3 Ways You're Messing Up The Romanian Deadlift

Strength coach Lee Boyce explains the benefits of the Romanian Deadlift, identifies three common technique errors and offers tips on how to avoid them.

The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is without a doubt one of the best exercises for building the muscles on the backside of the body, muscles that are critical for speed, jumping and nearly every other athletic skill.

You find the RDL in many training programs as a supplemental exercise in a lower-body workout. But the move's benefits really should put it in the same league as primary lifts like the Squat and the Deadlift. Here's why:

  • Romanian Deadlifts increase mobility in your hips due to the straighter leg position.
  • The RDL works your glutes and hamstrings more than a conventional Deadlift because the quads don't contribute as much.
  • It improves dynamic flexibility, especially in your hamstrings and low back. (For those keeping score at home, while "mobility" refers to the range of motion at a specific joint, "flexibility: refers to a muscle's ability to lengthen, and "dynamic flexibility" refers to a muscle's ability to lengthen during athletic movements, such as a sprint.)
  • Compared to the conventional Deadlift, the Romanian–also called "Stiff-Leg"–version focuses more on the hip hinge, which is an essential movement pattern all athletes must learn and master.

OK, you get it. Romanian Deadlifts are important. To get the most out of them, you need to perform them correctly. Here's a quick refresher on how to perform the move, followed by the three most common mistakes I see–with tips on how to fix each of those errors.

Romanian Deadlift Form: How to Perform the Exercise in 4 Simple Steps

Romanian Deadlift

Other than being a boss-level muscle developer, another benefit of the RDL is that it is a relatively simple move to learn. To execute it, you just:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell at thigh level. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your back straight, bend at your waist and sit your hips back to lower the bar.
  • Keep the bar close to your shins and lower as far as your flexibility allows.
  • Forcefully contract your glutes to extend at your hips and stand up.
See? It really is that simple. But unfortunately, there are some faults that hold people back from realizing the full benefits of this move.

Romanian Deadlift Mistake 1: Performing it Through a Partial Range of Motion

This is the biggest mistake I see people making when performing RDLs. I hate seeing people lower the bar to around knee level before returning to the starting position. It's like finishing a Squat a foot from parallel. It's essentially a "cheat." It makes the movement easier, but you fail to strengthen your muscles through a full range of motion. You may not be able to lift as much weight, but lifting through a full range of motion is always better.

The typical shortened range of motion used is done to keep your back straight, which is important. However, there's some untapped potential here to do the exercise correctly through a full range of motion without putting your spine in a dangerous position.

The key is to begin with a loaded stretch on the hamstrings by performing the exercise from the top down, which should let you lower the bar to the floor. This allows you to pull the weight through a greater range of motion, which increases the effectiveness of the exercise. The same way someone's loaded Squat can look more technically sound than a completely unloaded one, a loaded RDL can "correct" a poor starting spine position.

If you don't have access to a waist-level rack to start at the top, simply take your first pull from the floor in the form of a conventional Deadlift and proceed with RDLs from the top of the first rep and onwards. View the video above for a deep explanation.

Granted, if you have poor mobility and flexibility, it's safer to stop short of the full range of motion so your back doesn't round. However, you should strive to improve your mobility so you can complete the RDL properly.

Romanian Deadlift Mistake 2: Going Too Light With Your Load

Because the RDL is not typically used as a feature lift, people don't perform it as heavy of a weight as you'd use with a traditional Deadlift. But I think you should change your mindset.

Substituting the RDL for a conventional Deadlift will blast your hamstrings, which are full of fast-twitch muscle fibers. These fibers respond best to heavy loads. So to accelerate your strength and size gains, you want to push it a little big. Granted, you won't be able to lift quite as heavy with the RDL as you would when performing the Deadlift, but the difference won't be as great as you might think. I personally don't like my five-rep max on RDLs to be more than 80 pounds lower than my five-rep max Deadlift.

Romanian Deadlift Mistake 3: Forgetting Your Deadlift Technique Entirely

The mechanics of the RDL and conventional Deadlift are similar. But the RDL calls for almost no knee bend—your legs are essentially straight. Do your best to maintain a flat or slightly arched back as you lower, because your back needs to control the movement.

The tricky part is this: as you come up to the top position, your pelvis needs to tilt backward so your glutes and hamstrings can fire. If you continue incorrectly through a back-dominant deadlift pattern, you'll have an exaggerated back arch, and you'll pull with your back, as demonstrated in the video below.

You also need to make sure the bar travels in a straight line. To do this, keep the bar close to your body at all times and keep your shoulders over the bar. If the bar gets away from your body, you'll place sheering forces on your lower back and potentially set yourself up for an injury, especially as the weight gets heavier.

Check out the video below for a more thorough explanation:

Putting it All Together

Once you've mastered the technique, the finished product should look something like this:

The benefits of correctly performed RDLs far exceed the drawbacks—if there are any at all. Perform RDLs regularly. Your body will thank you, and your vertical and broad jump will take off!

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