Deadlifts are commonly found in most strength-building programs with several variations to choose from, including the Romanian deadlift.
The Romanian deadlift, more commonly referred to as “RDL,” is a variation of the conventional deadlift that builds and strengthens the posterior chain. The RDL targets more glutes and hamstrings, and less back than the conventional deadlift.
Furthermore, the movement begins from a standing position, whereas conventional deadlifts start from the floor. Considered to be a compound exercise, working several muscles simultaneously, the Romanian deadlift has numerous benefits.
This article will discuss the top five benefits of the Romanian deadlift, as well as key muscles worked.
Top 5 Romanian Deadlift Benefits
- Increases posterior chain strength
- Increase muscle mass
- Great for busy schedules
- May reduce injury risk
- Improves athletic performance
Here are the top 5 Romanian deadlift benefits:
Increase posterior chain strength
Most people are quad-dominant, which means their quadriceps and hip flexors are much stronger than their glutes and hamstrings. Being quad-dominant can lead to issues such as tight hip flexors, which can increase the risk of injury.
Hip-hinge exercises like the Romanian deadlift can help balance quadricep dominance. For increasing hip-extensor strength, as well as glutes, hamstrings, and erectors, the Romanian deadlift is an effective choice. Try single-leg variations with a dumbbell or kettlebell to correct strength or muscular imbalances.
As a compound exercise, you can load the RDL quite heavily. Choose a lower rep range of six to eight reps. A Romanian deadlift rarely requires maximal testing, unlike a conventional or sumo deadlift.
Increase muscle mass
The Romanian deadlift is great for building hip extensors strength, but it’s also a very effective muscle mass builder. That’s why many bodybuilders perform a Romanian deadlift instead of a conventional deadlift because they can target their glutes and hamstrings to a greater extent.
The RDL uses a shorter range of motion, so there’s less load placed on the lower back although it will engage the erectors. The Romanian deadlift most commonly appears on leg days because it’s a lower-body-focused exercise.
Many bodybuilders add a hip-hinge movement to a knee flexion exercise like hamstring curls for maximizing glute and hamstring development. Adding leg curls as a warm-up or final burner to a Romanian deadlif set is another way to combine both movements.
Great for busy schedules
When time, energy or motivation is low, gym trips more than four times a week can challenge consistency. Choosing the compound exercises can maximize both time efficiency and results.
The Romanian deadlift trains several body parts simultaneously. Additionally, a Romanian deadlift may be performed with multiple types of equipment such as a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells.
Commit to training with compound exercises three to four days per week when time or opportunity is limited.
May reduce injury risk
As we mentioned above, it’s far more common to be quad-dominant, which means your quads and hip flexors are much stronger than your glutes and hamstrings. Being quad-dominant dramatically increases your injury risk, especially for the knee, hamstrings, and lumbar spine.
The hamstrings play an important role in stabilizing the knee. Therefore, it helps protect the knee from various injuries, such as ACL tears. Moreover, having a stronger posterior chain may help reduce the risk of lower back injuries.
One way to fix a quad-to-hamstring imbalance and improve your glute strength is by performing more posterior chain exercises, such as the RDL. The Romanian deadlift also trains your core which helps stabilize and protect your spine.
Improves athletic performance
The Romanian deadlift benefits most strength sports from powerlifting to Olympic weightlifting, because it compliments other compound movements such as the squat, deadlift, clean, and snatch. The RDL also corrects common movement weaknesses such as the lockout of a conventional deadlift.
Quad dominance can increase injury risk in athletic performance. Correcting quad dominance by doing RDLs boosts performance by strengthening hamstrings, where both are crucial for even common movements such as sitting, running and jumping. Romanian deadlifts also strengthens grip, which can aid in holding sports equipment over long periods of time.
Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked
- Gluteus Maximus
- Erector Spinae
Here are the primary muscle groups worked by the Romanian deadlift:
The primary muscles that the Romanian deadlift targets are the glutes, specifically the gluteus maximus. The gluteus maximus is the largest and most superficial of the three gluteal muscles. The gluteus maximus’ primary action is hip extension, which means bringing your hips forward and also assists with external rotation.
The gluteus maximus is considered to be one of the strongest muscles in the human body. It’s activated anytime you stand, walk, run, jump, squat, and balance on one leg. Moreover, having strong glutes is crucial for proper pelvic alignment. As we discussed in the benefits section, weak glutes and overpowering quads will increase your risk of injury and reduce your performance.
Regarding aesthetics, some bodybuilding divisions aim for visible striations in their glutes and others are judged on glute size and fullness.
The Romanian deadlift also targets the hamstrings, which include the biceps femoris (long head), semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. The hamstrings are responsible for hip extension and knee flexion.
The hamstrings are located on the back of your upper leg and run from the pelvis to the knee. In addition to hip extension and knee flexion, the hamstring muscles play a key role in stabilizing the knee joint. Therefore, weak hamstrings will increase your risk of injury, especially for anterior cruciate ligament tears.
For those with quad dominance, hamstring tears and/or strains are quite common. One way to help prevent hamstring injuries is by performing various exercises to strengthen them, such as the Romanian deadlift, lying leg curls, and seated hamstring curls. The hamstrings are also heavily judged in physique sports, especially the hamstring-glute tie-in, which Romanian deadlifts help develop.
Romanian deadlifts work the erector spinae, also known as the spinal erectors, which include the spinalis, longissimus, and iliocostalis. The erector spinae is a rather large and superficial muscle group that runs from the pelvis all the way to the base of the skull. They are located on each side of the vertebral column.
The main actions of the erector spinae muscle group are extension, lateral flexion, and rotation of the spine. Having strong and stable erectors helps protect your spine, which may reduce your risk of injury. In fact, lower back pain is often linked to weak erectors.
Even though the erectors are often overlooked, they are important for nearly every movement you perform. The erectors constantly work to maintain your torso position, even if you sit or stand still. The erectors are highly active during the Romanian deadlift because you flex and extend your back throughout the movement. Furthermore, they are working with the core to stabilize the spine.
Since the erectors are superficial, building them is advantageous for bodybuilders because they help increase the thickness and density of your back.
Romanian deadlifts secondarily work the adductors, including the adductor magnus, adductor brevis, gracilis, pectinus, and adductor longus. The adductor group is located on the inner side of your upper leg. The adductors perform adduction, flexion, and internal rotation of the hip. They also help stabilize the pelvis during any lower body movement, such as standing, walking, running, lunging, and squatting.
When performing an RDL, the adductors actively stabilize the hip and assist with the initial hip hinge and lockout. The adductors are often overlooked in strength and physique sports. Weak adductors reduce your performance and increase your overall injury risk because the stability of your pelvis is largely impacted. Unstable hips are not ideal for any lower body movement.
Growing your adductors helps improve stage presence for bodybuilding competitions because it increases the overall upper-leg size. Very few exercises work the adductors directly.
Romanian deadlifts work the core muscles, including the rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, and external/internal obliques. Within this exercise, the core works with the erectors to stabilize the spine, especially the lumbar spine.
As you perform the exercise, increasing intra-abdominal pressure by implementing bracing is a good idea. You can do this by inhaling a decent amount of air and holding it as you contract your abs. Not only does bracing protect your spine, but it also helps you lift more weight by creating a more stable environment.
Bracing is an advanced technique that’s often used during compound movements, such as the squat and deadlift. The core helps maintain a solid foundation to perform various movements. In addition to protecting the spine from excessive load, the core helps transfer from the lower to the upper body and vice versa.
Although some bodybuilders believe performing heavy compound lifts will lead to a blocky waist, no real evidence exists to support that assumption. Any physique athletes should still consider performing compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts.
Romanian deadlifts work the forearms and improve your overall grip strength. Muscular forearms may be more desirable for some than others, but having good grip strength is something most can benefit from.
Grip strength plays a role in many movements, exercises, and activities of daily living. Having to grip the barbell for an extended period of time while performing Romanian deadlifts is a great way to improve it without having to do specific grip-strengthening exercises.
Lifting straps are commonly used for Romanian deadlifts to prevent grip fatigue. Try doing as many sets as possible without lifting straps to benefit from increased grip strength.
Frequently Asked Questions
The Romanian deadlift works the hamstrings and glutes more than other deadlift variations. If you want to emphasize those two muscle groups, we recommend doing Romanian deadlifts instead of conventional deadlifts.
Since you don’t start from the floor and there’s a shorter range of motion, the Romanian deadlift also places less strain on your lower back. So even if you can’t perform a conventional deadlift due to a previous injury, you can still perform a hip-hinge movement pattern with the RDL.
The main difference between Roman and conventional deadlifts is their starting positions. The Romanian deadlift starts from standing, whereas a conventional deadlift starts from the floor.
The Romanian deadlift is better for targeting the glutes and hamstrings, is more suitable for hypertrophy, and uses a shorter range of motion. The conventional deadlift engages the glutes and hamstring but targets the mid-back more. It’s more suitable for strength and power, so it’s used in powerlifting competitions. Most people perform Romanian deadlifts on leg days and conventional deadlifts on back days.
For more information on the differences between Romanian deadlifts and deadlifts, check out this article: Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift: When to do Each Variation
The Romanian deadlift is classified as a hip-hinge exercise so any other hip-hinge movement can be used as a substitute. Some of the best Romanian deadlift alternatives include the hip thrust, glute bridge, conventional deadlift, good morning, and sumo deadlift.
We recommend doing a hamstring curl variation if you want to isolate the hamstrings more. To target the glutes more, we recommend glute kickbacks.
For more information on Romanian deadlift alternatives, check out this article: The 10 Best Romanian Deadlift Alternatives.