After dedicating a decade and a half to improving my fitness and mobility, I’ve come to appreciate Romanian deadlifts for what they are: one of the most effective tools for building strength and mass in the hamstrings and glutes.
Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) are a cornerstone exercise for building strength, stability, and muscle mass throughout one’s posterior chain. Yet, they’re often neglected in favor of more popular compound movements such as conventional or suma deadlifts.
However, the truth is that RDLs are an excellent strength-builder that shouldn’t be substituted for any other exercise—instead, they should be viewed as a complementary exercise to help enhance your lower body strength and the explosivity of your hip extension.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to perform RDLs safely, prevent injury, understand their benefits, and integrate them seamlessly into your calisthenics regimen.
Table of Contents
What are Romanian Deadlifts?
Romanian deadlifts are a compound exercise that primarily targets the muscles of the posterior chain, including the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Unlike traditional deadlifts where the bar starts on the ground, Romanian deadlifts begin with the barbell at hip height.
For calisthenics athletes, Romanian deadlifts do not need to be performed with a barbell. You can still get a terrific RDL workout by substituting barbells for other pieces of equipment such as dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands (like the Torroband or the Redge Fit), sandbags, and even one’s bodyweight.
The movement involves hinging at the hips while maintaining a slight bend in the knees, lowering the resistance towards the floor, and then returning to the starting position by driving through the hips.
Performing Romanian Deadlifts Safely
- Start Light: Begin with a lighter weight to focus on mastering the technique before increasing the load.
- Maintain Proper Form: Keep your back straight, chest up, and shoulders pulled back throughout the movement. Avoid rounding your back, which can increase the risk of injury.
- Control the Descent: Lower the barbell under control, maintaining tension in the hamstrings and avoiding excessive bouncing or jerking.
- Engage the Core: Brace your core muscles to stabilize your spine and protect your lower back.
- Mind-Muscle Connection: Focus on feeling the stretch in your hamstrings as you lower the weight and squeeze your glutes as you return to the starting position.
Preventing Injury From Romanian Deadlifts
Injury prevention is paramount when incorporating Romanian deadlifts into your lower body exercise routine. Here are some key tips to stay safe:
- Warm-Up Properly: Perform dynamic stretches and activation exercises to prepare your muscles for the demands of the workout.
- Use Proper Equipment: Wear supportive footwear and use a weightlifting belt if necessary to provide additional support for your lower back. I recommend flat, hard footwear or bare feet.
- Listen to Your Body: If you experience any pain or discomfort, stop the exercise immediately and consult a fitness professional.
- Gradually Increase Intensity: Progressively overload your muscles by gradually increasing the weight and volume of your Romanian deadlift workouts over time.
Benefits of Romanian Deadlifts
Besides getting a mind-blowing pump in your glutes and hamstrings, there are a host of other important benefits associated with Romanian deadlifts.
- Strength and Muscle Growth: Romanian deadlifts target key muscles in the posterior chain, promoting strength and hypertrophy in the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
- Improved Posture: By strengthening the muscles responsible for spinal alignment and stability, Romanian deadlifts can help improve posture and reduce the risk of back pain.
- Functional Fitness: The hip-hinging movement pattern of Romanian deadlifts mimics everyday activities like bending over to pick up objects, making them a valuable exercise for functional fitness.
- Calisthenics Integration: Romanian deadlifts can complement calisthenics training by targeting muscles that are often neglected in bodyweight exercises, such as the hamstrings and lower back.
For a calisthenics athlete, Romanian deadlifts will improve the explosivity of your hip hinges. The result is a better muscle-up and an improved ability to squat and perform dynamic movements with your hips and lower body.
To maximize the benefits of Romanian deadlifts and create a well-rounded workout routine, consider incorporating the following exercises:
- Squats: Pairing Romanian deadlifts with squats help to balance out lower body development and improve overall lower body strength.
- Hip Thrusts: Hip thrusts target the glutes and hip extensors, complementing the hamstring-focused nature of Romanian deadlifts.
- Lunges: Lunges work the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings while also improving balance and coordination.
- Planks: Core stability is essential for maintaining proper form during Romanian deadlifts, making plank holds an excellent complementary exercise.
Ultimately, the Romanian deadlift stands on its own. If you regularly perform RDLs and follow the principles of progressive overload, you can see huge gains in the strength and explosivity of your glutes, hips, and hamstrings.
Performing Romanian Deadlifts at Home
Even without traditional gym equipment, you can still perform effective Romanian deadlifts using common household objects. Here’s how:
- Backpacks: Fill a backpack with heavy items such as books, water bottles, or canned goods to create resistance. Put on the backpack and hold onto the straps with both hands.
- Water Jugs or Milk Cartons: Large water jugs or milk cartons filled with water can serve as makeshift weights for Romanian deadlifts. Hold one jug or carton in each hand with an overhand grip.
- Laundry Detergent Bottles: Empty laundry detergent bottles filled with sand or water can provide a challenging resistance for Romanian deadlifts. Hold one bottle in each hand with a firm grip.
- Chairs or Sturdy Furniture: Use sturdy chairs or furniture as support for performing bodyweight Romanian deadlifts. Stand facing a chair or low table with feet hip-width apart. Bend at the hips while keeping a slight bend in the knees and lower your torso towards the ground, using the furniture for support if needed.
- Towels or Resistance Bands: Towels or resistance bands can add an extra challenge to bodyweight Romanian deadlifts. Anchor one end of the towel or resistance band under your feet and hold the other end in each hand.
- Heavy Books or Textbooks: Stack heavy books or textbooks in a backpack or tote bag to create resistance for Romanian deadlifts. Hold onto the handles of the bag with both hands.
With a bit of creativity and resourcefulness, you can easily adapt household objects to perform Romanian deadlifts at home. Just remember to focus on proper form, engage the target muscles, and listen to your body to ensure a safe and effective workout.
Master The Romanian Deadlift Today
It’s no coincidence that all of the strongest athletes I know regularly perform Romanian deadlifts. While this movement is often overlooked due to the popularity of conventional deadlifts, everyone, regardless of their skill level, can benefit from incorporating Romanaina deadlifts into their fitness routine.
Romanian deadlifts are a versatile and effective exercise for building strength, stability, and muscle mass. By mastering proper technique, listening to your body, and incorporating complementary exercises, you can safely integrate Romanian deadlifts into your workouts and unlock the full potential of your hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors.
That’s all for now, Gymless Heroes! To supplement your Romanian deadlift training, consider also practicing the following key posterior chain movements:
Not sure you’re ready to start performing Romanian deadlifts? Consider booking a free 30-minute consultation with one of our qualified coaches for a personalized approach to performing RDLs.
Liam Hunt, M.A., is a writer and fitness enthusiast with a background in endurance cycling as well as competitive ice hockey, CrossFit, powerlifting, and bodybuilding. He is certified in Exercise Theory and Resistance Training from the Nova Scotia Fitness Association (NFSA).