Romanian Deadlift 101: Steps, Proper Form, And Common Mistakes

Romanian Deadlift or RDL - Fitzabout
10 min read
Updated: February 9, 2023

The Romanian Deadlift, also called RDL, is a variation of deadlift that targets your glutes and hamstrings and minimizes the involvement of your quads and hip muscles.

The deadlift showed greater activation of the quadriceps muscles than the gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles. In general, semitendinosus muscle activation is dominant within the hamstring muscle complex compared to the biceps femoris. The Romanian deadlift is associated with less activation for the erector spinae than for the biceps femoris and semitendinosus. 1 2

Muscle worked

  1. Erector spinae
  2. Gluteus maximus
  3. Hamstrings
    • Biceps femoris
    • Seemitendonosus
    • Semimemtranosus
  4. Adductor magus
  5. Gastrocnemius
  6. Trapezius
  7. Forearm flexors

What is Romanian Deadlift or RDL?

Romanian Deadlift or RDL - Fitzabout

The “RDL,” as it is often called Romanian Deadlift, was started by a Romanian powerlifter named Nicu Vlad, who performed outrageous feats of strength such as squatting 700 pounds (0.32 t) while weighing only 220 pounds (ca. 100 kg). So when Nicu Vlad did an exercise that no one had seen before, naturally people turned their attention to him not being as strong as he was.

This exercise involves lifting the bar out of the rack from the hang position, retracting to clear the rack, and then lowering the bar to mid-shin and raising it back into the hang position. The movement looked a lot like a deadlift, but one that started from above instead of below, so naturally it had to be given a new name. The term “Romanian deadlift” has since been applied to it.

Although the name translated from Romanian is probably somewhat different; if it even has a Romanian name, the exercise has since that day been entirely developed in the United States and may have been Vlad’s way of dealing with unfamiliar equipment. It is referred to by the initials “RDL”.

How to do the Romanian Deadlift?

The RDL has two important characteristics that differentiate it from the deadlift.

The first is that it uses the quadriceps too little because the knee starts out almost straight—unlocked, but stays so—and not too much; So the quads don’t get the opportunity to actively extend the knee during the movement.

The RDL is intended specifically as a hip extension exercise, and the quads are not considered involved except for isometrically anchoring the knee angle anteriorly.

All work that occurs through the bottom of the range of motion and that is normally shared between the knee extensors and hip extensors is performed by the glutes and hamstrings alone.

The muscles of the lower back keep the lumbar spine locked in line with the pelvis.

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The hamstrings, acting on their attachments on the ischial tuberosities, cause rotation around the hip joints as they pull together the bottom of the pelvis and the back of the knees, making the hamstrings and glutes prime movers during the exercise.

But more important is the difference in the fundamental nature of the two movements.

The deadlift begins with a concentric contraction as the bar is pulled from the floor, and the eccentric phase isn’t really stressed because the lift is essentially over once you lock out at the top.

In contrast, the RDL is like the squat in that the movement begins with an eccentric contraction, the “negative,” which is preceded by concentric. The bar starts from a position of knee and hip extension, the bar is lowered into flexion, and a stretch reflex initiates the concentric contraction back into extension.

Any concentric contraction is stronger when it is preceded by this stretch reflex, due to increased efficiency in motor unit recruitment and the ability of the elastic components of the muscle and connective tissues to absorb the elastic energy developed during eccentric expansion of the muscle belly. Has the ability to store.

A jump is the best example of this principle; Every time a jump of any kind is made, it is preceded by a small drop of the hips and knees, which creates a stretch reflex in the muscles that contract to jump. It takes a great effort of will to jump without this drop—it is such a normal part of human movement that it is very difficult to single out.

The stretch reflex also explains why it’s so popular to bounce off the second through fifth rep of a set of five deadlifts from the floor. The vast majority of weight room exercises can be “cheated” by the use of a cleverly placed or exaggerated stretch reflex.

But for the RDL—and the squat, bench, jerk, and maybe press, depending on how it’s performed – the stretch reflex isn’t cheating but an inherent part of the movement.

The bounce from the lower back of the RDL enables heavy weights to be used in the exercise, despite the fact that the quads are excluded from helping with the movement.

RDLs take advantage of the stretch reflex only to the extent that it affects the hip extensors.

1. Setup and movement

  1. The RDL begins with a load on the bottom of the safety pin or rack. You use the same stance and grip as in a regular deadlift, and you move the weight back a step or two.
  2. In the starting position, your knees are locked, your chest is up, your back is straight and tight, and your eyes should be focused on a point on the floor about 10 feet (ca. 3 m) away.
  3. When you initiate the movement, you open your knees enough to put some tension on the quads, and your back should be slightly arched.
  4. Start the bar in a straight line under the thighs by pushing the hips back, and your torso should lean forward to keep your shoulders directly over the bar.
  5. The bar passes over your knees and under your shins, and you go as low as you can without breaking the extension of your back. Due to the increased angle of the torso, you probably won’t be able to go past your knees a few inches, and that’s okay. In fact, if the weight is touching the floor, you’re doing it wrong, you’re bending the knees.
  6. Resist the temptation to ease the tension in the knees at the bottom, as this shifts the load from the hamstrings to the quads.
  7. Once you’ve achieved a good stretch in your hamstrings and your back is ready to unlock, start back up. On the way up, keep your chest and back tight and locked in position, and lift the bar straight up over your legs.
  8. Keep your back straight for the entire lift. Don’t let the chest sag or the lower back sag.3
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2. Tips

It is important to maintain structural integrity for as long as possible. You should check in with yourself to make sure you’re lifting as safely as possible and to know when to pull the cord.

Here are the tips that you can’t do wrong during the Romanian Deadlift (RDL).

Hips instead of knees

  • The emphasis on bringing everything back is very important; Using the hips instead of the knees engages the hip extensors and works out the quads.
  • It helps to think about shifting the weight back to the heels, driving the knees back, pushing the bar back to stay in contact with the feet, and taking the butt back.
  • In fact, everything retracts except the shoulders, which slide forward over the bar.

Shin and knee

  • The shins should come out vertical before the bar reaches the knees, and the knees should never go forward after the initial unlocking.
  • Any forward knee movement puts the quads in a position to contribute to the movement by extending the knee all the way back up, canceling out the desired hip-extension effect.

Hamstring strain

  • The most common error would be a problem with the front of the knees. You’ll be tempted to ease the stress on your knees at the bottom.
  • Hamstring tension builds all the way down and isn’t relieved until the muscle is shortened, either by working to extend the hips at the top or by relaxing your knees at the bottom.
  • If you shorten the hamstrings by allowing the knees to drop forward—thus bending the knees and bringing the two ends of the hamstrings together, taking the tension off the bottom—the quads will do the work that the hamstrings do.
  • When they extend the knees during the recovery at the top.

Failing to keep the back rigid

  • Failure to keep the back rigid in full extension is common.
  • One of the main benefits of RDLs is the isometric work it provides to the erectors, as they keep the spine rigid while the hamstrings extend the hips.
  • This back position is tough to hold, and requires a great deal of concentration for the lifter to keep the chest up and the low back arched without any slack, while sliding the hips back, knees back, the bar back, heels down, and shoulders forward.
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Round the back or knees come forward

  • The RDL for slow exercise is technically difficult because it is so easy to get wrong.
  • If the rear quads or knees come forward, less work is being done by the targeted muscle groups and the movement feels easier.
  • But done correctly, with the back locked in rigid extension and no knee extension involved, the RDL is probably the best adjunct exercise to deadlifts and cleans because it does much of the work that heavy deadlifts do. Is.

“Chest up,” “arch behind,” and “knee behind” cues

  • The cues for proper form on the Romanian Deadlift are “chest up,” “arch the back,” and “knees back,” with an occasional reminder to keep the weight off your toes.
  • The chest cue will remind you to keep the thoracic spine in extension, while arching the back is usually interpreted by most people as a low-back cue.
  • The knee cue keeps the quads out of motion, but it can also cause the bar to fall away from the legs, and you may need to cue the lats by thinking of “pushing the bar back”.

Use a double overhand grip

  • Use a double overhand grip, when you’re doing heavy RDLs.
  • The shoulder asymmetry that results from an alternate grip is not desirable for this exercise, and the lats may not effectively pull the bar back into the legs if you’re using one hand supine.
  • The weights used for heavy RDLs are not really heavy relative to deadlifts, most people are able to use between 65% and 75% of their 1RM deadlifts for the exercise. So a plain old double overhand grip usage often won’t be a problem.
  • If your grip strength is insufficient, use hook grips or straps, which should not be at 65-75% of 1RM, but with both your hands in a prone position.4

  1. Giuseppe Coratella, Gianpaolo Tornatore, Stefano Longo, Fabio Esposito, and Emiliano Cè. An Electromyographic Analysis of Romanian, Step-Romanian, and Stiff-Leg Deadlift: Implication for Resistance Training,” Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Feb; 19(3): 1903. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19031903. PMCID: PMC8835508. PMID: 35162922.[]
  2. Isabel Martín-Fuentes, Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Methodology, José M. Oliva-Lozano, Conceptualization, Data curation, Methodology, José M. Muyor, Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Funding acquisition, Methodology, Supervision. “Electromyographic activity in deadlift exercise and its variants. A systematic review,” PLoS One. 2020; 15(2): e0229507. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0229507. PMCID: PMC7046193. PMID: 32107499.[]
  3. Source: Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body. By Michael Matthews. Available here:[]
  4. Source: Starting Strength – Basic Barbell Training by Mark Rippetoe. Available here:[]

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