How to Do a Romanian Deadlift for Stronger Glutes and Hamstrings

person doing barbell Romanian deadlift at the gym
The Romanian deadlift primarily strengthens your glutes and hamstrings while protecting your lower back.
Image Credit: gpointstudio/iStock/GettyImages

There are many deadlift variations that do wonders for training your backside, but the Romanian deadlift, aka the RDL, is one of the best moves for reaping the glute-building benefits of the hip hinge. That's because when you're doing an RDL, the movement primarily comes from your hips.

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We did a deep dive into how to do RDLs with good form, their benefits and how to add them to your own training.

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  • What is a Romanian deadlift?‌ It's a lower-body, hip-hinging movement. This means it's performed by bending your hips as much as possible, with just a little bend in your knees and no bend in your ankles.
  • What muscles does a Romanian deadlift work?‌ The primary muscles are your hamstrings and glutes. It also works your erector spinae on your lower back, your lats, rhomboids and lower traps on your upper back and your forearm flexors.
  • What are Romanian deadlifts for?‌ They can help you achieve many different gym goals. They're a fantastic tool for building lower body, back, core and grip strength. Because these areas are essential for producing power, RDLs also help improve athletic performance. You can use RDLs to build muscle on your legs, back and forearms. RDLs can also act as a more back-friendly alternative to traditional barbell deadlifts.
  • Who can perform Romanian deadlifts?‌ RDLs performed without any weight are perfect for learning how to hip hinge. Those who are stronger and are more familiar with the hip hinge can perform RDLs with a kettlebell, dumbbells or even a barbell. If you have a history of low back pain and injuries, however, talk to your doctor or physical therapist before including RDLs in your workouts.

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How to Do a Romanian Deadlift With Proper Form

This variation is the most versatile loading option and is great for people of all ability levels. Beginners will find it easy to learn good form, and once you have the form down, can use light dumbbells. Those who are more experienced can build strength and muscle using heavy and/or longer sets of dumbbell RDLs.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
  2. Initiate the movement by bending your knees slightly. Keep your chest tall as you reach your hips back behind you. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Keep the dumbbells close to your legs.
  3. Reach your hips back as far as you can without rounding your low back or your shoulders.
  4. Finish the rep by driving your legs into the ground and returning to the starting position.

How to Program Romanian Deadlifts Into Your Workouts

Goal

Reps

Strength

3 –6

Hypertrophy

6–12

Endurance

10–20

5 Romanian Deadlift Benefits

1. It Builds Lower-Body Strength

There's a reason why Romanian deadlifts are frequently used by powerlifters: They're one of the best exercises for building strong legs. RDLs are especially effective at strengthening your hamstrings and glutes.

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One reason why RDLs are so great at building strength is that they're less technically complex than other exercises (like barbell deadlifts from the floor) and can be safely loaded with heavy weights.

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The upright starting position also makes RDLs easier to perform from a technical standpoint than deadlifts because our brains have an easier time coordinating a hinge when we begin in a standing position versus picking a weight up from the floor.

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2. It Strengthens Your Back

When you perform an RDL, your upper back muscles including your lats, rhomboids and lower traps must fire constantly to keep the weight close to your body. This is known as an isometric contraction.

Even though you aren't actually moving your upper body during the exercise, these isometric contractions stimulate your nervous system, helping you build upper-back strength.

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RDLs are also hugely beneficial for your lower back, which keeps your torso stable while you move your arms and legs. Romanian deadlifts strengthen your low back's ability to protect your spine while moving.

3. It Works Your Grip

Grip strength refers to your ability to hold onto heavy weights (or your body weight) for long periods of time.

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A strong grip is not only important for your workouts but it's also correlated with overall health and longevity, according to an August 2019 review in ‌Clinical Interventions in Aging‌.

Holding onto a heavy barbell or pair of dumbbells while performing RDLs requires a strong grip and helps you build your grip up. You may initially be somewhat limited in how heavy you can go if your grip strength isn't up to par with your lower body or back strength. As you work on RDLs, your grip strength will improve and you'll be able to hold heavier loads.

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4. It Targets the Entire Back of Your Body

Romanian deadlifts are one of the best exercises for packing muscle onto the back of your legs. They are especially effective at building your glutes and hamstrings because they place them in a stretch position while under load.

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This loaded stretch position emphasizes the eccentric (lengthening) contraction of the muscle, placing greater mechanical tension on your muscles, which can lead to more muscle growth.

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RDLs can also help build muscle in your upper and lower back. These muscles are held in isometric contractions for your entire set. Even though they aren't flexing and stretching like your hamstrings and glutes, the lengthy time under tension can lead to growth in muscle size.

5. It Trains Your Hip Hinge With Less Stress on Your Back

RDLs place less stress on your back than traditional barbell deadlifts from the floor because they use a different body position. This makes the RDL an ideal hip-hinging exercise for folks with low back pain or prior low back injuries. It's also better suited for tall lifters who struggle to pick up a bar from the floor with good form.

9 Romanian Deadlift Form Tips

1. Set Up With Your Legs in the Proper Position

Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and inside your arms when performing barbell or dumbbell RDLs.

Many people stand with their legs too wide, which prevents them from effectively using their legs and can interfere with keeping the weights in the right position. Resist the urge to go wide with your feet when using these variations.

For kettlebell RDLs, place your feet just wide enough for the bell to rest comfortably between your legs when standing upright. Most people should place their feet hip-width apart.

2. Use Your Feet

Your feet provide the base of support for your entire body but they are often neglected in the weight room. Using your feet effectively can increase muscle activation and make it easier to use good form.

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To get the most out of your RDLs, think about grabbing the floor with your toes and ensuring your weight is evenly distributed between your big toe, little toe and heel. The middle of your feet should form an arch in this position.

3. Bend Your Knees Slightly

Unless you have really flexible hamstrings, you will struggle to reach your hips back behind your body with straight legs. This may result in more stress on your low back and less engagement of your hamstrings and glutes.

Avoid these problems by bending your knees a little bit as you initiate movement in your RDLs.

On the flip side, you should avoid bending your knees so much that your RDL becomes a squat. Most of the movement should come from your hips. The amount of knee bend used will vary based on a person's height and leg length.

If you're unsure of your form, take a side-view video of your RDLs or ask a training partner for help.

4. Reach Your Hips Back as Far as Possible

Reaching your hips back behind your body, also known as hinging, is the most important component of a Romanian deadlift. This is the part of the movement that stretches your hamstrings and glutes and forces your back muscles to contract hard to prevent spinal rounding.

You should feel a big stretch in your hamstrings as you reach your hips back. This is a sign that you're performing the movement correctly. If you don't feel your hamstrings but do feel a lot of tension in your lower back, that's a sign that you're lowering the weights by rounding your low back rather than properly hinging your hips.

Don't worry about lowering the weights all the way to the ground. Some people will be able to lower the weights to mid-shin while others will only be able to barely clear their knees.

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5. Keep Your Chest Tall

It's important to prevent your upper body from rounding all the way over as you perform your RDLs.

Your chest will naturally lean forward a bit, but too much can cause unwanted rounding in your lower back. As you reach your hips back and descend into the rep, try to keep your chest tall. Thinking about keeping your shoulders down and back can be helpful for this.

6. Move With the Weights Close to Your Body

One of the most common RDL form mistakes is letting the weights drift away from your body. When this happens, more stress is placed on your lower back and it becomes much harder to effectively use your legs.

Fix this form mistake by consciously keeping the weights as close to your body as possible. For barbell RDLs, the weights should be right up against your legs throughout the entire movement. Think about pulling the bar back into your body to keep it in position.

Dumbbell RDLs allow for more freedom of movement than barbell RDLs since each arm can move independently. Nevertheless, you still want to keep the weights as close to your body as possible.

When performing a kettlebell RDL, think about pushing the kettlebell slightly back as you hinge. Aim the bell toward the middle or back part of your foot as opposed to out over your toes.

Imagine trying to break the handle of the kettlebell in half to activate your lats and help you stay in the right position.

7. Extend Your Arms Long

Another common upper-body RDL mistake is bending your elbows. This is a compensation that occurs because your nervous system senses instability and wants to keep the weights closer to the middle of your body.

However, it can place extra stress on your biceps and potentially lead to injury when performing heavy barbell RDLs.

Avoid this mistake by keeping your arms long throughout your entire set. It may be helpful to actively flex your triceps on the outside of your upper arm to straighten out your elbows.

When performing a barbell or kettlebell RDL, imagine that you're breaking the bar or handle in half with your hands. You'll know you're doing it correctly if the pits of your elbows are pointed straight ahead of you.

8. Pack Your Shoulders Down

Avoid shrugging your shoulders by keeping your shoulders pulled down away from your ears throughout your entire rep, and be especially mindful of the tendency to shrug at the top of the rep.

9. Drive Your Legs Into the Ground

The final portion of the RDL is standing up. Drive your legs hard into the floor until you've returned to your upright position. Pushing through your legs in this way helps you effectively use your glutes.

Watch out for hyperextension of your lower back at the top of your RDL. When viewed from the side, there should be a straight line running through your heel, knee, hip, shoulders and the back of your head. Resist the temptation to lean back at the top of the movement, which results in extra bending in your lower back.

What's the Difference Between a Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift and Stiff-Legged Deadlift?

Although Romanian deadlifts and stiff-legged deadlifts look similar, they have key differences that you should know so you can pick the exercise most appropriate for your skill level and goals.

Basic deadlifts involve picking a weight up from the floor or an elevated surface. The movement begins in the bottom position, which means you bend your knees and use your quads more.

Romanian deadlifts are different because they start at the top. You begin standing with the weights in your hands, reach your hips back and then finish by returning to your upright position. This body position, combined with the fact that your weights never actually touch the ground, means less knee bend than a deadlift and more direct targeting of the hamstrings.

If you have a hard time with deadlifts, it's fine to focus primarily on RDLs as your main hip-hinging exercise. You'll get most of the same benefits while potentially sparing your lower back.

Stiff-legged deadlifts can be done either with the weights starting from the floor or from a standing position like an RDL. The main difference between a true stiff-legged deadlift and an RDL is the amount of knee bend.

As the name implies, stiff-legged deadlifts should be done with as little knee bend as possible. This allows you to target your hamstrings but only if you have the mobility to do this exercise without rounding your lower back. Some people are so tight through their lower body that they can't perform stiff-legged deadlifts with good form, so RDLs are a better choice for them.

4 Romanian Deadlift Variations

1. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Single-leg RDLs challenge your balance, core strength and lower body stability. These are significantly harder than traditional bilateral RDLs because the entire movement is performed with one leg. Although you won't be able to use as much weight as you could with bilateral RDLs, you can still build impressive amounts of lower body strength using single-leg RDLs. And if you are still working up to single-leg, try a staggered stance, which is a good in-between exercise.

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Stand upright and pick one foot off the floor. Grab the floor with the toes on your downside foot.
  2. Initiate the movement by bending your downside knee slightly. Reach your hips back behind you while keeping your chest tall. Try to push the heel of the upside leg to the wall behind you.
  3. Reach your hips back as far as you can without rounding your back.
  4. Finish the rep by driving your downside leg into the ground and returning to the starting position.

2. Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift

There are two ways to do kettlebell RDLs: The first option is to hold a pair down at your sides, similar to using dumbbells. The second option is to hold a single kettlebell directly beneath your body.

Beginners can use kettlebell RDLs to learn good form, but the lack of weight options at many gyms can prevent more seasoned athletes from building additional strength and muscle using kettlebells.

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Kettlebell Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a single kettlebell with both hands directly beneath your body.
  2. Initiate the movement by bending your knees slightly. Keep your chest tall as you reach your hips back behind you. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Keep the kettlebell beneath your body and lower it toward the tops of your shoelaces.
  3. Reach your hips back as far as you can without rounding your low back.
  4. Finish the rep by driving your legs into the ground and returning to your upright starting position.

3. Barbell Romanian Deadlift

The barbell RDL is ideal if your main goal is building strength because it allows you to use the heaviest possible weights.

However, it's important to ensure you're using good form since barbells are more unforgiving on your joints when you get into inefficient positions. Don't rush to jump right to the barbell if you're new to lifting weights.

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Barbell Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Set up a barbell in a power rack just below hip height. Stand in front of the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart. Grab onto the bar with straight arms. Your hands should be beneath your shoulders and just outside your legs.
  2. Take the bar out of the rack by driving your legs into the floor and standing upright. Take two small steps back away from the rack.
  3. Initiate the movement by bending your knees slightly. Keep your chest tall as you reach your hips back behind you. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Keep the barbell right against your legs.
  4. Reach your hips back as far as you can without rounding your low back.
  5. Finish the rep by driving your legs into the ground and returning to the starting position.
  6. When you're finished with your set, walk forward with the bar and return it to the power rack.

4. Snatch Grip Romanian Deadlift

A snatch grip is a very wide grip on a barbell where your hands are as far out to the sides as you can go while still grabbing the bar.

The name refers to the Olympic weightlifting exercise that uses this hand placement. Even if you never plan to train or compete in weightlifting, you can use the snatch grip to build impressive amounts of upper back and forearm strength.

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Barbell Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Set up a barbell in a power rack just below hip height. Stand in front of the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart. Grab onto the bar with straight arms and place your hands as far out to the sides as you can reach.
  2. Take the bar out of the rack by driving your legs into the floor and standing upright. Take two small steps back away from the rack.
  3. Initiate the movement by bending your knees slightly. Keep your chest tall as you reach your hips back behind you. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Keep the barbell right against your legs.
  4. Reach your hips back as far as you can without rounding your low back.
  5. Finish the rep by driving your legs into the ground and returning to your upright starting position.
  6. When you're finished with your set, walk forward with the bar and return it to the power rack.

Romanian Deadlift FAQs

  • Should RDLs be heavier than deadlifts? ‌Most people won't be able to lift as heavy with RDLs as they can with regular deadlifts. That's because regular deadlifts recruit more assistance from more muscles, namely your quads.
  • Are RDLs or deadlifts better for glutes? ‌Many people find that RDLs hit their glutes more effectively than deadlifts from the floor. RDLs place your glutes under a greater stretch position than deadlifts, leading to more muscle growth.
  • How do you feel RDLs in your butt? ‌If you want to get the most glute benefits from your RDLs, it's important to reach your hips back as far as you can and flex your glutes hard as you stand up.
  • Should you use straps on RDLs?‌ If you're looking to improve overall strength, including grip strength, don’t use straps. You won't build stronger hands and forearms if you use straps. However, if your primary goal is to build muscle in your legs, it might make sense to use straps if your grip is the limiting factor. Straps will allow you to lift heavier loads and do longer sets that are necessary for hypertrophy.

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