Romanian deadlifts, better known by their English name Romanian deadlifts, abbreviated RDLs, are an unpopular though effective exercise for simultaneously strengthening your (lower) back, especially your buttocks and hamstrings.
The invention of the Romanian deadlift is credited to Nicu Vlad, a – you guessed it – Romanian weightlifter. Vlad took part in no fewer than four Olympic Games in the period 1984-’96 and collected a total of three medals: gold in 1984 in the class up to 90 kilograms, silver in 1988 (-100 kg) and bronze in 1996 (-108 kg). In 1992 he ended up next to the podium. He is also a multiple world champion and European champion and he broke several world records. While you may doubt that Vlad was really the one who first performed this exercise, you should at least give him credit for popularizing it.
The Romanian or Romanian deadlift has therefore traditionally been an auxiliary exercise for weightlifters who wanted to improve their clean with it – the first phase of the clean and jerk, one of the two parts of Olympic weightlifting, the other being the snatch (‘pulling’).
Bodybuilders and especially powerlifters soon adopted the exercise. The former use it to develop their lower back, glutes and hamstrings. Powerlifters too, but with the specific goal of improving their deadlift – more precisely the second phase, or the lockout.
CORRECT EXECUTION, MISTAKES AND TIPS
In a way, you can think of the Romanian deadlift as a deadlift with a limited range of motion. But that’s too short sighted. Typical for the Romanian deadlift is that you start the exercise standing up and therefore don’t actually ‘lift’ at all; you start te exercise with lowering the weight.
Another, often overlooked and ignored difference from the conventional deadlift is the grip width. With Romanian deadlifts you use the wider snatch grip, with – depending on your arm length – your pinkies against, on or over the outer markings on the barbell. Note that this is an effective way to increase range of motion, even on standard deadlifts.
You start the exercise standing upright, with your feet about shoulder-width apart. That is also somewhat wider than with a normal deadlift, where the feet should be hip-width apart. Keep the bar at hip height, more or less the same as the end position in conventional deadlifts. From this position, you lower the weight by mainly bending your hips and pushing your butt backwards, working your gluteus maximus and hamstrings, especially the long head of your biceps femoris (also called ‘two-headed thigh muscle’).
You only bend your knees minimally, it is important that you maintain this bend for the rest of the repetition. Your lower back maintains its natural curve at all times. This means that your back stretcher (erector spinae) is trained statically.
You lower the weight just past your knee joint, or to the top of your shin. This is the end position of the exercise. If you want to lower the weight further, you will have to bend your knees further and/or give up the neutral position of your lumbar spine (‘lower back’), which is undesirable. In fact, the purpose of the Romanian deadlift is to limit the role of your quadriceps in the exercise by minimizing the knee bend, thereby placing the emphasis on your hamstrings, glutes and – to a limited extent – your lower back.
From the end position, so when the bar is slightly past your knees, you then explosively extend your hips and knees, to return to the starting position. ‘Explosive’, to avoid stretching too much from your lower back. More about that in the video below.
Repeat all this until the desired number of repetitions is reached.
You can also perform the RDL in a squat track, so that you can always put the bar down in the bottom position. Just figuring out how high you can place the pins; better start a little too high and then see if you can go a little lower while maintaining a correct position (see directions above). This so-called rack RDL has two important advantages: you know exactly how low you have to go with every rep and it is easier to maintain correct form because you do not create momentum (you start each rep from a dead position), so that you mainly lower back.
RDL with dumbbells
If you don’t have a barbell, you can also do the RDL with dumbbells. You then do not hold the dumbbells at your sides, but horizontally in front of you when going down, as if you were holding a barbell:
For advanced users this application of the two moves technique in eccentric training. Here you combine a regular deadlift with a Romanian deadlift, with the aim of being able to perform the eccentric phase of the RDL (the one where you lower the weight) heavier than you normally could. A great way to break through plateaus in strength and/or muscle growth. You lift the weight as in a regular deadlift, so lower it as with an RDL. This allows you to perform the eccentric phase of the RDL up to 50 percent harder than if you were doing a full RDL.
SETS AND REPS
How many repetitions, or reps you need to do per set for Romanian deadlifts, depends on your training goals. If muscle strength is your primary goal, use heavier weights and do fewer reps. If muscle mass is your goal, you exchange pounds for reps, usually in de range of 6-10 reps.
ROMANIAN DEADLIFT VS. STIFF LEGGED DEADLIFT
The Romanian deadlift is not the same as the stiff-legged deadlift, as is often incorrectly suggested. At first glance, the exercises look similar and the starting position is indeed the same for both exercises. But that’s where the comparison ends. In a stiff-legged deadlift, you keep your legs almost straight and bend forward from your waist. In the Romanian deadlift you bend forward from your hips and have a slight bend in the knees.
These differences mean that with the stiff-legged you use less of your hamstrings and buttocks, and more of your erector spinae and lower back. In summary, the stiff-legged deadlift is more of a back exercise and the Romanian deadlift is more of a legs and butt exercise.