11 Best Romanian Deadlift Alternatives (Tips and How To Guide)

Photo of author
Written by Wasim Kagzi

Key Points

  • A good alternative to the Romanian Deadlift works the same muscles and produces minimal to no movement at the knees. In addition, the movement extends or thrusts the hips.
  • These Romanian Deadlift alternatives are the best for engaging the hamstrings, gluteus, erectors and multiple other muscles.

If I was to describe the Romanian Deadlift with one word it would be ‘AWESOME’.

Why do I say that?

Because the Romanian Deadlift targets multiple muscles of the upper and lower extremities.

In fact, it is one of the best, if not the best for stimulating the muscles of the hamstrings. [2]

Not to mention, its practical application for developing the movement pattern in many sports and activities. [3]

Within this current article, we will highlight the origins of the Romanian Deadlift and the muscles worked. We will also go over what makes a good Romanian deadlift alternative, 11 unique alternative exercises and some FAQs.

The Origins of the Romanian Deadlift

This hip hinge focused deadlift variant was named after Nicu Vlad who was Romanian.

Nicu Vlad won multiple Olympic medals and weightlifting titles, while utilizing the Romanian Deadlift during contest prep.

The Romanian deadlift would most likely be employed during Hypertrophy or Speed-Strength training phases. [3]

Its advantages lie within sharing similar weightlifting movement patterns of producing high-velocity hip extensions.

Girl doing romanian deadlift

The movement mimics the snatch or clean and jerk and the analysis yields some big advantages.[3, 4]     

Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked

The Romanian deadlift is a compound movement with many muscles worked. Targeting primarily the posterior chain, these deadlifts work the lower body extensively.

1. Forearms

• Brachioradialis (Underneath the bicep).

• Brachialis (Outer side of lower arm).

Joint actions: Flexion of the elbow in the prone and semi-prone position. [5, 6, 7]

2. Calves

• Gastrocnemius (back of the lower leg).

• Soleus (outer lower leg).

Joint actions: Plantarflexion of the ankle. [5, 6, 7]

3. Gluteus

• Gluteus maximus (large muscle on posterior).

Joint actions: Extension of the hip. [5, 6, 7]

4. Adductors

• Adductor magnus (inner thigh).

Joint actions: Adduction of the upper leg. [5, 6, 7]

5. Hamstrings

• Bicep femoris (Two larger muscles on the back of the thigh). These muscles create the bulk of the hamstrings.

• The Semitendinosus (Thin muscle in the centred on the back of the thigh).

• Semimembranosus (Thin muscle down position on the inner on the back of the thigh).

Joint actions: External rotation of the hip, Extension of the hip, Flexion of the knee [5, 6, 7]

6. Erectors

• Erector Spinae (lower back)

Joint actions: stabilization of the back/rotation and extension of the spine [5, 6, 7]

7. Back Muscles

• Latissimus (Outer back). The big muscle of the back.

• Rhomboids (Subsurface of the upper back).

• Trapezius (Centre of the upper back).

Joint actions: Adduction of the upper arm, retraction of the scapular .[5, 6, 7]

What Makes a Good Romanian Deadlift Alternative?

To draw the perfect alternative for the Romanian Deadlift, we would need to access the biomechanics and the muscles that are activated.

Typically, we require exercises that produce minimal to no movement at the knees while extending or thrusting the hips [1, 2, 6].

11 Romanian Deadlift Alternatives

1. Single-leg Romanian Deadlift

How to Perform

  1. Stand erect with dumbbells in the hand, flex one knee and balance on one leg. 
  2. Position the foot between a 12 and 1 o’clock angle.
  3. Pin the shoulder blades back, brace the core and keep the head in a neutral position.  
  4. Inhale, drive the hips back and bring the bar closer to the ground by decreasing the angle between the torso and the lower extremities.
  5. Simultaneously, flex the knee at a maximum of 15 degrees.
  6. At the bottom of the movement exhale, re-extend the knee and hips, then retract the scapula.

(8, 9)

Pro Tips

  • Establish a considerable amount of core stability and balance prior to attempting this exercise, as it requires you to balance unilaterally.
  •  Apply a load as in relation to a single leg.
  • Ensure that you alternate legs and match repetitions to induce equal tension.
  • Lifting straps may aid grip, thereby promoting more repetitions and subsequent muscle development.
  • Brace the core throughout the movement to ensure spinal neutrality to reduce spinal injury risk (Do not round the back at any point of the lift).

2. Dumbbell or Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift

How to Perform

  1. Lift a suitable pair of dumbbells just outside shoulder width.
  2. Stand erect with the feet at hip width and pointed at a 12 o’clock angle.
  3. Keep the head in a neutral position, brace the core, retract the shoulders and inflate the chest.
  4. Drive the hips back, while bringing the dumbbells down where the knees should not flex more than 15 degrees.
  5. At the bottom of the movement, extend the knees/hips, then retract the scapular bringing the dumbbells back to the initial position.

 (10)

Pro Tips

  • Ensure that the dumbbells match weight, you would be surprised by the number of people who mistakenly use uneven weights. 
  • Lifting straps can aid grip, thereby increasing load and volume and the subsequent strength and hypertrophy developments.

Kettlebell Swings Everyday – Benefits, Technique and Programming

3. Barbell Hip Thrust

How to Perform

  1. Position a loaded barbell above the thighs/crease of the hips.
  2. Set yourself up to lie supinated (on back) with the upper back perpendicular to a bench.
  3. Position your feet outside shoulder width and flared into a 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock angle. 
  4. Once you are in position grasp the barbell with an overhand grip at shoulder width and brace at the core to ensure spinal neutrality (stop back from curving or sliding).
  5. Ensure that your head is positioned back (looking up at the ceiling).
  6. Inhale.
  7. Exhale and simultaneously plant the feet flat on the ground, extend at the hips at a high velocity, thus elevating the bar off the ground while folding the back onto the bench. 
  8. Flex the hip and drop the gluteus lower to the ground.
  9. Repeat the movement before releasing tensions.

(11)

Hip Thrust Alternatives for Powerful Glutes

Pro Tips

  • Use padding on the center of the bar if required.
  • Weightlifting shoes or footwear with a heel lift can aid force production and hip drive, thus maximizing the benefits of the lift.
  • Center yourself on the bar and bench to ensure a balanced position, thereby reducing injury risk.

4. Dumbbell Hip Thrust

How to Perform

  1. Position a pair of dumbbells above the thighs/crease of the hips.
  2. Set yourself up to lie supinated (on back) with the upper back perpendicular to a bench.
  3. Position your feet outside shoulder width and flared into a 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock angle. 
  4. Once you are in position, grasp the dumbbells in a semi-pronated grip at shoulder width and brace at the core to ensure spinal neutrality (stop back from curving or sliding). 
  5. Ensure that your head is positioned back (looking up at the ceiling).
  6. Inhale.
  7. Exhale and simultaneously plant the feet flat on the ground, extend at the hips at a high velocity, thus elevating the dumbbells off the ground while folding the back onto the bench. 
  8. Flex the hip and drop the gluteus lower to the ground.
  9. Repeat the movement before releasing tensions.

(10, 11)

Pro Tips

  • Balance the dumbbells vertically on the thighs/hips.
  • You could opt for weightlifting shoes as mentioned with the conventional barbell hip thrust.
  • Grip tight or use lifting straps to ensure the dumbbells do not drop on the lower limb or feet.

Basketball Shoes for Lifting – Are They Really Good?

5. Stiff Leg Deadlift

How to Perform

  1. Unrack a loaded bar by grasping it with an overhand grip, followed by taking a few steps back. 
  2. Stand erect with the feet positioned at hip width and a slight fixed bend at the knees.
  3. Brace the core to ensure spinal neutrality and inhale.
  4. Exhale, extend the hips back and bring the bar lower the ground prior to thrusting the hips back into an erect position. 

  (12, 13)

Pro Tips

  • Maintain a stiff leg position throughout the exercise and refrain from flexing/extending at the knee joint.
  • Utilize the overhand grip as opposed to the hook grip to minimize injury risk. 

6. Good Mornings

How to Perform

  1. Position a barbell on a squat rack just above the collarbones.
  2. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip at shoulder width, followed by dipping underneath the bar, then retract the scapular to form a stable base to place the bar on.
  3. Position the feet at shoulder width apart in front of the bar.
  4. Inhale, brace the core and simultaneously extend the knees and hips while pressing off the ball of the feet.
  5. Take a few steps back and position the feet at a 12 o’clock angle.
  6. Drive the hips back while maintaining a stable knee and spine position.
  7. Bring the torso into at least a 45-degree position, but this will entirely depend on individual flexibility.
  8. Extend the hips to draw into an erect position and repeat the movement.

(14, 15)

Pro Tips

  • I would recommend a lower load as this exercise holds a greater injury due to the spine rounding. 
  • The initial hip flexion phase should be performed slowly and controlled to ensure that the spine does not round.

7. 45 Degree Back Extensions

How to Perform

  1. Set yourself up on the back extension equipment by placing your feet under the vertical pads and your thighs on the larger board, where the hips should be free to create movement.
  2. Maintain leg stiffness and refrain from flexing or extending at the knees.
  3. Cross your arms over your chest to form a stable position.
  4. Inhale and Flex the hips and draw the torso down to a 45-degree angle in a controlled manner.
  5. Exhale and extend the hips back to the initial position.

(16)

Pro Tips

  • Always maintain the correct positioning to avoid falls and injury.
  • Do not hyperextend as this can cause a lumbar injury.
  • Do not Jerk the torso as this can cause hyperextension of the hips.

8. Rope Cable Pull Throughs

How to Perform

  1. Set a rope attachment to a cable machine and adjust it to the lowest setting. 
  2. Stand with your back towards the cable machine and the rope attachment underneath your legs.
  3. Lift up the rope attachment with an overhand grip and take 2 steps forward.
  4. Stand in an erect position with the feet placed at hip width.
  5. Inhale, drive the hips back and decrease the angle of the torso and the lower extremities. 
  6. Exhale, extend the hips back into the initial position and squeeze the hamstring/gluteus at the top of the movement.

(16)

Pro Tips

  • You can alternate attachments to add variation.
  • Feel your core and glutes brace to pull the rope
  • Have a little slack in your arms to prevent using your biceps

9. Elevated Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift

How to Perform

  1. Set up two exercise benches parallel to each other as your shoulder hip width apart.
  2. Select a kettlebell and stand with one foot on the center of each bench.
  3. Brace the core and inhale.
  4. Inhale and flex the hips back, while keeping the knees fixated and allowing the kettlebell to pass through the center gap between the legs.
  5. Exhale, extend the hips back to the initial position and retract the scapula.

(17)

Pro Tips

  • Ensure the benches are positioned equally.
  • Select footwear with grip, I.e., grip socks 
  • This exercise allows for a greater range of motion, producing a greater stretch at the hamstrings/glutes, thereby taking advantage of this movement if your flexibility allows it.

10. Single Hip Cable Extensions

How to Perform

  1. Attach an ankle strap to a cable machine and apply it to the lowest setting.
  2. Attach the strap to your ankle.
  3. Hold onto the handle of the cable machine.
  4. Inhale, tilt over slightly, brace the core and extend the leg back while creating minimal movement at the knee joint.
  5. Flex the hip back to its initial position and repeat the movement.

(18)

Pro Tips

  • Ensure you alternate legs.
  • Lower intensity and higher volume are more suitable for this exercise as it is unilateral and summons fewer muscle groups to produce the movement.

11. Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift 

How to Perform

  1. Load up a smith bar and set it at around the mid-portion of the lower leg.
  2. Unclip the smith bar and lift it into a deadlift position.
  3. Stand upright with the feet at hip width and pointed at a 12 o’clock angle.
  4. Keep the head in a neutral position, brace the core, retract the shoulders and inflate the chest.
  5. Drive the hips back, while bringing the smith bar down, where the knees should not flex more than 15 degrees. 
  6. At the bottom of the movement, extend the knees/hips, then retract the scapular bringing the Smith bar back to the initial position.

(19)

Pro Tips

  • This exercise requires less core stability and balance than a free-weight variation.
  • This is due to being in a fixed position.
  • A tip for beginners and intermediates is to adopt this movement in preparation for the more advanced Romanian Deadlift.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best exercise for building the muscles of the hamstring?

Based on research by McAlliser et al. [2] and my own personal experience, I would say that the best’ exercise for developing the hamstrings is the Romanian Deadlift at a moderate 70% intensity. However, everyone is at a different stage of their fitness journey and some may benefit from less advanced exercises such as the cable pulls and smith variation before attempting free-weights.

How can I strengthen my lower back without deadlifts?

The hip extensor exercises that I have highlighted will also strengthen the erector muscles (45-degree back extension and good mornings).

How much weight should I use for Romanian Deadlift?

For strength, choose 80-100% of your 1 rep max intensity for 1-5 reps, whereas if you were training for hypertrophy, you may select a lower intensity of 60-70% intensity for 8-10 reps.

Final Thoughts 

The Romanian Deadlift is a great exercise for engaging the hamstrings, gluteus, erectors and multiple other muscles that I have mentioned, which may improve physical appearance as well as performance in sports and exercise.

On the other hand, the Romanian deadlift can become tedious, thereby the other alternatives could add variation to an exercise program and in my opinion, should replace the Romanian deadlift from time to time. 

References

  1. Lee, S.,Schultz, J.,Timgren, Z., et al. An electromyographic and kinetic comparison of conventional and Romanian deadlifts. Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness. 2018;16 (3):87-93
  1. McAllister, M.J.,Hammond, K.G., Schilling, B.K., et al. Muscle activation during various hamstring exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2014; 28(6):1573-1580. 
  1. Wickiewicz, T.L., Powell, P.L., Perrine, J.J., et al. Muscle architecture and force-velocity relationships in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology. 1984; 57 (2): 433-435
  1. Grabe, S.A., &., Widule, C.J. Comparative Biomechanics of the Jerk in Olympic Weightlifting. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 1988;59(1): 1-8
  1. Pratt, J., Hoffman, A., Grainger, A., et al. Forearm electromyographic activity during the deadlift exercise is affected by grip type and sex. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology. 2020;53 (1): 102-122
  1. Fluentis, M.F., Lozano, J.M.O., Muyer, J.M. Electromyographic activity in deadlift exercise and its variants. A systematic review. PLOS ONE. 2020; 15(2): e0229507
  1. Camar, K., Coburn, J.W., Dunnick, D.D. An Examination of Muscle Activation and Power Characteristics While Performing the Deadlift Exercise With Straight and Hexagonal Barbells. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2016; 30 (5):1183-1188
  1. Weaver, A., & Kerksick, C. Implementing Landmine Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift into an Athlete’s Training Program. Strength and Conditioning Journal.2017; 39 (1): 85-90
  1. Woods, C.T., McKeown, I., Keogh J., et al. The association between fundamental athletic movements and physical fitness in elite junior Australian footballers. Journal of Sport Sciences. 2018; 36(4): 445-450
  1. Um, T.T., Babakeshizadeh, V., Kulic, D. Exercise motion classification from large-scale wearable sensor data using convolutional neural networks. Computer Science. 2017; version V3
  1. Contreras, B., Vigotsky, A.D., Schoenfield, B.J., et al. A Comparison of Gluteus Maximus, Biceps Femoris, and Vastus Lateralis Electromyographic Activity in the Back Squat and Barbell Hip Thrust Exercises. Journal of applied biomechanics. 2014; 31 (6): 452-458
  1. Raki, K., Katsuki, T., Taku, W. Effect of Hip Joint Position on Electromyographic Activity of the Individual Hamstring Muscles During Stiff-Leg Deadlift. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2021;35(1):38-43
  1.  Bezerra, E.S., Simao, R., Fleck, S.J. Electromyographic Activity of Lower Body Muscles during the Deadlift and Still-Legged Deadlift. Journal of Exercise Physiology. 2013; 16 (3): 30-39
  1. Vigotsky, A.D., Harper, E.N., Ryan, D.R., et al. Effects of load on good morning kinematics and EMG activity. Peer J. 2015; 3(1): e709
  1. VanGelder, L, H., Hoogenboom, B.J., Vaughn, D.W.  A Phase Rehabilitation Protocol for athletes with lumber Intervertebral disk herniation. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2013; 8 (4): 482-516
  1. Schellenberg, F., Schmid, N., Haberlie, R., et al. Loading conditions in the spine, hip and knee during different executions of back extension exercises. BMC Sport Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2017; 9(10):1-9 
  1. Timothy, P., &., Michael, W. Variations of the Deadlift. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2001;23(3): 66
  1. Hirose, N., Kagaya, Y., Tusuruike, M. The task dependent differences in electromyography activity of hamstring muscles during leg curls and hip extensions. PLOS one. 2021; 16(2): e0245838
  1. Ognjen, A. Common Variants of the Resistance Mechanism in the Smith Machine: Analysis of Mechanical Loading Characteristics and Application to Strength-Oriented and Hypertrophy-Oriented Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 26(2): 350-363

More About Deadlifts:

Photo of author

Wasim Kagzi

Hi! I’m Wasim Kagzi and this is where my team and I write and research about everything fitness. On MuscleLead we share all the helpful tips, techniques, and advice we've learned over the years. Personally, I've dedicated my life to learning and the pursuit of strength science. I hope to eventually compete one day and become the strongest version of myself.

Leave a Comment