The Barbell Romanian deadlift is one of the best female lifts because it’s a compound lower-body exercise that targets your hamstrings and glutes while also training hip mobility, good posture, and balance. The barbell allows you to safely and consistently increase the weight over time, allowing for easy progressive overload. The end result is not only an attractive, curvy body but an athletic one too. Let’s take a closer look:
Barbell Romanian Deadlift: The Overview
The barbell Romanian deadlift (otherwise known as the barbell RDL) is a compound lift that targets the following:
- entire posterior chain (the back side of your body)
- the hamstrings (back of thighs)
- the glutes
- postural muscles, such as the spinal erectors most easily seen on the lower back
To a lesser extent, the barbell RDL will also train your forearms, upper back to stabilize the weight, etc.
Barbell Romanian Deadlift Video Demonstration
The key to this exercise is maintaining a neutral spine (straight line from your hips to your head) and making sure you sink back into your hips.
Here’s Marco coaching Marielle on how to do the barbell RDL with proper form:
Barbell RDL Proper Form Breakdown:
- First, grab an Olympic barbell and the plates you need for the the weight that you can handle properly.
- Some people set up the barbell on the floor and “deadlift” the weight up into starting position. Some people have access to a safety arms in a cage that are open, so that they can load up the weight in the starting position. Either is okay.
- Step up to the barbell that is set-up. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, in a power position, as if you were going to jump.
- Get as tall as you can, stretch out, and take a deep breath.
- Pretend there’s a rope tied around your waist, and it’s pulling you backwards.
- Push those hips back while keeping your head in line with your body, keeping a “neutral spine.”
- Keep sitting back until your hands can touch the bar.
- “Deadlift” the weight up until you’re standing—this is your starting position.
- Again, push those hips back while keeping your head in line with your body, keeping a “neutral spine.”
- Keep going back until you feel the tension in your hamstrings.
- Once there is enough tension, use your hamstrings like an elastic band to snap back up.
- Thrust your hips forward, using your glutes to get back into the starting position as powerfully as possible.
- That’s one rep.
A few extra pointers
- Keep the barbell close to your shins. Let the barbell fall into a natural path.
- Keep a neutral spine. What this means is that from your hips to your head should be a straight line. Your upper back shouldn’t be rounded over like a hunch. Don’t keep your head up to look forward. Keep your chin tucked, and let your head stay in line, so you may be looking at the ground when you’re at the bottom position of the rep.
- Don’t lock your knees. Keep a slight bend in your knees, don’t let them lock out. On the other hand, there shouldn’t be any knee bending as you do the exercise. This isn’t a knee-dominant exercise like the squat. It’s a hip-dominant one.
- It’s okay if your forearms give way first. If you’re brand new to this exercise, your forearms may be the weak link. That’s okay. After some rest, you’ll come back stronger. Eventually, your forearms will be strong enough, and you’ll be able to push your hamstrings/glutes.
- Add weight as you get stronger. As you get stronger over the weeks, gradually increase the weight of the barbell. Keep lifting heavier (with textbook form), and you’ll get curvier, stronger, and more athletic. It doesn’t need to be much. If your gym has micro-plates, you could try adding 2.5 pound plates to each size to bump the lift up 5 pounds, and give it another try.
Mastering Neutral Spine Will Help With The RDL
Doing the barbell Romanian deadlift requires understanding what neutral spine is and hip hinging correctly. This means that your upper back isn’t rounded, your lower back isn’t sagging, and you aren’t contorting your neck up to stay looking forward. Instead, your back is in a completely straight line, which is what we call neutral spine.
Here’s a good video from Marco talking about what neutral spine is and some drills you can do to improve it.
The cool thing about neutral spine is once you learn it, it’ll help you everywhere else with lifting. Picking up a couch, picking up things off the floor, and even working in the garden.
Keep in mind that you won’t master this movement over night. Your brain will need to rewire, your stabilizers streghthen, etc. So with effort, and practice, your form and hinging will improve over time naturally.
Common Barbell Romanian Deadlift Mistakes
Setting Up The Stance Wrong
You don’t want to stand super-wide or narrow. Pretend like you’re going to jump. That’s your power position. Use that stance for the barbell RDL.
Bending The Knees Instead Of Sinking Back Into Your Hips
For whatever reason, there’s a whole generation of us who don’t know how to bend through the hips. Maybe it was wearing low-rise pants, and we learned to bend our backs and knees to pick up things instead of at the hips?
Bending the knees and staying more upright is a squat pattern, and it works the quads more. There’s nothing wrong with the squat, but we’re doing the barbell RDL here.
Anyways, take a bit of time to practice this movement of sinking back into your hips. You can practice it at home in your bedroom too without any weights. Practice it around the house as you do chores. You’ll get it.
Choosing Too Heavy Of A Weight
When someone picks too heavy of a barbell, chances are they’re not going to do the whole range of motion that they could have. They might sit back and do the RDL a little bit, and that’s not going to challenge the hamstrings very well.
The deeper you sit back, the more it’ll stretch the hamstrings, and the better it’ll be for your leg growth. So lighten the weight, and set-up a barbell that you can do 8-12 reps of pristine form with.
Using The Barbell Romanian Deadlift In A Workout
Use A Moderate Rep Range
In research, to optimize for muscle growth and muscle size, you want to choose a weight that you can do 4–40 repetitions with. The sweet spot in real life, though, is the 8-12 rep range. The barbell Romanian deadlift is no exception.
If you find yourself not able to do 5 reps, use a lighter weight. If you can do more than 20 repetitions, use a heavier weight. That will guarantee that the workout is helping you gain both muscle size and muscle strength and not making endurance adaptations.
Challenge Yourself But Stop Shy Of Failure
Ideally, you’ll stop your set when you’re just about to fail and have a rep or two left in you. But if you’re a beginner, it’s hard to know exactly how hard you’re pushing yourself. If you aren’t sure if you’re taking your sets close to failure, try doing more reps. Try pushing yourself all the way until you can no longer do any more RDLs with perfect form. That way, you’ll know what it feels like. You might be surprised that you were a lot stronger than you thought. Next time, stop right before that point of failure.
Start With Two Sets, and Add More When Needed
Start with just a couple of sets, then over time, add more sets as you get stronger. We recommend doing two sets in the first week. Practice your form, find the right weights, and take your time learning the movement.
Next week, if you aren’t too sore at the start of each workout, try adding a set to each exercise. If that goes well and you feel ready for more, add another set next week. You can do around 3–6 sets per exercise. Most people will do best with 3–4 sets. If you ever start to feel worn down, or if you’re coming back after a long break, start the cycle over again, going back to just two sets per exercise and rebuilding from there.
Rest 1-2 Minutes Between Sets
How long you rest between sets of barbell RDLs isn’t that important. Whether you rest for 2 minutes or 10 minutes, you’ll still stimulate a similar amount of muscle growth. The important thing is that you rest long enough to catch your breath, ensuring that your cardiovascular system doesn’t limit the performance of your muscles.
We want to challenge your leg muscles, not just your heart (though your heart will get a good workout, too!).
The main reason to rest for just a couple of minutes is to keep your workouts shorter. You don’t want to spend all day in the gym. But if you need more rest or get interrupted partway through your workout, no problem. Just pick up where you left off.
If you want to blast through your workout even faster, you can do the lifts in a circuit/superset. Do a set of barbell RDLs, rest a minute, then do a set of raised push-ups, rest a minute, then do your second set of barbell RDLs, and then do your second set of raised push-ups. That way, you’re still giving different muscle groups plenty of time to recover between sets, but you’re doing another exercise during the rest period.
Free Routine For Female Beginners: Full Body Workout That Includes Barbell Romanian Deadlifts
If you don’t have a workout, you might be interested in our full Bony to Bombshell program. A sample beginner’s workout for women, with some priority given to the barbell RDL (doing the exercise first), could look like this:
- Barbell Romanian Deadlift: 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
- 1-Arm Dumbbell Row: 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
- Dumbbell Goblet Squats: 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
- Raised Push-Ups: 2 sets of as many reps as you can.
- Lateral Raises: 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
- Bonus Glute Work: 2 sets of glute bridges or hip thrusts
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Frequently Asked Questions About The Barbell Romanian Deadlift
Here are some of the most common questions we’ve gotten from women about the barbell RDL:
Q: For the BB RDL, how heavy should I set up my barbell?
A: The weight of the barbell depends on your own level of strength. You will need to do trial and error, and the weight you use will depend on how fit and strong you are to start. Don’t let your ego choose. Pick a weight you can handle properly.
As a beginner, start with a weight that feels comfortable yet challenging. As you get stronger, it’ll get easier, and it’s time to raise the weight. Try to find a weight that will let you do 8–12 reps per leg with good form.
Keep in mind that if you pick something very light, like just the unweighted barbell, it might make the DB RDL harder. That is because the weight is too light to give the hamstrings a good stretch. So don’t be afraid to lift heavier if it feels way too light. It might help your form improve.
Keep in mind that a regular Olympic barbell will traditionally be 45 pounds, so be sure to factor that into your total weight. For example, if you use an Olympic barbell with two 25-pound plates, you’ll have 45 + 25 on the left + 25 on the right = 95 total pounds.
Q: How often should I do the barbell RDL?
A: That depends on your goals, but we’re also big fans of this lift, so it’s one we include in the Bombshell programming a lot, so we might be a bit biased. If you want to master it, you can do this one every workout, realistically.
But if your goal is just to get general hamstring and glute growth, you’ll want to pair that exercise with other lower-body exercises for balanced growth. Think of things like dumbbell goblet squats and glute bridges.
Q: Can I do a barbell Romanian Deadlift at home?
A: Of course, as long as you’ve got a barbell at home 😉 If you don’t have the barbell, you may want to pick a variation such as the dumbbell Romanian Deadlift. Speaking of variations…
Q: How can I modify the barbell RDL? What are some variations?
A: If you’re new to the barbell Romanian Deadlift, stick to the classic form. You can get great muscle growth just by being patient, putting in the effort, and using heavier and heavier dumbbells over time as you get stronger. Even advanced lifters still use this lift, but they might be using more weight plates.
BB RDL Alternative—Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
The dumbbell RDL variation is great for when you’re short on time and don’t want to do a full barbell set-up. You can just grab two dumbbells off the rack and get going. Naturally, you won’t be able to load this lift up as heavy as with a barbell, so it might be a wise choice further into a workout when you’re already fatigued, and don’t need as heavy of weights, but you still want some more volume for your hamstrings and glutes.
BB RDL Alternative—Dumbbell Suitcase RDL
This RDL variation uses only one dumbbell, which means the weight is only on one side of the body. This can work stabilizer muscles, help to correct imbalances, and work the opposite side of your core, creating a more athletic body. It’s fun for a bit of variety.
BB RDL Alternative—Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings are like the explosive version of the DB RDL. It’s a very similar movement where you’re sitting back into the hips, stretching the hamstrings, and then thrusting forward. The Kettlebell swings will be lighter in weight as you’ll almost always be doing more reps, and it is a fun one when you’re looking for more of a burn or to work on your cardio a bit with weights.
By incorporating barbell RDLs into your lifting routine, your hamstrings, glutes, and general posture will be thanking you. If you liked this article, you’d love our muscle-building newsletter. We’ll keep you up to date on all the latest muscle-building information for women. Or, if you want us to walk you through the process of building muscle, including teaching you the lifts, giving you a full workout program, a complete diet guide, a recipe book, and online coaching, check out our Bony to Bombshell Program.