Romanian Deadlifts Are the Key to Better Glute Workouts — Here's How to Do Them

POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

Sick of doing traditional deadlifts? Not only are Romanian deadlifts (aka RDLs) the perfect exercise to shake up your fitness routine, but they're also a surefire way to strengthen your hamstrings and fire up your glutes. Whether you're looking to try something new at the gym, or improve your existing form, learning how to do a Romanian deadlift correctly is ideal for building muscle and improving functional strength. Not to mention, this powerful hip hinge is a great way to break up the tedium of traditional deadlifts and show your hamstrings a little extra love. Romanian deadlifts are beginner-friendly, and if you don't have access to a barbell, you can always do them at home with dumbbells or kettlebells.

To assist you on your Romanian deadlift journey, we spoke with Grace Taylor PT, DPT at H&D Park Slope in New York City. For all those wondering how to do a Romanian deadlift correctly, Taylor shared her tips for proper form and stellar execution. Ahead, read more about Romanian deadlift benefits, the difference between Romanian deadlifts and traditional deadlifts, and a few additional Romanian deadlift variations to try.

Romanian Deadlift: Muscles Worked & Benefits

Romanian deadlifts target your entire posterior chain, which include the muscles along the back of your body. More specifically, RDLs engage your hamstrings (the muscles along the backs of your thighs), lower back, and glutes. They also activate your core muscles and spinal erectors (the muscles that run alongside your vertebrae) in order to protect your lower spine. Secondary muscles like the inner thighs, the forearms, and the deltoids are also involved in Romanian deadlifts.

One huge perk of Romanian deadlifts is that they teach you how to hip hinge while maintaining a neutral spine — a movement pattern a lot of people don't know how to do. Learning how to do this can help you get the most out of other hip-hinge moves like weighted glute bridges and good-morning exercises. Hip hinges can also build functional strength, making daily activities (like bending over and lifting heavy objects) a little bit easier. A stronger posterior chain may prevent back injury in the long run. Doing Romanian deadlifts consistently is good for building muscle and maintaining flexibility along the posterior chain. Plus, since they require weights, RDLs can improve your grip strength, which is a huge functional benefit that complements most gym activities and is even linked to a longer lifespan.

Romanian Deadlift vs. Traditional Deadlift

While both the Romanian deadlift and traditional deadlift strengthen your posterior chain, they put an emphasis on different muscles. With Romanian deadlifts, you typically start standing up, holding the weights in front of your thighs with your knees slightly bent. With traditional deadlifts, you start with the barbell or kettlebell already on the ground, squatting down to start. In terms of execution, Romanian deadlifts are more focused on bending at the hip and sending the glutes backwards, whereas conventional deadlifts require you to bend both your hips and knees simultaneously.

Both Romanian deadlifts and conventional deadlifts work your hamstrings and glutes. However, Romanian deadlifts emphasize your hamstrings, while traditional deadlifts involve more of your quads (the muscles at the front of your thigh). Because so many large muscle groups are working during regular deadlifts, it's considered a compound exercise that has serious potential for strength and power development. You can also work up to lifting really heavy in a traditional deadlift. On the other hand, Romanian deadlifts are a little more targeted, and likely won't be as heavy in terms of weight lifted. For this reason, while both Romanian deadlifts and traditional deadlifts have a place in your routine, RDLs are generally more suitable for beginners. That said, "working with a professional who can evaluate an individual's flexibility restrictions, strength limitations, and ultimate strength goals can help determine which move is a better fit," Taylor says.

Romanian Deadlift Form Tips

Maintaining a neutral spine is key. To do this, make sure to engage your core and keep your shoulders back. The focus in this move is on the hip hinge (aka bending at your hips). Make sure not to bend too much at the knees, arch or round your back, or bring your chest too far forward. To practice the hip hinge, try this drill:

  • Stand about six inches away from a wall, facing away from it.
  • Keeping your back straight and knees slightly bent, bend forward at the hips and reach your butt backward until it taps the wall.
  • Squeeze your glutes to come back up to standing. You should feel this same hip hinge feeling when you do RDLs with weight.

Whether you're doing Romanian deadlifts with a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell, it's important keep the weight close your body (think: right along the front of your shins). Taylor recommends starting with just a barbell, or two dumbbells if the bar is too heavy. To keep the pressure off your spine, she recommends maintaining a comfortable pace, and not completing the movement too quickly.

How to Do a Romanian Deadlift

Here's exactly how to do a Romanian deadlift with dumbbells, according to Taylor. Follow along to maintain proper form:

  • Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes facing forward. Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs with your elbows straight and palms facing your thighs.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and engage your core without holding your breath. Ensure there is a slight bend in both of your knees and inhale while you slowly sit your hips back as if trying to touch the wall behind you.
  • Lower the dumbbells along the front of your thighs, keeping the weight close to your body. Stop when the weights are just below knee level, or until you feel a slight stretch in the back of both thighs.
  • Exhale and drive your hips forward, engaging your hamstrings and glutes to lift your chest and return to standing.
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

Romanian Deadlift Variations

If you don't have a barbell or dumbbells, you can also perform Romanian deadlifts with a kettlebell (shown below): just make sure to hold the kettlebell in front of your body — by the handle and with both hands. To make these more challenging, you can also try single-leg Romanian deadlifts, as shown below. Single-leg deadlifts are still effective for building functional strength, but they put a greater emphasis on balance and stability. To perform single-leg RDLs:

  • Hold a weight in one hand (opposite your standing leg).
  • Shift your weight onto your standing leg while maintaining a slight bend in the knee.
  • Hinge at your hip, the same way you would with a traditional deadlift, while extending the opposite leg behind you.
  • Attempt to drop the weight far enough so that you are parallel to the ground.
POPSUGAR Photography | Chaunté Vaughn

If single-leg deadlifts aren't your thing, you can also change up your stance with a sumo Romanian deadlift. Just stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and slightly turned out (similar to a sumo squat), and hold the weight at the inside of your thighs. Remember to still hinge at your hips; don't bend much at your knees. You can also opt for a b-stance Romanian deadlift (shown below), stepping one foot out behind you to put more pressure on the working leg. If you're using a barbell, you can try a snatch grip deadlift as well, which increases activation in your upper back and shoulders. To do so, perform an RDL but with your hands much wider on the barbell.

Getty | bojanstory

— Additional reporting by Chandler Plante

Kaley Rohlinger is a freelance writer for POPSUGAR who focuses on health, fitness, food, and lifestyle content. She has a background in the marketing and communications industry and has written for POPSUGAR for over four years.

Chandler Plante is an assistant editor for POPSUGAR Health & Fitness. Previously, she worked as an editorial assistant for People magazine and contributed to Ladygunn, Millie, and Bustle Digital Group. In her free time, she overshares on the internet, creating content about chronic illness, beauty, and disability.