NYC-based gym Dogpound posted an Instagram video last week of the 23-year-old Dutch-born fitness buff demoing the Romanian deadlift—or as Dogpound dubs it in the caption, the “Romee-nian” deadlift.
You can check out the move, via @dogpound, here:
The Romanian deadlift is a “very classic hinge movement and accessible exercise,” Mark DiSalvo, NYC-based certified strength and conditioning specialist, tells SELF. “It can be difficult at first, but once you’re past the early learning curve, it’s an exercise people look forward to doing.”
The Romanian deadlift targets your posterior chain, or the muscles on the backside of your body.
Compared to a regular deadlift, which involves a deep bend at the knees and driving with the quads, this type of deadlift, sometimes referred to as the "stiff-leg deadlift," “works the entire posterior chain, or the backside of your body, from your calves to your hamstrings, back, glutes, and spine,” Stephanie Mansour, Chicago-based certified personal trainer, tells SELF.
This posterior activation comes from bending the knees slightly and then fixing your body in place as your hips slowly hinge forward to drive the movement, DiSalvo explains. “By keeping your entire body as stiff as a board while your hips are the only part driving the movement, you are really loading up the hamstrings,” says DiSalvo. The point of the stiff-leg stance (which in reality involves a slight knee bend—more on that below) is to take “a lot of the other muscles out of the equation.”
Yet the move isn’t just about strengthening your backside—it’s also great for stretching your hamstrings and alleviating tension in your low back.
The eccentric part of the movement, or when you’re lowering the weight, is a great hamstring and low-back stretch. In general, a lot of people have weak and/or tight hamstrings, which can both contribute to low-back pain, adds Mansour. Doing moves that both strengthen and lengthen the hammies, like this one, can help alleviate tension.
If you’re doing a Romanian deadlift correctly, it “feels really good for most people,” adds DiSalvo. “Most people have a lot of tension in their back and spine and this move decompresses it a little bit.”
If you’re looking for even more lengthening, doing the move with your toes elevated, like Strijd demonstrates, can increase the stretch in the back of your legs, says Mansour.
Here’s how to do the Romanian deadlift, plus ideas for regressing and progressing the move.
- Start with a barbell, weighted bar, or set of dumbbells totaling 10 to 25 pounds. Keep in mind the weight will be much lighter compared to the load you’d lift with a regular deadlift.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, holding the weight in front of your body with your arms straight along the front of your thighs.
- Hinge at your hips and push your butt back toward the wall behind you as you lower your body. Maintain stiffness and engagement throughout your body. Your knees may bend a tiny bit more; that's OK, but you shouldn't be bending them like you're lowering into a squat.
- Hold the weight(s) close to your legs as you descend. Pull back on your shoulder blades and do not let your back arch or round.
- Keeping your core tight, push through your heels to stand up straight. Keep the weight(s) close to your shins as you pull.
- Pause at the top and squeeze your butt.
- This is 1 rep. Do 10 reps. Rest for one minute and do 2 more sets of 10 reps each, resting one minute between each set.
As you move through the reps, make sure your weight stays concentrated in your heels—this will activate the back of your legs, says Mansour. Engage your core to straighten your spine (you don’t want a rounded or arched back), and pull your shoulders away from your ears so they aren’t hunched up, says Mansour.
The biggest mistakes DiSalvo sees with this move are leaning too far forward, not hinging at the hips, and holding the weight too far away from your legs. Think of the hip hinge as “a castle drawbridge,” says DiSalvo. “Your upper body lowers down and then back up with just a hinge at the hip.” In terms of the weight, it should be held “as close to your legs as possible,” he explains. “It’s even better if it touches your legs on the way down.”
To progress the move, you can add weight or slow down your reps to increase the time that your muscles are under tension, recommends DiSalvo. For example, instead of going down and up for one count each, you could lower for five counts and up for one. You could also try single-leg Romanian deadlifts or split-stance Romanian deadlifts to up the challenge.
On the other hand, if you have limited mobility or are otherwise tight in your glutes and/or hamstrings, bend your knees slightly more and think about pushing your hips farther back. “Your range of motion will be smaller, but as you gain strength, you’ll increase it,” says DiSalvo. Also, if it’s difficult to keep a good grip on the bar without your shoulders hiking forward, the weight might be too heavy. Regress to using just your bodyweight if needed, advises DiSalvo. With the Romanian deadlift, “good form—not weight—is what determines your progress,” he says.