Everyone tends to have a dominant side. Right-handed, left-footed, wink with your favourite eye, lean into conversations with your best ear… That’s fine, but when it comes to your muscle make-up, having imbalances can lead to weaknesses and a risk of injury. Plus, you know, symmetry is more attractive, supposedly.
The problem is, when it comes to the legs, most people are heavily front-dominant. The quads get all the attention, with the hamstring muscles shamefully neglected – despite their importance for jumping, acceleration, deceleration, knee alignment and a respectable squat.
You can fix this by adding one key move into your weekly workouts, and you don’t even need to be in the gym to reap its rewards. The Romanian deadlift is a variation of the common-or-garden deadlift that targets the hamstrings, helping them build flexibility as well as strength, power and control.
But the beauty of Romanian deadlifts is that you needn’t go too heavy for them to be effective, which means you won’t put your back under pressure (as it’s easy to do with regular deadlifts). That’s also why you can do it at home by simply replacing a barbell with a heavy-ish backpack.
How To Do The Romanian Deadlift
To start the move, stand with the bar or weight in your hands as opposed to the floor. Slowly lower the weight with a slight bend in your knees, bending at the hips and keeping your back straight. Lower until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings – usually when the weight has just passed your knees – then drive your hips forwards and use your hamstrings to power back up to stand.
One common mistake is failing to maintain the position of your lower back throughout the movement. Don’t feel like you need to bend all the way over just to make the weight touch the ground. Remember it is meant to be working your hamstrings primarily, not your lower back.
If you’re adding the Romanian deadlift to your workout programme it’s best to start splitting your leg workout across two different session (that’s right, two leg days!). Do quad-intensive exercises on one of the days and focus on hamstrings and glutes on the other. Avoid doing them on consecutive days otherwise you’ll put excessive stress on the stabilisers that help with lower-body movements.
Romanian Deadlift Variations
One-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Grasping the bar with hands shoulder-width apart, stand one leg and lean forward with a slight bend in the knee. Keeping your back straight at all times, lower with a slow and controlled motion until you feel the stretch in your standing leg’s hamstring, then return to the start. You can also perform this movement with kettlebells of equal weight in each hand, which makes it easier to retract the shoulder blades.
Dumbbell Split-Leg Romanian Deadlift
In this variation, you’ll focus on a single leg as with the one-legged version, but instead of elevating your rear leg, keep the ball of your rear foot on the floor. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, keeping your back straight and core tight, lower with a controlled motion until you feel a stretch in the hamstring of the front leg, then return to the start.
Stiff-Leg Romanian Deadlift
This is the ultimate test of hamstring and core strength. Whereas other variations allow a slight bend in the knees, the stiff-leg deadlift requires you to take a straight-leg stance with no bend. It may feel a little difficult to perform at first, but this leg position places the greatest emphasis on hamstring development. Just be mindful of keeping your back straight.
Additional reporting by Scott Blake (@Scott_Blakey)