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Romanian deadlift: an in-depth guide (part II)

In part one of the Romanian deadlift, we went into detail about the muscles involved in the exercise and, more specifically, how this specific deadlift variation differs from its other variations. In addition, the proper setup was discussed. If you haven’t read that blog post yet, I highly recommend you check it out before continuing with part two.


The side view of a man wearing athletic clothing stands tall while pulling a barbell with weights up close to his core.

As mentioned in the previous post, the Romanian deadlift is an excellent exercise for all skill levels. For the beginner, it is a fundamental way to teach and load the hinge position as you begin with the weight at the top, where it is easiest to activate the hip and also easier to control while lowering.


For the experienced lifter, the Romanian deadlift offers a great way to add variation to your training. It can be a superior exercise versus the conventional deadlift to training the hamstrings if muscle growth is top of mind and an essential activity to learn and master.


In addition, when performed correctly, the Romanian deadlift is a safe and extremely effective way to strengthen, not injure, the low back. Clients who have back problems can particularly benefit from this exercise as it works to improve the hips and back.

Key Point

“In addition, when performed correctly, the Romanian deadlift is a safe and extremely effective way to strengthen, not injure, the low back. Clients who have back problems can particularly benefit from this exercise as it works to improve the hips and back.”

Even with all the benefits, this move can look downright scary for a beginner new to the gym. You are probably worried about your back getting injured due to bent over position, you probably don’t know what I mean by “hinge” yet, and the exercise itself has the word “dead” in it, so I can understand why you may be hesitant.


Stay with me as we will take a bottoms-up approach to make you feel confident with this exercise right from the start.


Establishing your hand position


There are a few different grip positions you can use for the Romanian deadlift that I recommend.

A man wearing athletic clothing grips a barbell with both of his palms down.
Double overhand grip

The first is a double overhand grip, where both hands grip the weight with knuckles. I like this grip when initially teaching the move to make it easier for the client to use and activate their lats. However, as you progress with the exercise, your grip may become the limiting factor. When that happens, you can switch to a mixed grip.


A man wearing athletic clothing grips a barbell with his right palm down and left palm up.
Mixed grip

A mixed grip is when you place one hand palm down and the other palm up. This gives the client a stronger grip as you put the bar in a bind so it can’t rotate from beneath your hands.


For advanced lifters, the hook grip is also a great alternative, where placing the thumb between the bar and your hands create a greater friction point on the bar at the cost of some initial discomfort to the thumb. Finally, when placing the hands on the bar, adopt a shoulder-width grip just outside the legs.


Foot position

Athletic shoes of a man wearing athletic clothing seen ready for an exercise.

They set a proper position from which our legs move. In the Romanian deadlift, we focus on keeping the feet relatively straightforward and shoulder-width apart. We want to set up our feet in this way because

  1. this maximally works the hamstrings, and

  2. having the feet wider than shoulder width also starts to activate the groin muscles to a greater extent versus having a neutral foot position.


Establishing a proper start position


The neutral spine


A neutral spine means keeping the spine in its natural curvature stature. This does not mean “straight” but rather keeping it along its natural curves, as seen in the image below.


Maintaining a neutral spine involves the interaction between the hips, core, shoulders and neck. For the hips, squeeze the back of the hips to bring the pelvis forward. For the shoulders, think about pulling the shoulders back and down, bringing the shoulders towards the core.


Next, engage the core by breathing low into the stomach and then bracing that air as if you were getting punched. Finally, keep the neck relaxed and long, allowing it to move naturally with the rest of the torso.

A woman seen twice, one of slouched posture and another with a high chest posture.

Notice how the posture on the left are forward, rounded and in a slouched position? This isn't the proper neutral position. We want to have a tall chest, keep our shoulders down to the sides and back, and the neck long and relaxed to have a proper neutral position, like the image on the right.


Keeping the bar close


A man wearing athletic clothing performs a mixed grip Romanian deadlift with the barbell close to his shins.

Always remember that the further the bar travels away from your leg, the more the low back works to maintain a neutral position. With this in mind, we want to keep the bar as close to the leg as possible and focus on moving with the hips. The role of the low back is to stabilize, not help move, the lift.



To keep the bar close, think about keeping your shoulders tight, and the bar wedged into the body while squeezing the hips to initiate the movement.


The front view of a man wearing athletic clothing stands tall while pulling a barbell with weights up close to his core.

Tight hips and core


One of my favourite reasons to start new clients with the Romanian deadlift is because we can maximally contract our hips at the top of the lift, making it easy to “feel” and use them as we exercise.


Of particular importance is maintaining tight hips with the full range of motion and not allowing either the shoulders to round forward or the low back to overextend.


For visual learners, part one and two of this three-part Romanian deadlift guide series has an accompanying part in the YouTube video below.



So you have tried the tips but are still struggling or nervous about trying the Romanian deadlift? In part three, coming out next weekend, I will give you a progression sequence you can use to start learning and progressing the move now without throwing yourself at a barbell.

 

Interested in learning more? Discover Shift to Strength's online personal training options with certified trainers like Luke at shifttostrength.com/online today!



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