Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 101 | How to Workout Your Hamstrings!

By
Mike Kenler
October 13, 2020

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

The dumbbell Romanian deadlift, also known as the dumbbell RDL, is an essential exercise for building strength in your legs and lower back. Not only will this exercise boost your lower body strength, it will help you develop proper form on other exercises as well. If you take the time to learn the Romanian deadlift, you will quickly see results!

Muscles Worked by the Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Primary Muscle Groups:

The dumbbell Romanian deadlift works your hamstrings, glutes, and your lower back. 

The dumbbell Romanian deadlift engages the four muscles in the back of your leg that comprise the hamstring: the biceps femoris (a group of two muscles), semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus. During this exercise, you should feel a deep stretch in these muscles.

The gluteal muscles are a group of three muscles: the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. While the dumbbell RDL targets this group as a whole, it especially works the gluteus maximus, which is the largest of the three muscles.

Lastly, the dumbbell RDL works the erector spinae muscles in your back. The erector spinae is a group of three muscles known as the spinalis, longissimus, and iliocostalis. These muscles help support your spine and provide flexibility when bending in multiple directions. 


Secondary Muscle Groups:

The dumbbell Romanian deadlift activates other muscle groups, as it forces you to control the motion. This exercise secondarily works your core muscles, as your abdominals and obliques contract to stabilize your body. In addition, your trapezius, forearms, and middle back activate to control the weight during the exercise motion.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Benefits

1. Increased Glute and Hamstring Muscle Mass

The dumbbell Romanian deadlift will generate metabolic stress and mechanical damage to muscle fibers in your glutes and hamstrings. As a result, your individual muscle cells will grow through a process called hypertrophy. With greater muscle mass, not only will your lower half look more defined, but you will be able to improve your performance in other lifts such as the barbell squat and the deadlift.

2. Learning Proper Hip Mechanics 

The dumbbell RDL can help teach you the proper form of how to hinge at the hips. Proper hip mechanics are important for weight lifting, athletics, and daily life. Often times, novice weightlifters lack support in their lower back. They tend to bend over from the spine rather than hinge at the waist, thereby risking injury.

The dumbbell Romanian deadlift can teach you the proper chain of movements that we use when we squat or hinge our waist. Consequently, you will be able to lift more weight in a safer manner!

3. Improved Athletic Performance 

Lastly, adding the dumbbell Romanian deadlift to your workout regimen can help you improve your athletic performance. Walking, running, jumping, and other athletic movements all depend upon hip strength, endurance, and form.

While upper body conditioning is important as well, training your lower half should be a priority if you want to boost your performance in any athletic endeavor. The increased mind-muscle connection from the dumbbell RDL will also help your power output for explosiveness!

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How to Do the Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Equipment:

For this exercise, you will need a pair of dumbbells.

Setup:

1. Assume a standing position with your feet shoulder width apart and hold the dumbbells with your palms facing inward. 

2. Engage your core, bring your shoulder blades together, and keep your chest held high.

Action:

1. With a slight bend in your knees, hinge at the waist with a straight back and lower the weights towards the ground. You should feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings as your hips move backwards. Inhale.

2. Now, reverse the motion as you return to the standing position and squeeze your glutes. Exhale. 

3. Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!

Recommendation:

If you are new to the dumbbell Romanian deadlift, choose a light weight to begin and complete 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. If you are more comfortable with the form, grab a pair of heavier dumbbells and complete 6-8 reps for 3-4 sets. 

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Mistakes

1. Rounding of the Back

Rounding the back is the most common mistake made during the dumbbell Romanian deadlift. Whenever you make any athletic motion, it is important to stabilize your body before you move. Before hinging at the waist, pinch your shoulder blades together to keep your back straight and tighten your core to keep your abs engaged. This will greatly reduce your risk of injury during the dumbbell RDL.

2. Looking UP as you move DOWN

Many lifters will keep their eyes looking upwards as they hinge at the waist. This not only places too much stress on the neck, it also forces you to arch the lower back. As you hinge at the waist and lower the dumbbells, allow your eyes to look towards the floor. This encourages proper body alignment during the dumbbell Romanian deadlift.

3. Locking Out the Knees

While we do not want to bend our knees too much during the dumbbell RDL, locking out the knees can be very unsafe. This can result in the dumbbells swinging far out in front of our knees, placing a lot of stress on the lower back. Instead, slightly unlock your knees and focus on keeping the dumbbells close to your body as you hinge at the waist.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Variations

1.  Barbell Romanian Deadlift 

The barbell Romanian deadlift is a great variation of the dumbbell RDL. If you want to add heavier weight, give the barbell RDL a try!


2. Leaning Romanian Deadlift

The leaning RDL is a dynamic variation of the dumbbell Romanian deadlift. Start in a squatted position with your back straight and your arms in front of you. Then, push your hips back and reach down towards your toes. You should feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings. Then, return to the squatted position. Repeat!


3. Alternating Dumbbell Straight Legged Deadlift

The alternating dumbbell straight legged deadlift can help you train each leg individually. Grab a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing towards your body. Engage your core and your glutes as you bend forward and extend in the opposite direction with one leg.

Then, return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg. This exercise demands a high level of balance. If you struggle with the dumbbells, you can use your bodyweight only until you master the form. 

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Alternatives

If you enjoyed the dumbbell Romanian deadlift, check out these alternative leg and glute exercises to improve your lower body training:

1. Straight-Legged Deadlift

The straight-legged deadlift is very similar to the Romanian deadlift. However, in this exercise, keep your knees completely locked and reach the weight further towards the floor (if your flexibility allows). The straight-legged deadlift focuses more on hamstring activation whereas the dumbbell RDL involves greater hip flexion. 

2. Glute Ham Raise

The glute-ham raise is an alternative exercise that also works your glutes and hamstrings. Begin on the glute-ham machine in a vertical position. Contract your abs and glutes as you lower yourself parallel to the ground. Then, flex your hamstrings to raise back up to the vertical position.

3. Bulgarian Split Squat

‍The Bulgarian split squat heavily targets your legs and your glutes. With one leg elevated, squat downwards with a straight back. Explode upwards through the legs to return to the starting position. 

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Mike Kenler
Director of Writing | Certified in Plant Based Nutrition at T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

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