How to Do a Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Correctly

What Is a Romanian Deadlift, Anyway?

Otherwise known as an RDL, a Romanian Deadlift is a functional exercise that builds strength and muscle in your lower back and posterior chain.

There are different accounts as to where the name Romanian Dead Lift came from. The most common story says that the name Romanian Deadlift came from the 1990 Olympics.

Olympian turned Coach Dragomir Cioroslan of Romania and his lifter, Nicu Vlad, were at the Olympics, and lifter named Jim Schmitz saw Vlad performing a lift he hadn’t seen before. Schmitz asked about the move.

Cioroslan and Vlad said they didn’t have a name for it, and Schmitz proposed “The Romanian Deadlift.”

Whether this is the right story or not, the RDL and RDL variations have become a staple in most weightlifters’ training programs.

The RDL is a great exercise for building the muscle groups in your back, developing your hamstrings, and creating core strength.

The other advantage is that you do not need a lot of weight to reap the benefits, unlike a traditional deadlift.

So, if you are a beginner or a fitness enthusiast without access to a weight room, the RDL is for you.

In fact, we’ll be going through the Dumbbell RDL, but you can also do this workout with a medicine ball, kettlebells, or even at body weight with a PVC pipe.

Target Muscles

Lifters who have pains in their knee joints or knee flexion problems may find the RDL is a fantastic exercise for leg day.

The Romanian deadlift works muscles on the back of your leg, unlike a leg press. So, you can build powerful legs without putting extra strain on your knees.

When done with proper form, the dumbbell Romanian deadlift movement pattern is a great way to improve your entire posterior chain strength.

Your posterior chain is essential to most functional movement, so Romanian deadlifts are an excellent way to enhance sports and other athletics performance.

An Introduction to the Muscles in Your Back and Posterior Chain:

Deadlifts and RDL Variations use similar muscle groups. The RDL has advantages, however. Because you can use lighter weight, it puts RDLs put less stress on your lumbar spine.

However, if you do have back pain, seek medical advice before attempting deadlifts or it’s Romanian cousin.

  • Trapezus: Your traps get their name from their shape. They are your big upper back muscles that are shaped like trapezoids. Your traps help control your shoulder blades and balance your head’s weight by maintaining the cervical spine.
  • Rhomboids: another muscle named after its shape, these rhombus shaped muscles lay under your traps. Their job is to pull your shoulder blades together.
  • Deltoids: The deltoids are your shoulder muscles. They work with your traps to control the shoulder joint.
  • Triceps Brachii: The triceps are the muscles that run down the humerus – the long bone in your upper arm – and end at the top of your forearms. The triceps help in the extension of the elbow joint and help keep the head of the humerus in the shoulder joint.
  • Latissmus Dorsi or lats: The lats are your big back muscle. They are what give a powerful back its shape.
  • Erector spinae or spinal erectors: Your erectors are found deep in your back, running next to your spine, down the lumbar spine, and extending the vertebrae column. 
  • Gluteus Maximus: Your glutes are the big butt muscle located at the joint of your hip. Its main job is to give you upright posture by controlling the hip joint, but it is also a muscle used for explosive power in many movements, like the hip hinge a kettlebell swing.
  • Hamstrings: Along with your glutes and adductors, the hamstrings are responsible for hip extension, Your hamstrings are made up of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus muscles.
  • Soleus: this is the meaty muscle on the back of your legs that makes up your calves. This is the muscle you work during a calf raise.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

As always, to reduce the risk of injury start with a lighter weight. Dumbbells are not as stable as a barbell, so you won’t need as much weight to make progress. But this also means you will have to brace your core to keep proper form, which is why dumbbell RDLs are an excellent way to build core strength.

How to Do a dumbbell Romanian Deadlift With Proper Form

  1. Start

    Begin by standing upright with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand in an overhand grip, with your palms facing the front of your thighs.

    Extend your arms, so the dumbbells rest on the front of your legs.
    Use your lats to pull your shoulder blades down towards your back pockets. Inhale and brace your core to help you keep your low back in a straight line.

  2. The Bend

    Keeping a slight bend in your knees, bend at the waist, using a hip hinge to push your tailbone back and slowly lower the dumbbells.

    Continue to lower the dumbbells until you feel tightness and a slight stretch in your hamstrings.

    At that point, squeeze your glutes and reverse the hip hinge pattern and lift your torso back into your starting position. That is one rep.

Tips for a Proper Dumbbell RDL:

Here are cues pros use to get the most out of this strength training program.

Your range of motion will determine how low you can lower the dumbbells. People with a greater range of motion will be able to sink deeper. Your lowest point will probably be along your shins, do not expect the weights to touch the floor.

To protect your lumbar spine, you must keep a straight back throughout the entire movement. This is especially important as you fatigue. Keeping your spine in alignment will help prevent lower back pain.

Maintain a neutral gaze with your chin tucked. One trainer cue is to pretend you have an egg held under your chin.

Do not bend your elbows. Think of your arms as simply straps holding the weight to you. This is a lower body workout; the hamstrings and hip hinge pattern is what should move the weight.

When reversing the hip hinge movement, push through your heels as you return to the upright standing position.

Romanian and Traditional Deadlift Variations

There are multiple variations trainers can use to build power in your posterior chain, Some of these options include the Good Morning, the Barbell RDL, the Single-Leg RDL, and the Sumo Deadlift. We will look at each and why they might be a great option.

Good Morning

The Good Morning is a bodyweight movement using the Romanian deadlift’s movement pattern. It makes a fantastic warmup for the hip hinge of RDLs and traditional deadlifts.

Start your Good Morning with your feet hip-width apart. Place your hands on your hips. Brace your core and bend at the waist, keeping your back flat. 

Squeeze your glutes and thrust your pelvis forward to lift your torso and return to the upright starting position. That is one rep.

Barbell Romanian Deadlift

In this version of the rdl, you will use a barbell rather than a pair of dumbbells. Some power athletes use barbell Romanians as an accessory exercise to the clean, as the end of the movement mimics the clean pull.

To start, set a rack at the appropriate hip to thigh height, and lift the barbell in a clean grip. For the rest of the movement, complete the hip hinge as described above for barbell rdls.

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

If you play sports, you need the single-leg rdl in your training program. Unlike static balance exercises, this workout creates dynamic balance, which is essential for sports and running. 

The single-leg Romanian Deadlift also is a great way to build stability in your ankles, knees, in hips. However, one disclaimer: this advanced progression requires good balance and motor control. Any imbalance will show immediately. So, start with light weight or perform at bodyweight until you are familiar with the movement pattern.

Single-leg Romanian Deadlifts can be performed with a pair of dumbbells, a single weight, kettlebells, or a barbell.

Begin your single-leg RDL holding a dumbbell in your right hand. Lift your left leg off the ground, and lean slightly forward. Maintain a straight back as you hinge at the waist and lower the weight. 

Squeeze your glutes to do thrust with your pelvis to return to standing. That is one rep.

On each repetition of your single-leg Romanian deadlift, alternate standing legs, and the weight.

Single-Leg Deadlift

To perform a single-leg deadlift, you will need a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells. In this variation on a deadlift, you complete the movement on one leg, as in the single-leg rdl, so it builds dynamic balance. Unlike the single-leg rdl, the single-leg deadlift begins with the weight on the floor like a traditional deadlift. 

Sumo Deadlift

You may have seen a Sumo stance deadlift in powerlifting. Unlike the conventional deadlift stance, your feet are twice wider than hip-width with your toes slightly turned out. The lifter’s hands are shoulder-width apart, putting them inside their legs. This takes some of the strain out of your hamstrings and puts it into your quadriceps. If you have hamstring injuries, putting some of work on your quads may help. 

Final Thoughts

There are several classic weightlifting moves every lifer needs in their training program. These are the tried and true movements of the pros. They include bench presses, squats, cleans, the snatch, and deadlifts. The Romanian deadlift belongs in this category. This whole-body workout builds muscle from shoulders to heels. That they can be done with light weight, or in some variations, no weight at all, makes them perfect for any fitness enthusiast. 

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