When it comes to working out the lower body, the barbell squat is often hailed as the king of exercises. It’s a compound exercise that activates your entire lower body while strengthening a functional, everyday movement. However, even though it activates all the muscles in the lower body doesn’t’ mean that there isn’t room for improvement. The quads still carry a lot of the weight in a barbell squat, so if you’re really looking to target your hamstrings and give your posterior a lift, Romanian deadlifts are for you.
Romanian deadlifts are a variation of deadlift that is prized for its ability to target the entire hip extensor region. Like the barbell squat, it’s a compound, functional movement that involves the hip extensor muscles (glutes, hamstrings, and lower back), as well as the core and trapezius muscles.1 It’s often used as an exercise to introduce more advanced powerlifts like shrugs, and is one of the best ways to target and sculpt the glutes.1, 2 Here, we’ll go over how to do a Romanian deadlift, some of the different variations on the movement, and how it differs from the standard deadlift.
How to Do a Romanian Deadlift
To begin, stand with your feet hip to shoulder width apart, standing up straight with your chest up, and with the barbell in your hands. You should be holding the barbell with your palms facing you and the barbell close enough to be almost touching your thighs. Add a slight bend to the knee, engage your core and bend forward from the hip, pushing your glutes back and keeping the bar close to the body. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Keep going until the bar is just below your knees (or as far as comfortably possible, if you can’t reach there), and reverse the movement to come back up to standing using your glutes, hips and hamstrings. Be careful to never let your back get rounded during the movement. As you get closer to the top, tighten your glutes to push forward.
The most important thing about performing a Romanian deadlift is proper form. One of the benefits of the exercise is that it can help to strengthen your lower back, but this can only be achieved if proper form is maintained, otherwise injury to the lower back can occur instead. The position of the back for a Romanian deadlift is the same as for many other powerlifts, which is why it’s used as a starting off point.2 To maintain proper form, you must remember to always keep the natural curvature of the back in place, and never try to lift the weight using the strength of your back – it won’t be enough. Instead, use your back and core muscles to maintain your form, and use your hips, glutes, and hamstrings to push forward and lift the weight. When first learning, start with light weight to learn what proper positioning feels like throughout the movement, and get a friend with experience or trainer to help you.
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
If you don’t have access to a gym or a barbell at home, you can still reap the benefits of the Romanian deadlift. Instead of the bar, hold a dumbbell in each hand. With feet shoulder width apart, add a slight bend to the knee, and bend at the hip to start the movement, pushing the hips back. Just like with the barbell, aim to keep the dumbbells as close to the body as possible. Finish the exercise by reversing the movement and coming back up to standing using your hips, glutes, and hamstrings. Back positioning is equally important to the movement when using dumbbells, so make sure to keep your core and lower back activated through the entire exercise.
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
Target your glutes, hamstrings and stabilizer muscles even more by performing single leg Romanian deadlifts. Using either a barbell or dumbbells in each hand, lift one foot off the floor, and add a slight bend to the knee of your standing leg. Keeping your chest up and core engaged, bend at the hip to bring the weight just below your knee, bringing your other leg up behind you. Reverse the movement and use your glutes, hips and hamstrings to come back up to a standing position. Repeat on the other leg. This should really challenge your stabilizer muscles as you work to keep your balance through the movement, as well as add more stress to the target muscle group.
Romanian Deadlift VS Deadlift
Now you’re familiar with how to perform the Romanian deadlift, how is it different from a standard deadlift? The biggest difference between the two is their starting points. For a standard deadlift, the weight actually begins on the floor, and the first part of the movement is to lift the weight up, and then back down. The Romanian deadlift, as we are now aware, starts with the with the weight in your hands, bringing it down first, and then back up.3 While both will target the hamstrings, lower back and glutes, the standard deadlift also involves engagement from the quads, making the Romanian deadlift a more targeted exercise.3 However, both exercises can be easily substituted for each other. Because the movements are so similar, if you want to incorporate both into your workout routine, they should be done during different workout days, rather than consecutively in the same session.
Romanian deadlifts are a great addition to any workout plan. If you’re looking to really target your hamstrings and develop your glutes, try splitting your leg workouts between quad-focused days and hip-focused days, with at least a day of rest in between. This will allow your muscles to properly recover, as many of the compound exercises used to target the quads will also engage the hamstrings.1 To get the most out of both of these compound exercises, aim for low-volume, high weight sets to get an extra surge of testosterone post workout.4 You can also help support your natural testosterone production with support supplements like HexoFire Labs Delta Prime.
- 1 ISSA. (2017, August 11). Romanian Deadlifts: Training the Other Half of Your Leg! Bodybuilding.com. Retrieved May 11, 2018 from https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/issa63.htm. View link.
- 2 Bird, S., & Barrington-Higgs, B. (2010). Exploring the deadlift. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 32(2), 46-51. doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e3181d59582
- 3 Dale, P. (2017, September 11). Romanian vs. Standard Deadlift. LiveStrong.com. Retrieved May 11, 2018 from https://www.livestrong.com/article/432214-romanian-vs-standard-deadlift/. View link.
- 4 Schwab, R., Johnson, G. O., Housh, T. J., Kinder, J. E., & Weir, J. P. (1993). Acute effects of different intensities of weight lifting on serum testosterone. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 25(12), 1381-1385.