Looking to build bigger, stronger legs? This exercise is key

a photo of a man and woman in the gym holding a barbell
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The Romanian deadlift is a take on the deadlift, which most weight lifting gym goers are very much acquainted with. It’s a great exercise for developing two very important muscle groups — your hamstrings, and your glutes.

We spoke with Lyanne Hodson (opens in new tab), an experienced PT & Co-Founder of StrongHer (opens in new tab), to find out all there is to know about Romanian deadlifts, how to do them, their benefits, and common form mistakes.

The Romanian deadlift is responsible for hitting the posterior chain, aka the powerhouse of movement. Basically, anything from the posterior simply means, butt, calves, hamstrings, or back. And, in this case, it’s referring to all the muscles that are on the backside of your body, starting right up in the traps right down to your calves. 

Romanian deadlifts are one of the best leg day accessory strength movements to help you not only get over strength plateaus and hit new PBs, but increase & improve explosiveness, speed, power, and day-to-day hip health. Want to know how to do them with perfect form? Read on. 

How to do a Romanian deadlift

The main difference between a deadlift and a Romanian deadlift is where the barbell is where you start the movement. A conventional deadlift starts with the bar on the floor, the Romanian deadlift, or RDL, starts with the bar at hip height. 

That said, to do an RDL correctly, the bar must be lifted from the floor in a safe way. Before you start, to lift the bar without putting any pressure on your back, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes forwards. Position the barbell so that it’s over your shoelaces when you look straight down. In this position, the torso must be upright, the arms are straight, and the shoulder blades are dropped down. This will allow you to “lock” the back and minimize strain on the neck.

Bend down and grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip, be sure to keep your back flat, an easy way to think of this is to stick your chest and butt out, plus shoulders over the barbell, and then stand up.

This move can also be done using dumbbells. We've found the best adjustable dumbbells for weightlifting at home here. 

Now to do the Romanian deadlift:

Step 1 —  Control the Eccentric Phase (the lowering phase)

Once you have set the back, imagine you are being punched in the stomach (to help you brace your core) and push the hips back like you are opening a door with your butt. Whilst doing this, graze the barbell or dumbbells down your legs and keep that back flat. Your torso should ideally become parallel with the floor and the dumbbells or barbells hang at shin level. When done correctly, you should feel tension developing in the hamstrings and across the back (lower and middle, especially around the shoulder blades).

Step 2 — Lift with the Hips and Hamstrings

Once you are at the bottom position, imagine someone as sent an electric shock through your butt and snap back up.

Step 3 — Achieve Full Hip Extension 

As you reach full extension of the hips, be sure to keep the ribcage down and glutes active.

an illustration of a woman doing a romanian deadlift

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

What are the benefits of Romanian deadlifts?

Romanian deadlifts are great for those who want to improve their hip mobility and target their glutes. So those who find themselves preferring squats above all else in the gym, these are for you! They can also help to strengthen the posterior chain muscles and engage the core.

What are the different variations to try?

You can try lots of different variations when it comes to Romanian deadlifts. Some of those variations include:

Barbell Romanian deadlift

Single leg Romanian deadlift — as the name suggests, this move is often done by holding a dumbbell in one hand and balancing on one leg. 

Banded Romanian deadlift — here's how to deadlift with a resistance band. 

Single arm Romanian deadlift

Snatch grip Romanian deadlift

What are some common form mistakes?

Rounding the low back

This usually occurs due to the lack of control or awareness through the trunk of the body, or when people attempt to go lower than their hamstring mobility will allow.

Bar drifts away from body

If you fail to engage your lats, therefore pressing the bar into your legs, the bar will travel away from the centre of gravity.

Too much knee flexion

This also often occurs when someone goes further than their mobility allows. But, it can also be related to a lack of understanding of pushing the hips back to stretch the hamstrings. 

Looking for more workout inspiration? This is one of the best exercises for targeting your inner thighs, plus we've found the best ab workouts on YouTube here. Also, read what happened when our fitness editor did 30 sit-ups a day for 30 days

Mollie is a UK based, Welsh, lifestyle journalist. She writes frequently on all things involving women, health and fitness, and beauty - amongst other topics. Her work can be found in Cosmopolitan, Insider, the Independent, Women’s Health and more. In her spare time, you’ll find her at the pottery wheel or walking her basset hound.