The Romanian Deadlift: Proper Exercise Technique

The exercise is basic and involves thighs and buttocksThe exercise is basic and involves thighs and buttocks

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Is It Worth Using?

To get beautiful and sculpted legs, you need to work the posterior thigh muscles and glutes in isolation. Different squat variations activate mainly quadriceps that takes the lion's share of the load.

Besides, not every gym contains special machines. Therefore, the Romanian deadlift is considered a basic exercise for working the leg muscles.

This is one of the basic exercises in bodybuilding. It is similar to the traditional deadlift, but differs in that the legs should be straight or have a slight bend in the knees as the weight is lowered down to the floor.

The exercise works the buttocks and the back of the thighs. It also involves the back muscles, arms, and shoulders. Thus, in contrast to other exercises such as the lying leg press for the biceps femoris muscle, the deadlift is a basic exercise.

What Muscles Work?

The exercise activates the posterior thigh muscles, the glutes, and the back:

In different exercise variations, the main stress is imposed either on the back muscles, or on the legs.

Romanian Deadlift Variations

The deadlifts can be performed:

With a barbell This version is considered conventional by many athletes. The barbell deadlift targets the back muscles, however, only in case you guide the bar along your legs and keep it as close to your body as possible without driving it forward while lowering the barbell down to the ground. In this case, the main load is imposed on the glutes and biceps femoris.
With dumbbells

This variation has an important advantage over the barbell deadlift – the hand position is more natural, so there is no extra stress on the muscles and joints of the arms.

This is the only possible option for those athletes who have arm injuries. Besides, its advantage is that it imposes a great load on the biceps femoris and gluteal muscles.

Almost in every gym, this exercise is performed on both legs, but there is also a single-leg variation, for which you need to grab the barbell, slightly lift one of your legs, and bend the knee at an angle close to 90 degrees. Extend your free leg behind you to keep balance as you bend your torso forward. You should try to perform the exercise with kettlebells – it allows pulling in the shoulder blades easier.

Grip Options

There are three kinds of grip to use when deadlifting:

  1. Overhand grip.
  2. Underhand, or reverse grip.
  3. Mixed grip.

The latter involves placing one hand over the bar and the other hand under the bar. The choice of the grip is mostly a matter of taste. Every athlete has a favorite grip that he is used to.

You can perform the deadlift by standing with your toes placed on a pair of weight plates. This allows you to put greater stress on the gluteal muscles and biceps femoris. Usually, this variation is used when performing the dumbbell deadlift.

Exercise Technique

Here is how to barbell deadlift with a proper form:

  • The starting position is standing with a barbell in your hands, your lower back arched, your shoulder blades squeezed together, and your arms fully extended. Your hands should be located over the bar shoulder-width apart. Your knees should be straight or slightly bent, your feet should be placed shoulder-width apart and point forward. You can reduce the distance between your feet to increase the load.
  • The barbell should smoothly go down your legs as close to your body as possible (almost touching your clothes). Move your pelvis back and bend your torso forward as you lower the bar, but keep your legs straight. The barbell should go beyond the line of your knee joints or reach the middle of your shins, depending on your flexibility level.
  • Without stopping, you should start moving up by straightening your body and driving your hips forward. You should use your feet (not your arms or back) to push the bar up to the starting position by pressing your heels to the floor.

The bar should almost slide down your legs as you lower it to the floorThe bar should almost slide down your legs as you lower it to the floor

The dumbbell deadlift is performed in the same manner. Your chest and shoulders should be open throughout the exercise. Just a slight bend in the knees is allowed, otherwise, it is no longer a Romanian, but a standard deadlift – a similar exercise that, however, has significant differences.

Tip: for this exercise, you can use a belt to avoid extra stress on your back and reduce the risk of injury.

Recommendations

  1. To prepare your lower back for the Romanian deadlift, you can perform 10–15 repetitions of hyperextension. It helps warm up your back and position your body properly for the exercise.
  2. The posterior thigh muscles should get tired much faster than the muscles of the back and arms. Otherwise, you perform the exercise with improper form.
  3. After a workout, you should devote at least 10 minutes to stretching the leg muscles. It can significantly speed up the growth of the biceps femoris and gluteal muscles.
  4. The shoes for the Romanian deadlift should be flat.
  5. The number of sets should not exceed three and the number of reps varies from 6 to 15. That’s enough to work the posterior thigh muscles.

Common Mistakes

Mistake Description
Rounding of the back and shoulders During the exercise, you need to keep a slight arch in your lower back, and your shoulders should be open. Otherwise, it is difficult to work the muscles properly, and the risk of injury increases
Changing the leg position Keep your knees slightly bent and fixed throughout the exercise. Your shins and feet should remain in their original position. Do not lift your heels off the floor. Do not use your knees to help push the barbell up
Short range of motion You should lower your torso until your back is parallel to the floor (your shoulders should be located at the level of your buttocks) or bent forward (shoulders over the level of your buttocks)
Using a mixed grip It creates a twisting load on the spine that is completely unreasonable for this exercise. For deadlifting large weights, you can use wrist straps and other devices that reduce the load on the forearms
Heavy weights In this case, it is difficult to perform the exercise with proper form, and the risk of injury increases. You should better do it with light weights, slowly and without sudden movements, while mentally concentrating on the work of the target muscles

Interesting Facts

Maintain proper exercise technique and do not chase after large working weightsMaintain proper exercise technique and do not chase after large working weights

The Romanian deadlift has recently become a popular and well-known exercise. In 1990, a Romanian athlete, Vlad Nicolae, conducted training sessions in San Francisco.

When working out his back and leg muscles, the athlete used a modified deadlift – he did not bend his knees and guided the bar only to the upper third of his shins.

Although, the exercise was neither invented by Vlad Nicolae, nor developed by his coaches, it became associated with the Romanian weightlifters. This fact explains the origin of the name of this exercise.

The Romanian deadlift can be used to assess the athlete’s strength – one way or another, it involves all muscle groups. But in powerlifting competitions, the standard deadlift is used instead: it allows lifting more weight and has little risk of injury.

The leg muscles make up about half the body’s muscle mass. You should pay much attention to them during training sessions. On the one hand, it can help you make your body proportional; on the other hand, it promotes the growth of the upper body muscles.

At the same time, many people forget to work out the posterior thigh muscles and the glutes and focus on the lower legs and quadriceps, but in fact, you need to devote enough time to work out your biceps femoris and gluteal muscles.

No other exercise has such an impact upon the development of these muscles.

Incorporate Into Your Workouts

Here is a simple and effective training program for the lower body that includes the Romanian deadlift. Before any workout, you should remember to warm up your muscles properly. You can modify the program, taking into account your preferences:

Squats 3 sets of 4–6 reps (80–85% of the maximum working weight)
The Romanian deadlift 3 sets of 4–6 reps (80–85% of the maximum working weight)
Single-leg squats or lunges 3 sets of 6–8 reps (75–80% of the maximum working weight)
Lying leg press 2 sets of 6–8 reps (75–80% of the maximum working weight)
Additional exercise: Standing calf raises 2 sets of 8–12 reps (70–80% of the maximum working weight)

Conclusion

So, the Romanian deadlift is a highly effective exercise for working out the lower back, buttocks, and posterior thigh muscles.

If you want to achieve good results and take the most out of your workouts, you should:

  • set the goal – different exercise variations can be used for working out the legs and the back muscles (the standard deadlift works primarily the back)
  • keep your lower back arched while performing the exercise and avoid using too heavy weights to prevent back injuries;
  • keep your legs almost straight even when the barbell or dumbbells are lowered down – if you bend your knees, you perform the standard deadlift;
  • maintain a proper range of motion: it should be close to the maximum, at the lowest point your shoulders should be at or below the level of your buttocks, and the back of your thighs and your lower back should be stretched as much as possible. In this case, the deadlift can yield benefits;
  • perform the exercise smoothly and without sudden movements, mentally concentrating on the work of the target muscles.

Shesternenko Alexander
Fitness trainer, group instructor, dietitian
  • Counsels and educates on proper nutrition principles, body weight correction, and adjustment of individual diets and diets during pregnancy;
  • Develops meal plans that meet nutrition goals and dietary needs for obese and underweight people;
  • Specializes in modern functional testing techniques in sports, athletic recovery, sports supplementation, pharmacological support, and actual women's problems in sports;
  • On the website, provides analysis of different dietary schemes, reviews modern training techniques and effective exercises.

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