The classic deadlift is weightlifting at its best. A simple, effective move that should have a spot in the workout line-up of anyone who has a weights routine. The exercise strengthens muscles throughout your posterior chain – all the muscles that run down the back of your body from your neck to your heels.
That focus on the back of your body makes the deadlift especially important because, in all aspects of life, people have a natural tendency to ignore what they cannot see. When it comes to your muscles that tendency often results in people spending hours in the gym beefing up their pecs and biceps while ignoring their back muscles and triceps. And when you shift to the lower body, this tendency leads to people forgetting all about their hamstrings – which, as you’ve probably already guessed, is a big mistake. The hamstrings are vital for impressive leaping, and rapid acceleration and deceleration, not to mention the fact that you won’t be able rack up a respectable barbell squat without strong hammies.
Fortunately you can address any such by adding the Romanian deadlift to your workouts. This variation on the standard deadlift places even more focus on the hamstrings than the original exercise, building their flexibility, strength and power.
The Romanian deadlift is also a move you can do anywhere, because you don’t need to use very heavy weights for it to be effective. While using the gym’s barbell is the simplest way to do the Romanian deadlift, you can swap out free weights for anything heavy if working out at home. Not having to lift huge weights is not only convenient, but also means there’s less risk of putting your back under undue pressure, which can be a problem with the standard deadlift.
Read on for advice on how to perform the Romanian deadlift with perfect form, plus a few key variations to add to your routine once you’ve mastered the basic movement pattern.
How To Do The Romanian Deadlift
To start the move, stand with the bar or weight in your hands as opposed to the floor. Slowly lower the weight with a slight bend in your knees, bending at the hips and keeping your back straight. Lower until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings – usually when the weight has just passed your knees – then drive your hips forwards and use your hamstrings to power back up to stand.
One common mistake is failing to maintain the position of your lower back throughout the movement. Don’t feel like you need to bend all the way over just to make the weight touch the ground. Remember it is meant to be working your hamstrings primarily, not your lower back.
If you’re adding the Romanian deadlift to your workout programme it’s best to start splitting your leg workout across two different session (that’s right, two leg days!). Do quad-intensive exercises on one of the days and focus on hamstring and glute exercises on the other. Avoid doing them on consecutive days otherwise you’ll put excessive stress on the stabilisers that help with lower-body movements.
Romanian Deadlift Variations
One-leg Romanian deadlift
Grasping the bar with hands shoulder-width apart, stand one leg and lean forward with a slight bend in the knee. Keeping your back straight at all times, lower with a slow and controlled motion until you feel the stretch in your standing leg’s hamstring, then return to the start. You can also perform this movement with kettlebells of equal weight in each hand, which makes it easier to retract the shoulder blades.
Dumbbell split-leg Romanian deadlift
In this variation, you’ll focus on a single leg as with the one-legged version, but instead of elevating your rear leg, keep the ball of your rear foot on the floor. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, keeping your back straight and core tight, lower with a controlled motion until you feel a stretch in the hamstring of the front leg, then return to the start.
Stiff-leg Romanian deadlift
This is the ultimate test of hamstring and core strength. Whereas other variations allow a slight bend in the knees, the stiff-leg deadlift requires you to take a straight-leg stance with no bend. It may feel a little difficult to perform at first, but this leg position places the greatest emphasis on hamstring development. Just be mindful of keeping your back straight.
Additional reporting by Scott Blake (@Scott_Blakey)