The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is a staple in most workout programs. This exercise is fantastic for building the glutes and hamstrings and is regularly used for strength and hypertrophy.
With Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs), the devil’s in the details when it comes to their successful execution for your strength and muscle growth, and Romanian Deadlift mistakes can take away from your gains.
I coach lifters of all skill levels and am constantly helping them fine-tune and move away from common Romanian Deadlift (RDL) mistakes that are hindering their growth.
For Those In a Rush: The most common two RDL mistakes that I see are extending too much at the torso and bending too much at the knees. Think about stacking your torso and not forcing a ton of extension, also, think about limiting how much your knees are bending so you’re not squatting your RDLs.
It’s normal to make mistakes with Romanian Deadlifts as you learn this exercise and get heavier. Try not to get discouraged and continue to fine-tune your form!
The primary goal of the Romanian Deadlift is to create a deep and strong hip hinge. Think about working around the hips and not doing too much with the torso and knees when working through reps.
There are countless Romanian Deadlift variations to use and learn. When in doubt, keep experimenting with RDL variations to see what works and “feels” best for your anatomical needs and training goals.
If you have additional RDL mistakes questions and feel like this exercise still isn’t clicking for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments below or on Instagram. I also have a video covering this topic embedded below.
Mistake 1: Extending the Torso Too Much
The first Romanian Deadlift mistake that I see lifters and athletes constantly make is extending the torso too much. This can be problematic because it can take away from the intent of the RDL which is to stretch the glutes and hamstrings.
I think this mistake often originates from trying to “set the back” a little too much. This oversetting of the back and neck then creates an extended torso which will then shift how we’re holding and displacing weight when moving through reps.
It’s most common to see beginners make this mistake and if you want to see what this “feels” like, stand up and hinge the hips backward. Do a few hinges with the torso extended with the chest up, then do a few reps while keeping a stacked torso position.
In theory, you should “feel” the hamstrings and glutes stretch more in the stacked torso reps and when you’re managing load this stretch will be even more heightened and greater which will give you a better stimulus.
The Fix: As you perform reps, think about keeping the torso stacked. This means that if we looked at your body from the side, the torso would be relatively straight versus overly extended.
I like to think as though my upper legs and torso are a pocket knife, and they’re opening and closing in unison with a nice level of rigidity. A pocket knife isn’t going to bend or flex and staying a little more rigid will keep the stress in the hips versus displacing into the torso.
If you’re having trouble with this, video yourself from the side and try performing a few RDL sets with a nice slow 3-5 second eccentric (lowering) and concentric (lifting) tempo. You want to look at the torso to see if it’s staying stacked or extending. A slower tempo can help highlight this.
Another awesome way to fix overly extending the torso is to perform some RDL sets while hugging a sandbag. While hugging the sandbag you won’t be able to over-extend and this tool can be awesome for helping lifters “feel” what it’s like to stack the torso.
Mistake 2: Ramping the Weight
Another common Romanian Deadlift mistake that I see lifters make is “ramping the weight” down the body. This means that you’re keeping the weight so close to the quads and shins that you’re creating some friction between your body and the implement.
This is most prevalent in beginners because they can tend to over cue the Romanian Deadlift form tip of “keep the weight close to the body”. We want to think about using this tip more figuratively, not literally.
It’s most common to see lifters ramp dumbbells and barbells up the thighs and shins, and if you notice that you’re clipping your legs with weights then you might be keeping the weight a little too close to the body.
The Fix: We want to ideally keep the weight a little off the body so we can achieve a greater stretch through the hamstrings and glutes. Think about letting the arms hang and think about them as ropes as if they’re dangling off the body.
If you have a rope attached to your shoulder joint, then it would stay relatively perpendicular to the ground. This is similar to how you should conceptualize the arms in the deadlift.
To make sure you’re doing this correctly, grab a set of dumbbells or a barbell and film your RDL sets from the side. You want a little space between the shins and weights at the bottom of your RDL. If your arms are angled in, then you’re likely too close.
Mistake 3: Squatting Your Hinge
One of the most common Romanian Deadlift mistakes that beginners constantly make is bending the knees too much in their hinge. Outside of RDLs, this is a common hinge mistake that we all make when we start our lifting journey.
In the RDL, we want a knee bend that is reciprocal to our anatomy and RDL mechanics. I say this because everyone’s amount of knee bend will be a little different so as I write this mistake please keep in mind that your form will be individual.
When we bend too much at the knees during RDLs we shorten the hamstrings and change the axis of rotation. This is counterproductive to what we want to achieve with RDLs which is creating more length at the hamstrings and glutes.
The Fix: There are multiple ways to fix a squatty hinge and the method that works and resonates best with you will be individual. If simply cueing higher hips and less knee bend doesn’t work, then I’d suggest trying the following.
One method that I love to use is to set up a dowel behind someone or use a wall as a contact point. What you’ll do is take 2-3 steps away from the contact point and you’ll think about hinging with the hips staying high and moving backward.
The goal here is to tap the glutes on the contact point and then stop once you’ve done as that signals that you’ve hit the end of your range of motion. This can be a great tool for teaching the hinge because you can work from a shallower hinge, then get deeper as you nail the form.
Another useful way to fix a squatty hinge is to try cueing yourself a little better regarding what the hips are doing. For beginner lifters, a cue that has worked really well for me when teaching the hinge is to pretend there’s a rope attached to the hips.
As you bend and start to hinge, you’re going to pretend that a tense rope is pulling the hips directly backward. In this scenario, you wouldn’t be able to bend due to the rope’s pressure and your hips should stay high to follow the parallel line of the pull with the ground.
Mistake 4: Lack of Quality Glute Cueing
One of the main benefits that can come along with Romanian Deadlifts is their ability to also train the glutes through hip extension. A common mistake that I see regarding glute activity is the lack of cueing them when locking out RDLs.
More specifically, instead of passively moving through reps and hitting extension without a ton of intent, I think it can be more productive to cue an active extension and squeeze with the glutes to ensure you’re getting the most out of this exercise.
The Fix: Attach a light band to a rack and step far enough away from the anchor point so the band gets at your resting range of motion and when you hinge it’s not so tight that it pulls you out of balance.
There’s a fine line here, and it’s normal if it takes a few tries to get right. From here, you’ll hinge like normal, then as you stand back up actively squeeze the glutes. The glutes will have to work harder against the band so you’ll “feel” them more which can translate to training for better hinges and glute involvement going forward.
Mistake 5: Forcing Range of Motion
The final mistake that I see lifters make with Romanian Deadlifts is falling into the trap of thinking “more range is better”. It’s normal to assume that a greater range of motion is better for muscle growth, but that’s not necessarily the case here.
What we want with RDLs is to work through an active range of motion where we’re able to keep attention on the hamstrings and glutes. There will come a point in the eccentric (lowering) range of motion where your hinge range of motion runs out.
In practice, this will typically look like lifters reaching with weights to get more “range”, but in reality, they’re typically just diverting from hamstrings tension and doing extra work which will take away from your energy for working in more productive ranges of motion.
This is why I’m not the biggest fan of cues like “touch the plates to the floor” or “bring the dumbbells close to the floor” because these are not individual to a lifter’s capabilities and range of motion that they possess.
The Fix: If you constantly find that you’re overarching with your Romanian Deadlift range of motion despite cueing yourself differently or purposely trying to stop shallower, then I’d suggest trying the two RDL variations below.
- Set up a landmine and grab a rope attachment. Use the attachment that you typically use for triceps pushdowns.
- Hinge as normal and use the rope’s length and plate touching the ground as your range of motion limiter.
- This variation may feel a lot more shallow than what you’re used to, and that’s okay. The goal is to be able to train yourself to stop at ranges you desire without overreaching.
- Grab a sandbag. Ideally, use a 50 or 75 lb bag as these will be big enough to cue what we’re after.
- Hinge like normal and once you feel the sandbag with the front of the thighs, stop, and stand back up.
- This variation is also great because the “hug” of the bag will prevent reaching excessively with the arms if that’s something you struggle with.
Another great method to try if you have dumbbells is to set up blocks in front of you, then hinge and hit the dumbbells on the blocks. Once the dumbbells make contact with the block, stand back up. Modify block height accordingly.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q:What is a common error during the Romanian deadlift?
Q:Why can't I feel Romanian deadlifts in my glutes?
Q:Should you squeeze at the top of a RDL?
The Romanian deadlift is one of the most popular deadlift variations and for good reason. This movement can not only improve your hinge strength, but it can also be great for training the hamstrings and glutes in tandem.
Whether you’re new to lifting or you’re trying to fine-tune your Romanian deadlift form, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re not making any of these RDL mistakes.
If you have additional questions on fixing RDL mistakes, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).