hang down naturally with the elbows extended. Keep them engaged with the barbell though. 
  6. When you feel a stretch in the hamstrings, stop hinging at the hips. You can stop when the barbell reaches knee height or bring it all the way to the ground. Either way, you will be able to gain flexibility and build strength. 
  7. Complete the set. Between sets, put the barbell back on the rack and take a short break. 

Remember to stop immediately if you feel any pain or get stiffness in your back. 

Form Tips

Here are some tips that will help you with your form and ensuring you don’t hurt yourself. 

  • Don’t bend all the way over if you can’t.
  • The weight doesn’t always have to touch the ground between reps. 
  • Make sure you feel the stretch in your hamstrings, not your back. 

If you feel any pain or stretch in your lower back, you might be doing the Romanian deadlift wrong. Consider doing it in front of a mirror or with a trainer who can tell you if your form is correct or not. 

Common mistakes

Knowing some common mistakes will help you avoid them and hopefully make the most out of your workouts.

Remember that the movement starts from your hips, it isn’t a squat. Your knees should remain static and not bend very much, especially if you are doing certain variations. 

Keeping the shoulders back and the core engaged will help your hips to remain stable. They will also keep your posture in the right form. 

Rounded shoulders

As you are lifting and moving with the weight, you may forget about your shoulders and upper body.

Rounding your shoulders, however, will make the upper back move towards the floor and point your body in the wrong direction. 

It will also cause your core to not be engaged. While this isn’t actually a core exercise, the core is in charge of keeping your posture and body in the right position. Having your weight too forward will reduce the focus from your hamstrings. 

You will end up working the wrong muscles and not get the most gain out of the workout.

This will also make the barbell flat away from your body which brings you into a new set of problems. 

The barbell is too far from the thighs 

As you hinge from the hips, the barbell may naturally stray away from your thighs.

It might also cause your shoulders to hang awkwardly.

The weight being far away from the body will also remove the emphasis from the hamstrings and cause the strain to be on the upper body. 

The weight will pull away from your legs and place it all on the shoulders and upper body. If you keep the shoulder blades pulled toward the spine, the barbell will remain an inch or less from your thighs. 

The easiest way to correct this mistake is by looking in a mirror. Sometimes people think they look a certain way and then they see themselves in the mirror and are shocked at their form. 

Peeking in the mirror will allow you to easily correct the form and make sure you are not straining your back. It will also help you avoid injury. 

Bending at the waist 

This can be hard to realise what you are doing. Some people aren’t sure of the difference between bending at the waist and bending at the hips.

The easiest way to do it is to push back at the hips until you naturally start to lean forward. Try not to actively lean forward. 

Turn your side towards the mirror so you can see where you are bending from. You should see a sharp angle form with your tailbone at the top. Bending at the waist will instead form a 90-degree angle. 

This is an easy way to strain your back and will result in injury. As always, make sure the core is engaged and keep the spine neutral. Always start moving at the hips and keep yourself stable. 

Bending too much at the knees 

Some people think that the Romanian deadlift and squatting are the same.

This is unfortunately a common mistake that can cause problems. After bending at the hips, many people will bend their knees and begin squatting. 

However, the Romanian deadlift should not involve any knee bending.

Once again, you can watch yourself in the mirror and view yourself from the side. If you notice your knees bending or find yourself squatting, reset the barbell and start over. 

Don’t get frustrated or give up. Starting with the right form is important and needs to be corrected before you can start really doing the exercise.

Always remember to press the hips further back and keep hinging at the hips. Don’t bend the knees if you feel yourself getting weak. Simply put the weight down and start over in a few moments. 

Craning the neck forward 

Your neck should remain aligned with the spine so that your torso and head will form a straight line from the tailbone.

Your eyes should be looking toward the floor at the bottom of the movement, not forward. 

Try not to look up while you are moving through the deadlift. Only look up if you want to see yourself in the mirror to check your form. Try not to look up for too long. 

Romanian Deadlift Variations

There are a few variations to the Romanian deadlift that you can try to target different muscles or make the workout more challenging.

Make sure to try the regular Romanian deadlift first and see if you have the right form. 

Once you’re confident, you can add in some of the variations. Some people like to incorporate different variations into their daily workouts or do a different one for each day.

Either way, make sure you are using the correct weight and not forcing yourself. All of the variations can give you stronger legs and are great to try if you are getting bored with your normal workouts. 

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

This also involves one leg and will help you target muscles in each of your legs separately. However, with this variation, you won’t elevate your rear leg.

Always keep the ball of the rear foot on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and keep your back straight with the core tight. 

You don’t use your core or your back to pull the weight off the floor as this will not target the right muscles groups. Lower with a controlled motion until you feel the stretch in the hamstring of your front leg. 

Lower the weight back down and then return to the start. Complete the same number of reps and sets in both legs to keep them equally strong. 

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

The single-leg or the one leg can better target each leg individually. This may help you build strength quicker.

Keep your legs shoulder-width apart and stand on one leg. Lean forward and slightly bend the keep. Always keep your back straight. 

Lower with slow and controlled movements until you feel a stretch in the leg. It should mostly be in the hamstring. If you are using weights or kettlebells, make sure you have equal weight in your hands. 

Also, make sure to work out the legs in the same number of reps and sets. You will want to exercise the legs equally to make sure they get some muscles groups targeted and to ensure your muscle mass is near equal. 

Kettle bars or free weights might make it easier to contract your shoulder blades. If you are having trouble with the barbell, try switching to free weights. Either way, don’t use more weight than you can handle. 

Like with regular deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts, so the single-leg lift with correct form. Make sure there is no pain in your back. 

Stiff-Leg Romanian Deadlift

This another variation and requires more control of your core and strength in the hamstrings.

It isn’t the best variation, to begin with, because it does require some more skills than the other variations. Make sure you can complete regular Romanian deadlifts before trying the stiff-leg. 

Part of the reason it is so difficult is that it doesn’t allow for any bend in the knee. It requires your leg to be completely straight. It provides more emphasis on the hamstring though and can help you build more muscles faster. 

As always, keep your back straight and ensure there is no pain when you are lifting and bending over. Perform the variation the same as the regular deadlift but keep the leg straight. 

Make sure you are on a stable surface and have a firmly planted foot on the floor. 

Normal Deadlift Vs Romanian Deadlift

A basic deadlift is something you have probably done at the gym or seen other people do.

It’s a common weightlifting exercise that helps build leg and arm muscles. Many people view it as a total body workout. 

Many people love it because it focuses on all the muscles that run from your neck to your heels. This is an important muscle group to target because your back and neck are prone to injuries.

The neck and back can be injured easily both at the gym or just at your job depending on your field of work.

It’s important to keep these muscles strong and stabilized. While the normal deadlift can keep you strong, the Romanian deadlift might help you avoid injuries easier. 

The deadlift is also a great exercise because it targets the muscles you might not think about. Many people become obsessed with working their biceps or leg muscles that people notice the most often.

However, the neck and back muscles are just as important even if they aren’t the main muscles people look at. 

The Romanian deadlift will give you more flexibility, strength, and power. You can also continue to do both if you choose. 

The main difference with the Romanian deadlift is that you start with the weight while you are standing instead of bending to pick the weight off the ground.

This why people who have lower back problems choose to do the Romanian deadlift over the regular variation. 

There is also more stiffness in the legs and less hip flexion. It will target your glutes and hamstrings more than the regular deadlift.

It will also be easier on your back and will help you avoid injury if you are healing your back or if your back is not very strong. 

While you can do the Romanian deadlift with completely straight legs, you still need a little bend in the knee. It will still be just as effective and be easier on your knees. 

As with man exercises, there are some modifications you can do. Sometimes starting with a barbell is too hard or too heavy.

Never try to do anything with weights that are too heavy because you feel like you don’t have any modification options. 

Some people will start with a PVC pipe or broomstick to get used to holding an object while bending and deadlifting.

This will help you master the form and get used to the movement. Once you have more flexibility, you can move into using the barbell. 

The single-leg variation is one of the hardest modifications and should not be done until you can complete the Romanian deadlift.  

How important are hamstrings?

When someone mentions building muscles, the hamstrings are probably the last muscles you think of.

Most people want to focus on their biceps or chest muscles. The legs and the hamstrings especially are often ignored. 

Hamstrings are important for any kind of squatting. So, if you plan to squat, you will need strong hamstrings. Hamstrings are also important for leaping, dancing, and yoga.

They help you maintain balance and stability. They are also important for rapid acceleration and deceleration. This helps you squat faster and keep a better form while you are moving. 

Safety tips

We already discussed how you should always keep the right form and use a mirror to check yourself.

Using a friend or a personal trainer can also be a great idea if you are worried about your form. They can ensure you do not receive any injuries. 

Using gloves can also give you better control over the weights or the barbell.

It will help you grip the bar better and allow you more stability as you bend and lift the weights back and forth. It will also take away the worry of dropping the bar when you get tired or if your hands get too sweaty. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Romanian Deadlifts

What’s the difference between a deadlift and a Romanian deadlift?

There is a major difference between a standard deadlift and a Romanian deadlift.

A person needs to understand these differences. The knowledge will help the person determine which deadlift variation to focus on when they are trying to work on specific muscles. 

The standard deadlift is started from a squat position. This particular deadlift is known to engage the mid-region of the back, as well as the quads. 

The Romanian deadlift, on the other hand, is rather initiated from a standing position. The variation is effective at engaging the hamstrings and the glutes.

Studies also show that this particular type of deadlift variant provides an effective activation of the bicep muscle groups. 

What are Romanian deadlifts?

Romanian deadlifts are known as a variant of the more traditional deadlift that people have been performing for a long time. 

Some people prefer the Romanian deadlift over the traditional option.

Others may prefer to combine different variations of the deadlift, including Romanian deadlifts, to target a larger variety of muscle groups in their body. 

The Romanian deadlift is started by standing up straight and then progressing into the move. The starting position is the main factor that differentiates the Romanian deadlift from other variations, as well as the standard deadlift move. 

Does Romanian deadlift work abs?

The Romanian deadlift is effective at engaging a range of muscle groups in the body.

This includes the core muscles, which are generally also referred to as the abs. 

Many people consider the Romanian deadlift an effective method for stabilizing the core. The exercise not only engages the abs but also promotes enhanced balance in the area. 

The Romanian deadlift is also a good option for people who have a difficult time effectively engaging their abs through other workouts. 

Is RDL harder than deadlift? 

It depends on a number of factors – such as the person’s current experience, as well as how strong they are. 

Some people do find that the Romanian deadlift variant is a bit harder to perform when they only get started.

This is usually due to the fact that muscles in the back need to work much harder compared to a more traditional type of deadlift. Thus, the person may need to ensure they have worked on their back muscles before attempting a Romanian deadlift. 

Apart from this, the Romanian deadlift should not be too hard to adopt – whether a person has done a standard deadlift before or is completely new to these exercises. 

Can you do Romanian deadlifts every day?

Some people do these deadlift variants every single day. Whether a person should do them daily depends on their goals and preferences, as well as their current fitness level. 

It is important to note that pushing the body too far at an early stage of a new training program can be dangerous.

This creates a risk of serious injury to muscle tissue – such as torn muscle fibers. When this happens, the person will be unable to perform these activities while the muscle fibers are recovering. 

Thus, when new to the Romanian deadlift or only starting out with a new program, it is advisable to perform the moves only a few times every week.

The frequency and intensity (weight) can be modified as a person gains more strength through their deadlift program. 

It is also important to note that people generally notice increased size in their muscles even when they only perform a few sessions of Romanian deadlifts weekly.

Thus, in the majority of cases, it is not necessary to perform the move every day to see real results. 

How does the sumo deadlift compare?

Some people have also heard of the sumo deadlift and wonder if it is similar to the Romanian deadlift.

In the sumo deadlift, your feet will be wider than your hands and will cause you to hold the weight closer to your body. This makes it easier on the back. 

It also works the glutes a little more than the regular deadlift and the Romanian deadlift. It also activates all the leg muscles as well as the hamstrings. It can also be performed easier with people who have shorter limbs and longer torsos. 

What are the benefits of the Romanian deadlift? 

There have been very many studies done on the Romanian deadlift and the health benefits it provides.

A study done by the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis statement (PRISMA) is the main one that has looked into the benefits of the Romanian deadlift. 

The study looked at the effects that the deadlift has on muscle activation and activity.

The researchers focused on both the traditional deadlift technique, as well as multiple variations – this included the Romanian deadlift. 

Multiple original studies were analysed to present a scientific paper on the evidence related to muscle activity associated with the deadlift and its variants. 

The Romanian deadlift was reported to provide a less significant activation of muscles that are located at the erector spinae.

On the other hand, there was a higher activation in certain muscles reported among people who perform a Romanian deadlift.

In particular, the semitendinosus and the biceps femoris had a greater activation through the use of a Romanian deadlift. The results were compared to traditional deadlifts, as well as other variations of the exercise. 

They compared the results to the results of the normal deadlift. Many muscles had more activation in the Romanian deadlift which means it may target more muscles and help you gain strength in additional areas. 

One of the main benefits is the hamstring muscles mass.

The increased mass will lead to better muscles size, higher strength, power application, and better sports performance. Your pulling strength will also increase.

With the different forms and variations, you can pull more weight and increase your glute and hamstring strength. This will also not limit your lower backload which means you can keep increasing in weight. 

With the target of muscles in the posterior chain, you will also have increased power application, overall leg strength, and running performance.

The increased strength and training will also make all your strength training exercises much easier. You will be able to do more exercises and lift more weight. 

Final Thoughts 

The Romanian deadlift is a great exercise to add to your fitness regime. It can give you stronger hamstring and glute muscles.

It will also make all of your strength training and exercising much easier. 

The most important thing is to remember the form.

Without a proper form, you will run the risk of injuring your neck and back. Neck and back injuries take a long time to heal from and could change the way you work out.

Don’t be afraid to reset the weight or start over if you feel like you are straining your lower back.

Always start with low weights and small reps and sets.  

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Dr. Ahmed Zayed holds a bachelor’s degree in medicine from Alexandria university and is a practicing plastic surgeon. He’s our expert on all things nutrition, medicine, rehabilitation, and flexibility. Dr.Ahmed has been a medical content writer for more than 11 years and his work reached top publications such as the HuffingtonPost

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