13 Jun Quick and Dirty Guide to the Romanian Deadlift

This is maybe one of the best exercises I know of for building powerful hip strength and developing strong and flexible hamstrings.

That exercise would be the Romanian deadlift or RDL.

The movement looks somewhat similar to a conventional deadlift, but there are key distinctions to be aware of.

I won’t overcomplicate this because it’s a simple lift to perform, in comparison to other more technically demanding lifts.

The RDL uses very little quad activity because you’re essentially keeping your knees straight (or slightly flexed) as you lower the bar.

The knees are NOT locked, but they’re not significantly flexed like they are in the conventional deadlift.

It’s important to think about using the hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings) to return to the standing position.

That’s the key to remember here, that the lift is done for the hips.

Keep you back straight or slightly arched (maintained in extension) to prevent rounding and drive the hips backward as you lower the bar towards the ground while keeping the knees slightly flexed.

A good way to keep your back in proper position is to think about “raising your chest” and keeping your head up as you lower the bar.

Again, do not “lock” your knees, but allow them to flex just slightly.

As the bar is lowered, tension should be felt in the hamstrings.

This is also phenomenal for the back (when the spine is held in proper position as described above) because the spine musculature is held in an isometric contraction throughout the entire exercise (the concentric and eccentric contractions of the hams and glutes).

Keep the bar close to your shins and your weight shift should be back on the heels.

Proper breathing is also very important through the RDL.

You want to inhale as the bar is lowered eccentrically and exhale as you come back to standing.

What’s the difference between the RDL and stiff-legged deadlift (SLDL)?

This is a great question and very often misunderstood.

The RDL and SLDL are the same, with this exception.

From a technical standpoint, the RDL is initiated in standing while the SLDL is initiated off the floor.

But, they are the same movement.

Let me explain.

The proper RDL is initiated by taking the bar from the rack, then lowering the bar, so it essentially begins with an eccentric contraction (lowering).

The SLDL is initiated off the floor, so it starts with an concentric contraction.

Below is a video demo of the RDL mechanics.

This video was done for biomechanical illustration purposes, as you’ll see the demo was initiated from the floor.

Regardless of the start, the biomechanics of the RDL and SLDL are the same.

Remember, these key points during the lift:

  • lock the spine in slight extension
  • head up while slowly lowering the bar
  • drive the hips back
  • knees slightly flexed
  • breath properly

The RDL is an extremely valuable hamstring strength and flexibility exercise, as well as a powerful hip and spine exercise.

This is a simple, proven exercise and could serve many roles in effective programming.

 Scott Iardella writes about strength training methods to optimize health and performance. If you enjoyed this article, join a strong and growing community of passionate fitness enthusiasts and subscribe below to get a ton of cool, free stuff!  
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  • Jordan Shinn
    Posted at 19:15h, 31 October Reply

    Great post, Scott!

    I’m glad you mentioned not locking your knees. Some lifters seem to overlook that.

    It’s also important to mention that the lifter shouldn’t lower beyond their hamstring’s capabilities. The more flexible athletes will go lower, but most should lower to just below the knees. Lowering beyond this can put too much strain on the hamstrings and the lifter can potentially get injured.

    • Scott
      Posted at 12:20h, 03 November Reply

      Excellent point Jordan.

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