The Romanian deadlifts are a variant of the deadlifts among the most used in the gym to emphasize the glutes and hamstrings (and the whole rear kinetic chain).
They are easier to learn than deadlifts and this makes Romanian deadlifts an exceptional tool for those looking for aesthetic goals, for example for bodybuilding or general training in the gym.
What Is The Romanian Deadlift?
The name of the exercise most likely derives from the Romanian weightlifter Nic Vlad who used a dead stop variant without a dead stop (stop at the bottom or support on the ground) to reinforce the rear chain.
The Romanian deadlift differs from the deadlift due to the presence of an eccentric phase (the descent) and the absence of a dead stop (support of the barbell on the ground). These apparently trivial differences are instead the strengths of this exercise that allows, compared to the ‘big brother’:
- a more targeted muscle work,
- a better perception of hip movement,
- a greater lengthening of the femoral,
- better mechanical stress.
Romanian Deadlifts: Correct Execution And Tutorial
The exercise takes place standing and the start can take place:
- from above, detaching the rocker from the rack supports
- from the bottom starting from rises or detaching the barbell from the ground on the first repetition, continuing with the following ones as we will illustrate shortly.
How is the Romanian deadlift performed?
Starting standing: with legs extended and barbell against the thighs; the feet are positioned not beyond the width of the shoulders (to establish it you can make a jump with equal feet upwards or forwards, the width of the feet with which you land will be the one to maintain); the important thing is that you feel stable.
The hands, on the other hand, are placed laterally with respect to the thighs, the load is in the center of the soles of the feet and distributed evenly over them.
Descent keeping as much as possible the physiological curves of the spine, lean forward imagining to go backward with the butt and slightly bending the knees. The weight on the feet will shift slightly towards the heels.
How much to get off? You can take as a reference for the descent to get up to about mid-tibia, and not to the point where we are parallel to the ground with the torso (technically the latter is another variant of deadlift).
Another important factor is mobility: if it is not enough, the goal is to try to go down to the point where you can maintain the lumbar curve feeling the maximum stretch of the back of the thigh.
Ascent (concentric phase) repeating the same movement of the descent maintaining the lumbar curve. Stop when you have returned to the starting upright position maintaining the physiological curves, without inverting the lumbar curve to “squeeze the buttocks”, of which you will have to feel the contraction anyway.
Important note: when you get below the knee the bar remains “glued” to the shins both uphill and downhill and the arms are extended and do not bend during the movement.
Common Mistakes In Romanian Deadlifts
The difficulty of the Romanian deadlift is to learn to correctly coordinate knee and hip and keep the pelvis antiverse throughout the movement. In addition, you must also check the bar by keeping it close to you and in contact with the shins below the knee.
We can highlight several possible errors:
- Bending down in the descent with legs extended without control.
- Losing your back totally (hunching it) in some places or during the whole movement.
- Let go of the bar away from our body (below the knee), increasing the tension on the lower back.
- Try to keep the shoulder blades close together (like in the bench press by opening the chest).
This happens for several reasons:
- Not knowledge of the movement.
- Weakness of the back in holding (under load).
- Weakness of the hamstrings and buttocks.
These points can coexist, they are not necessarily present individually. For those who have major problems in one or more points here is a simple routine:
- Stand against a wall (possibly with a barbell and an overload that you perceive as such) and spaced a few centimeters apart.
- Following all the indications given for the correct execution of the Romanian deadlift go to touch the wall with your butt and stop. Perform the movement very slowly (descent 3-4 seconds, ascent 2-3 seconds) trying to listen to the body, from how the support moves on the foot, to the position of the spine as you bend forward. Do 8/15 repetitions.
- Now take a half step (even less) forward to distance yourself a little more from the wall. Repeat the exact same execution just explained. Do 8/15 repetitions.
Try to move further and further away from the wall or rear reference until you reach the distance that allows you to perform the Romanian deadlift. In this way, you will probably have a correct management of the pelvis/hip going backward, without ‘diving’ forward with the shoulders.
This short routine is done with an overload that could be a possible initial progression, a warm-up routine. In the first case, try to use a load more around 8 repetitions, and when you manage the movement well, start doing it with less slow speeds (ascent 1 ″, descent 2-3 ″) and with a progressively more important load. In the second case, you could be in the higher part of the recommended range.
A note on the grip: the advice is to use a prone and not mixed grip, with the help if necessary of clamps for the grip and chalk or liquid chalk.
Muscles Involved In Romanian Deadlifts
The muscles most involved are:
- gluteus maximus.
- hamstring ( hamstring, semitendinosus, semimembranous )
Since the load tends to cause the spine to flex, there will be an involvement (more and more marked as the loads rise) of all the deep muscles of the spine which allows its extension (multifidus, very long back, iliocostalis, interspinous, etc.) and of the great dorsal (trunk extensor).
The latter together with the arm extenders will also help to keep the bar close and “glued” to the shins during descent and ascent (you will perceive a sensation of “compactness” provided by its strong contraction).
Benefits Of Romanian Deadlifts
The Romanian deadlifts teach to control the “rotation of the hip” and the trunk through the use of the muscles mentioned in the previous paragraph.
This exercise, therefore, helps to create a motor pattern that teaches correct hip hinge movement (hip extension) with correct muscle activation, strengthening and making the posterior chain stronger in general.
Variants Of Romanian Deadlifts
Romanian Deadlifts With The Barbell
It is the main variant described in the article. The barbell has the advantage of allowing the use of large loads in stability and safety.
Romanian Deadlifts With Dumbbells Or Kettlebells
This variant involves the use of two dumbbells or two kettlebells instead of the barbell. They are extremely comfortable (you do not have to load and unload the barbell) and can allow a greater range of movement to subjects of short stature, but with very long upper limbs.
The movement is the same as that with a barbell, dumbbells compared to kettlebells can be more practical because they are less bulky, as the latter, if very large, can limit movement. In case of heavy loads, it is advisable to use clamps for the grip, so as not to stop for a weakness of the same when you could go forward.
This variant can also be reproduced using “different” overload sources such as water boxes (but the load is really negligible) or other heavier materials such as metal or concrete pieces (which already have a more interesting load).
Certainly, these latter variants will be more uncomfortable and we will necessarily have to make technical adjustments, such as the use of elevators if the load is bulky and does not allow you a suitable range of movement.
This variant involves keeping the knees fully extended. It allows a greater elongation of the hamstrings, however, the greater difficulty in keeping the spine in the right position often nullifies the benefits of this variant.
The straight leg deadlifts are a variant more suitable for subjects with excellent mobility and awareness of their body, but it is not advisable to perform with high loads in an indicative range of 6-8 repetitions, in which it makes more sense to opt for the variant in which we flex the knee (ie the classic one explained above).
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
The unilateral variant emphasizes the coordination and balancing aspect. It is performed by working with one limb at a time and keeping the other straight in line with the back or on the ground. Large loads are impeded both by single-sided work and by the increased demand in terms of balance.
It can be used to work on any asymmetries, to improve coordination skills, or if it is impossible to have enough kg to train the other variants.
Variant To The Multipower
The use of the multipower (which binds and guides the barbell along a vertical trajectory) thanks to the greater stability allows you to have more focus on the primary motor muscles of the movement, stressing all the stabilizers less.
It might make sense in advanced subjects who are already familiar with the gesture and want to limit the coordinative aspect. Another possible use is in the fearful beginner, to test the ground and make him become familiar with the movement, from which he then moves in favor of work with barbell and free weights.
Using it as an ‘easy’ solution immediately leads to not learning a correct hip hinge with the respective limitations in all the exercises in which it is contemplated.
Romanian Deadlifts With Resistance Bands For The Buttocks
In the strength curve of the Romanian deadlift, the greatest tension on the muscles involved is in maximum elongation (end of eccentric phase, beginning of concentric), in fact, the more vertical you are, the lower the component of the weight force (the barbell that weighs) which tends to flex the hip, resulting in less involvement of its extensors.
The use of a loop band around the waist placed in such a way that it ‘pulls’ the pelvis back and opposes the extension of the hip, allows you to place more tension in the last stretch of movement at the top.
An excellent variant that combines the lengthening work of the Romanian deadlift with greater stress in peak contraction. If the elastic is of the correct resistance it could help the beginner subject to start the movement from the hip, then be inserted as a real propaedeutic.
Romanian Sumo Deadlifts
The Romanian deadlift can also be performed with an opening of the feet wider than the shoulders (by a lot), some subjects report that they perceive the gluteus maximus better with this variant.
The choice could, if the feeling is better, fall on this variant even if the muscle activation does not change much, as long as the correct physiological curves of the spine are maintained during movement.
The advice is to adapt the variant to the subject in front of you and to its levers: very tall subjects may be better off with this variant (it depends on the proportions of the various body segments).
Romanian Deadlifts On The Low Cable
Performing this exercise with the low cable changes the dynamics of the “traditional” exercise, as the cable pulley is located behind you, so there is less work on the hamstrings, especially in lengthening, as the cable “pulls us back” and we will perceive the back more than the target areas: buttocks and hamstrings.
This variant is not recommended except in cases where the pulley is located approximately near the tips of the feet and allows you to simulate the movement that we would do with the barbell.
Romanian Deadlifts For Muscle Mass
The Romanian deadlift contributes to the muscular development of the posterior chain in a “systemic” way, that is, it is not a “sectoral” exercise in which we work mainly on one muscle.
There are really many districts involved: we can consider it a more muscular exercise that emphasizes more work on the spinal erectors, buttocks, and hamstrings, which can help create a back and glute-femoral compartment of an impact compared to the traditional deadlift (regular).
The advice is that, if you perform this exercise, not to think that it removes the need for accessory and more specific work (with a view to muscle development), but to combine it with sectoral isolation exercises to work these muscles in a more sectorial way. We will deepen the question in the following paragraphs.
How To Train With Romanian Deadlifts
How many reps to do?
Since there are many muscles involved, we need to contextualize the work in our programming. The weekly volume is individual and to be adapted to the training parameters we are working on; the options are many, this idea is for explanatory purposes. Specific volume on the Romanian deadlift: 9 weekly series
What loads and intensities to use?
The intensity generally suitable for this type of exercise is medium-high, speaking of numbers, the advice is to work in a rep range that goes from 4 to 10 repetitions, in% we are between about 85-75%.
There is not an optimal frequency for everyone, one possibility could be to work on the Romanian deadlifts in two weekly sessions (multi-frequency) using a wavy approach:
- Heavy day: load progression focus (rep range 6-4 repetitions)
- Volume day: reps progression focus (rep range 8-10 reps)
In the second workout (but also in both) we could include targeted work for the hamstrings.
Back Pain During Romanian Deadlifts
Since the treatment of subjects with back pain is not the subject of this article, we can say that when you have pain during the execution of the exercise, the following factors should be analyzed:
- Do I perform the exercise correctly? If the answer is no, work on the technique and possibly rely on a coach who knows how to correct you. If positive, go to the 2nd point.
- Have I been sedentary for some time and have I recently started training? If the answer is yes, give yourself time and don’t work by over-pulling each set, give your body time to adapt and strengthen the posterior chain muscles. If negative, go to the 3rd point.
- Am I weak in the back also in other exercises? (squats, barbell rowing, horizontal pulley, etc …) If yes, think carefully about the selection of exercises, avoid if possible to suddenly inserting too many exercises that tax the lower back but be gradual.
If the back discomfort persists, the invitation is to investigate the matter together with health professionals, for example, the physiotherapist, to better evaluate the case and understand how to solve the problem.
The Romanian deadlift is not a mandatory exercise. If it was actually the only exercise in which you encounter persistent problems, you could opt for other variants of a deadlift.
Difference Between Romanian Deadlifts And Deadlifts
Analyzing the two exercises we immediately notice some differences, let’s see them by “sectors”:
- Movement: in the Romanian deadlift we have an eccentric component during the descent that we do not have in the regular deadlift, resulting in greater mechanical stress on the hamstrings and buttocks.
- There is a ” help ” in the lower ascent phase by the quadriceps, the starting knee is generally less flexed because you start with the barbell slightly higher than the regular deadlift.
- The Romanian deadlift is a movement in which we have a greater focus on the hip extension movement and in which, especially if inserted in a bodybuilding contest, the athlete focuses more on pre-tensioning the hamstrings and buttocks more than a regular deadlift.
- Possibility of carrying out work in direct voltage in the Romanian variant as we are not bound to the start from the ground.
- The Romanian deadlift is less taxing on recovery than a regular deadlift due to the fact that the absolute loads raised are generally lower, so we have a lower commitment of the “nervous system” control unit.
Difference Between Romanian Deadlifts And Good Morning
The two exercises are similar in terms of movement, the difference is that in the Romanian deadlift the barbell is not on the back and therefore the exercise is generally perceived as “safer”.
In the gym, the Romanian deadlift is confused with the SLDL (another variant of deadlift that goes beyond this article), which are two movements with different purposes and executions, so in the common imagination good morning and Romanian deadlifts are two different planets, in reality, is not like that at all.
The advice to the average user is to first learn an excellent Romanian deadlift, then eventually move on to the good morning (not necessarily).
Both are hip hinge movements with the same didactic purpose, that is “to teach the control of hip and trunk rotation through the use of buttocks, hamstrings and spinal erectors”.
Romanian Deadlifts Or Leg Curls?
It is not sensible to think in absolutisms, we are talking about exercises that involve the “hamstrings”, but with substantial differences in terms of:
- Movement: while the Romanian deadlift places us in front of a “motor problem” to be solved, the leg curl is a very banal movement of the guided knee, without great motor difficulties. The leg curl emphasizes the knee flexion action of the hamstrings, the Romanian deadlift that of hip extension.
- Muscle involvement: the leg curl practically selectively involves the “hamstrings”, the Romanian deadlift involves many more muscles and not just the hamstrings in a selective way.
- Recovery: a leg curl has a less important impact on recovery than a deadlift because of the certainly less important usable loads and the fact that the muscles involved are fewer.
It goes without saying that you can very well integrate both of these exercises into your programming as they can complement each other in contributing to muscle and motor development.
Alternative To Romanian Deadlifts
A substitute that mimics a simpler hip hinge movement but allows for lesser loads to be moved could be a 45 ° hyperextension bench. It also changes the fact that there is never a “dead” point and the sensation will be very different at the muscular level, unlike the deadlift in which when we are at the top the distance between the pelvis and the barbell is short and the muscular work to maintain the position is minor.
The advice is, if possible, to learn the hip hinge movement with the barbell, using the hyperextension 45 ° or similar machines more as “contour” exercises in which to perform for example work with an emphasis on peak contractions, medium rep range – highs, intensity techniques, etc.
The Romanian deadlift is an exceptional exercise for the posterior chain that is more “muscular” than the classic deadlift, in particular for the hamstrings and buttocks.
Its peculiarities make it versatile both as a compliment and as the main stimulus for these muscles, for which it makes sense to insert targeted work for optimal and complete muscle development. It is also an exercise that teaches the hip hinge movement, which is fundamental both with weights and in sports in general.