Updated: Feb 9
The RDL is one of the most beneficial exercises you can incorporate into your training program. However, the form is sometimes not the easiest to master. Many have poor movement patterns with their Romanian deadlift form, and simply don’t use their hamstrings and glutes properly.
What is a Romanian Deadlift?
This is often called an RDL for short, and simply put is the modified version of a deadlift where the weight doesn’t go fully to the floor.
Instead, the movement starts at the top position where you hinge at the hips lowering the bar past your knees until you feel tension in your hamstrings.
There are numerous benefits when it comes to performing the Romanian deadlift with good form. This exercise focuses on muscle development in your hamstrings, spinal erectors, and glutes as well.
Often seen as just a booty growing exercise these days - which is far from the truth. Other RDL benefits are learning to control the deadlift movement pattern, improve core stability, and execute explosive hip use.
Powerlifters and weightlifters both benefit greatly from this exercise, but also seniors looking to improve their quality of life.
Learning to do the RDL I see as a prerequisite to bent row variations, cleans, and most any other loaded hinge movement with the weight at the front.
Proper RDL Form
The primary execution with the RDL is called the hip hinge. The best example for this is thinking of your body like a door hinge when opening and closing.
The hinge is commonly hard to get down for those new to the exercise because either poor coordination, or simply because they’re thinking too much about how low to go.
The weight doesn’t need to go very far passed your knees usually. You simply lower the bar until your hamstrings tighten up, and then come back to the upright position.
Romanian Deadlift Form Checklist:
Your lower back is in the neutral position (flat) throughout
Feet are in deadlift stance (shoulder width or narrower)
You’re focusing on pushing your hips back during the hinge
Knees are slightly bent as you hinge
You feel the hamstrings tighten up before rounding back
Fixing Romanian Deadlift Form
Fixing movement patterns I see differently from “proper” form. Everyone’s body is different, so the movement execution will slightly vary person to person.
Normally when I fix an athletes RDL it’s first based off of their height and body type. Those shorter in height or leg length need go lower than those with longer legs or around 5’8” + in height.
Average Height or Taller Lifters
Those not feeling hamstring engagement when not short in height usually have this happen because a few things:
Lower back is rounding
Knees are not bent
Hips are not being pushed back
Chest is caving in
Lowering the bar too low
As you can see there’s a lot needing to take place, so fixing your Romanian deadlift form requires either help from a coach - or you recording your sets to see what’s going on.
Shorter in Height Form Tips
The reason for this is there isn’t enough ROM (range of motion) for those shorter to get enough hamstring engagement. The end result being more lower back use than anything else.
This is under the assumption everything else is good with your lifts as noted above.
If this applies to you, the fix is bending the knees slightly more and pushing the hips back further – stopping the weight just before touching the floor.
However, if your hamstrings are still not engaged much then you would want to stand on a bumper plate or box – elevating you above the floor.
This will allow you to go beyond where the floor would be to get better muscle activation and provide the longer stretch for your hamstrings.
How to Fix Hip Hinge Problems
What do you do if you can’t hip hinge? This is an issue to fix for both lifting and health benefits – not just to do an RDL.
The way many sit is slouching in a chair, which overtime causes your pelvis to have a tilt causing you to have bad habits of using spinal flexion vs hip flexion.
This is likely the reason why so many have sciatica and other low back issues or injuries.
You want to fix this habit of using too much spinal flexion, and start getting your hips to fire up properly for lifts. The exercises below assist with this task and are good for warm ups as well.
Basic Dead Bug
Having a strong core is necessary to actually perform a hip hinge properly. Good bracing and keeping your spine neutral helps reduce the possibility of spinal flexion.
The basic version of the dead bug is when you keep your back flat against the floor. Then you bring your knees up and alternate pushing each leg straight out.
This exercise is designed to allow your hips further movement without losing core stability. The main focus point being not to round your spine and initiate spinal flexion.
The bear squat is like being in the hip rocker position, but now on all four points (hands and feet).
This is referred to as a squat because in this position you will be pushing your hips down as if going into a squat, but without allowing your spine to take any of the movement.
Not really too much of a focus on the hips per say, but good to execute as it assists with hip movement while engaging your glutes.
You benefit the most from executing hip thrusts by giving them the opportunity to go through more ROM.
This is achieved by having your upper body in a higher position such as on top of a bench.
Cable Pull Through
An awkward movement to make eye contact as you perform the cable pull through, but effective with practicing the hip hinge keeping all resistance at the center.
Also good for developing your glutes and core stability.
One of my favorite exercises – although all my clients seem to dread seeing them in their training blocks.
A perfect movement that utilizes the hip hinge while keeping the resistance center gravity again.
The ballistic nature of the kettlebell swing also allows your hips to develop explosive power that carries over to the deadlift.