The Romanian deadlift or commonly known as the RDL, is a functional compound strength movement and variation to the traditional deadlift. Most often used as an accessory lift, with a submaximal load, the Romanian deadlift has many applications in strength training, as well as high-intensity functional training programs. We’re going to talk about how to execute a Romanian deadlift with proper form, the benefits, and why the RDL is a valuable movement for your strength training program.
What Is The Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian deadlift is slightly different than the traditional deadlift. Although both movements will increase strength and muscle hypertrophy in the posterior chain muscles, Romanian deadlifts emphasize and target the hamstrings, as opposed to the glutes [R]. Electromyography (EMG) studies show that conventional deadlifts target and recruit the gluteus and rectus femoris muscles more so than the RDL, due to the biomechanical differences in exercise technique as the conventional deadlift starts and finishes more in a sitting position than the RDL with significantly more knee and hip flexion.
The primary muscles involved in the RDL are the posterior chain muscles, including the erector spinae, trapezius, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and adductors.
4 Proven Benefits Of The Romanian Deadlift
1. Romanian Deadlifts Increase Posterior-Chain Strength
The Romanian deadlift targets what’s called the posterior chain. Posterior simply means, behind, or back, and in this case, it’s referring to all the muscles that are on the backside of your body, starting from the upper back or lats to your glutes, hamstrings, and calves. RDL’s are one of the best leg day accessory strength movements to help you get over strength plateaus and hit new PRs, as well as increase explosiveness, speed, and power.
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2. Romanian Deadlifts Increase Muscle Growth
Strength is also accompanied with building more muscle, by stimulating muscle protein synthesis and increasing hypertrophy. Consistency in training with progressive overload, and linear periodization, will help build and develop more muscle mass, building bigger and stronger glutes, hamstrings, muscles in the upper back as well as secondary muscles such as the biceps, adductors, and core.
3. Romanian Deadlifts Burn More Body Fat
The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest. Strength training and exercise movements such as the Romanian deadlift will help build more muscle mass, therefore burning more calories at rest, boosting your metabolic rate. Resting muscle tissue burns 6kcal/lb per day at rest, thus the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.
Post workout your metabolism stays elevated through a process called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). EPOC also know as the after-burn effect, refers to the oxygen and energy (in calories) it takes for your body to repair your muscle tissue during recovery. EPOC can be a major contributor to your total daily caloric expenditure by increasing your body’s thermic effect [R]. Prolonged workouts with more intense resistance training at heavier weights have been associated with a more substantial EPOC [R].
4. Romanian Deadlifts Reduce The Risk Of Injury
One of the benefits of Romanian deadlifts, is reducing the risk of back injury.
RDLs stimulate the entire dorsal or posterior aspect of the human body, from the calves and hamstrings clear up to your lats and especially the lower back. RDLS efficiently activate the posterior chain muscles to help protect the lower back by further developing the core. Romanian deadlifts activate abdominal muscles to contract and become conditioned more so than abdominal specific exercises.
Lower back muscles aren’t enough to keep the spinal column from folding forward when confronted with heavy loads of weight when performing movements such as the deadlift. Instead, heavy Romanian deadlifts activate and condition the core in its entirety, creating internal pressure from the superior and posterior aspect of the body that immobilizes the spine.
This is essential for creating the lower back strength that is vital to prevent the risk of injury [R].
How To Perform The Romanian Deadlift
It’s important to remember that the Romanian deadlift is different than the traditional deadlift. RDLs put more emphasis on the hamstrings, therefore it’s important to pay close attention to positioning and form.
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder width apart. Grab a loaded barbell, stand it up pushing your hips back and hold it directly in front of your thighs, with your hands set slightly wider than your thighs.
- Start with knees slightly bent at 15 degrees and slowly lower the weight, keeping the barbell close to your legs as you descend, hinging at the hips and keeping your back straight. Keep your core engaged and tight as you keep your torso straight.
- Lower the weight until you feel a slight stretch in the hamstrings, normally just past the knees. Keep your torso upright, arms straight and shoulders rounded drawing your shoulder blades back towards your spine.
- Drive your hips forward, and use your hamstrings to push the weight back up to standing position and repeat.
Romanian Deadlift Tips And Tricks
- When lifting, lift from the hips not the lower back
- Move the hips back during the descent in a flexed position
- Allow the weight to move towards the floor, and DO NOT round the back or extend the knees while lowering the weight
- Keep the spine long and maintain a slight bend in the knees throughout the movement.
Romanian Deadlift: Takeaway
The most important aspect of the Romanian deadlift, is that it teaches proper movement and biomechanics of hip flexion and extension. This is a crucial foundational movement whether it’s used for other posterior focused strength exercises, such as the squat or good morning, or to bend over and pick something up from the ground. RDLs teach you how to reach and lift from the hips as opposed to the lower back. Romanian deadlifts are perhaps one of the best accessory posterior compound movements performed to increase power and strength in your glutes, hamstrings, and lats. As you develop greater strength in these areas, you’ll find that these strength gains transfer to other important compound foundational exercises, giving you the ability to lift more and build more mass.
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Lee, Sangwoo et al. “An electromyographic and kinetic comparison of conventional and Romanian deadlifts.” Journal of exercise science and fitness vol. 16,3 (2018): 87-93. doi:10.1016/j.jesf.2018.08.001