Man in red shirt and black shorts lifting weights off tile floor


Written by: Elsie Velazquez cert. Personal Trainer at Prescription Fitness (Cleveland, Ohio)

The Romanian deadlift (also known as the RDL) was developed by a Romanian weightlifter named Nicu Vlad with the intention of working on lower back and hamstring strength and to build power for pulling movements.  To this day, that is what the exercise is mainly known for but it does more than simply work your lower back and hamstrings and build strength for pulling.  I will detail below the muscles worked to give you an idea of how effective this one exercise can be.

  1. Hamstrings

When you keep your knees slightly flexed during the Romanian deadlift, you recruit your hamstrings more than the traditional stiff-legged deadlift.  Your hamstrings are put to work as they cross your hip joint to help pull your torso erect as you stand up with the weight.

  1. Spinal Erectors

Spinal erectors are the long muscles that run up and down either side of your lower back.  These muscles maintain your posture during normal daily activities. During the Romanian deadlift, they keep you from rounding your back and provide power.  They assist with both resisting the weight on the way down and they are the prime movers on the way up. These muscles work every time you lean forward. The more weight you use, or the farther you lean, the more they work.

  1. Abdominals

Your abdominals contract to keep you from folding in half during the Romanian deadlift. The main abdominal muscles work to pull your pelvis and torso together during the move.

  1. Trapezius

The trapezius (the large muscle that covers much of your upper back) is also recruited during the move to help you maintain proper posture. This muscle maintains the position of your shoulder blades during the lift and it also helps maintain the alignment of your upper spinal column.

Now that we know the muscles worked, here are some of the benefits to incorporating the Romanian deadlift to your routine:

  1. It balances your quads and hamstrings. Most leg exercises primarily work the quads one of the largest muscle groups in the body) so this exercise helps to keep hamstrings strong.
  2. It strengthens the entire posterior chain. The posterior chain consists of all the muscles from your neck down to the back of the knees.
  3. It places less stress on your knees and quads. Just remember to never round your back – keep it flat and neutral.

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