At first glance, the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) might look like a simple movement. But it’s not that simple to properly execute this movement.
No doubt the conventional deadlift method is the most popular with bodybuilders. And that is because it is an essential part of any training program. It is the best movement used to train and grow the posterior body chain (glutes, hamstrings, lower back), which is responsible for speed and jumping. And critical for training major muscle groups into establishing a solid foundation for any other athletic skill you may want to develop.
If you frequently injure your back while deadlifting and fail to maintain a neutral spine even when you’re deadlifting less than maximum loads, chances are that you are failing to perform it the right way. And to perform it the right way, you need to master the Romanian Deadlift.
The RDL requires more flexibility in the hamstrings and mobility at the hip joint – this is why it is considered a little bit more technical than the conventional deadlift. RDLs increase mobility in your hips, improves dynamic flexibility, and it focuses on the hip hinge, which is necessary in order to perform any other athletic programs.
How to Perform the Romanian Deadlift
1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, maintaining a neutral spine and holding your barbell at hip height.
2. Bend your waist and sit your hips back while sliding the barbell down your thighs.
Hinge at the hip and allow a slight bend to your knees. Load your hamstrings to perform the exercise with a full range of motion – this how you get actual work done on your muscles. It’s important to make sure the bar travels in a straight line and close to your body at all times.
3. Continue sitting your hips back. Slide the barbell down your body, keep it close to your shins. Go as low as you can. Feel the stretch as you perform the exercise from the top down. If your lumbar spine starts to flex over, it means that you’ve gone beyond your hamstrings’ flexibility. You need to stop before your back rounds to perform the RDL correctly. The key is to understand that you need to load and stretch the hamstrings, not that you need to lower the barbell to the floor. If you have tight hamstrings and can only lower the bar to your knees, that’s OK.
4. Reverse the movement. Pull with your hamstrings, tilt your glutes backward and snap the hips through. Your back should not lean outwards, so make sure you contract your glutes to extend at the hips.
Key Elements You Need to Control
Legs: the RDL calls for essentially straight legs or ‘stiff leg’. Allow just a slight bend of your knees as you go down and come back up. It’s essential to keep tension in your hamstrings at all times.
Back: maintain a neutral spine, at most a slight arch. Do not pull with your back. Pull with your hamstrings. If at any point you get a rounded spine or an exaggerated arch, you’ve done it wrong and risked injury.
Heavy Loads: you shouldn’t start with the heaviest loads. You must allow your posterior chain of muscles to grow and strengthen. Start with a lighter load and increase it over time. If you don’t increase the load, you won’t get any work done.
If you cannot perform the Romanian Deadlift as low or as heavy as you think it should go, just do it gradually. To do a few rounds of this, you’d need to load your hamstrings, maintain a neutral spine and a slight bend to your knees as you reach for the bar, pull and allow your hips to snap forwards by contracting the glutes.
Continue with a controlled negative, as you come up with a straight back. Constantly keep tension in your hamstrings. Repeat by lowering the bar mid-foot, and come back up. Repeat as much as you can.
If, at any point, when reaching for or lowering the bar, you have a rounded back, it means that your hamstrings are tight or weak. As long as you are getting a flexed lumbar spine, your are doing it wrong. Even if you can’t go lower than your knees without a rounded back, that is absolutely fine. Because if you keep doing this exercise correctly, you’ll strengthen and grow your hamstrings and you’ll be able to progress.
To prepare for RDL, do stretching exercises. Tight hamstring stretches are great, as long as you force an anterior pelvic tilt movement. However, if your hamstrings are weak and not tight, you’ll know this by not being able to pull the bar load with your hamstrings at all and force your back to do all the work. Do a few sets of 10 with light loads at first, until you are able to grow and strengthen your muscles.
Incorporate RDLs in your training. Master this technique before doing conventional deadlifts. Doing this exercise will build a strong foundation for your training. It is a technique meant to work on the weak spots in your posterior chain – nobody starts strong.
Don’t get discouraged if at first, you’ll ‘look’ like you’re not doing it ‘heavy’ enough. Practice makes perfect.