ROMANIAN DEADLIFT by Craig Yarnall | CSCS, WNBF Pro, Owner of Team Synergy Contest Prep and Training Programs

Model: Crystal Woods | WNBF/ANBF Figure Pro

Photos by Craig Yarnall

Gym-Gold Medal Fitness – Garwood, NJ


Over the past year’s issues I have covered some of the best exercises for the backside of the body, AKA the posterior chain! This is where you can stay up there with the best men and women in your class. Lots of people look great from the front but then turn around, where the judges can see what’s going on, and the erasers can come and move your placing if they started giving you a score from the front. These exercises have included Glute/Ham Raises, Squats, Walking Lunges and Hip Thrusts in past issues.

In this month’s issue the Romanian Dead Lift will be added to your arsenal of great backside exercises. Some of the others to also include are Dead Lifts and Bulgarian Split Squats, and even some isolation exercises like Leg Curls and the aforementioned Hip Thrust.


Slide51I recently posted on social media about the tough times that can be had by women trying to get their legs into the best shape. This is usually the area that takes the most time to see the lean results so many of us strive for. Put in the progressive heavy squat work with its accessory exercises with plenty of off-season time and a little surplus in calories so as to not gain too much off-season weight and the next time prep comes up, your legs will be shapely and matching the leanness of the upper body. Heavy weights must be used, but that’s all relative to each person.

The Romanian Dead Lift  is one of those tough exercises that can do wonders for the glutes and hamstrings at the same time. Although in reality there is no true Glute-Ham tie in. As Bret Contreras has mentioned, “You have the gluteus maximus, and you have the hamstrings. These are separate muscles. When someone tells me that, ‘this exercise really works my glute-ham tie-in’, it tells me that they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

So yes there are exercises that work the glutes and hamstrings together, but to have progress in either of these areas, one must isolate each of the areas to build them. The Romanian Dead Lift is one of them. The newest research has also shown the Romanian Dead Lift is one of the best hamstring exercises in terms of muscle activation along with the Glute Ham Raise. So, if you are not using both of these exercises in your leg workouts, add them in as they will definitely help you in your goals of greater hamstring development. Has anyone ever complained about having hamstrings that are too big? I hope not!


It doesn’t take a lot to do Romanian Dead Lifts; all you need is a 45 lb. bar and the low side of a squat rack. If the rack is taken, the end of bench can be used as well. The other piece of equipment I feel is necessary is a good pair of wraps, which gives you the ability to lift more weight, because it allows for your hand grip to not give out. You never want your hands giving out before your hamstrings do. These can also be done with dumbbells as well.

Slide52Let’s get into the muscles involved. This one will be a compound exercise, as it will use mainly three groups of muscles to execute the exercise. The hamstrings will be the primary mover in this exercise. The hamstring moves where you extend your hip or flex at the knee. This is one of the muscle groups that have movement around two joints. Keep a good number of exercises to hit the hamstring from different planes and angles. The next group of muscles that come into play are the gluteal muscles. They are involved in hip extension. Finally, the lower back does come into play here, but this area is mostly held isometrically.

The lower back muscles want to be involved as little as possible. Most of the movement should be felt where glutes and hamstrings come together. If you are feeling the Romanian Dead Lifts in your lower back, check your form which we will be go into next.


Exercise Technique

Take a shoulder width grip on the barbell and back up just a step or so to get ready to start the lift. With the upper body tight, chest up, shoulders back and the spine set up in neutral, the bar will begin to descend close to the body.

Initial movement begins at the hip. This is called the “hip hinge”. Romanian Dead Lifts should move at one distinct point, the hips. As you start this movement, the hips drop straight back, not down and back. When the hips begin to hinge, the upper body should remain tight and the back should remain very flat, so the hamstrings and glutes are doing the exercise and not the lower back. When dropping the glutes back, almost think about doing an anterior pelvic tilt ever so slightly, so the lower back remains neutral. If done properly the lower back really shouldn’t feel like it’s doing much except to isometrically hold you in place.

Slide53The bar can almost drag along the thighs as it drops down to the bottom position.

The range of motion can vary for each person due to flexibility in the hips, lower back and hamstrings. As long as the upper body can remain tight in a good neutral position, the upper body will get to parallel to the floor.

As soon as you bottom out for your maximal range of motion, the ascent begins by squeezing the glutes together to really emphasize the pull to come from the glutes and not the lower back. It will also activate the hamstrings to assist the return to the top. By squeezing the glutes and pulling down below the lower back, the lower back should be left out of the move in any negative way, only isometrically.

So, the two ways to keep the lower back from feeling this exercise too much are by keeping the upper body tight with the back in neutral spine and by really putting the focus on letting the glutes and hamstring pulling you back to the top.

3-4 sets of 6-10 reps are ideal for this exercise. I like keeping the reps a bit lower in this exercise as the lower back can be the area that gives out first when your body starts to tire. On a heavier day where all you might do is squat, this is an excellent complimentary exercise to keep the balance between the quadriceps and hamstrings. I also use rep tempos here and drop the Dead Lifts in 5 second negatives on a lighter leg day.


Slide54The Romanian Dead Lift is one of the best exercises to shape and add more quality muscle to the backside of the legs. It can help get you faster and stronger and improve other lifts by getting the hamstrings and glutes in a more balanced ratio to the quadriceps. It can help to add that extra lift to the glutes and hamstrings when competing. A good mixture of Romanian Dead Lifts, Hip Thrusts, Dead Lifts, Good Mornings, Walking Lunges, Bulgarian Split Squats and Leg Curls will have you moving towards the center of the stage when you are out there with your class. Remember that no exercise takes the place of a good nutrition program as this will ultimately be the factor that lets you see all your hard work. NMI

CRAIGCraig Yarnall | Contributing Editor “Exercise of the Month”

Craig is a WNBF Pro Bodybuilder, Contest Prep Coach, and Personal Trainer. He has  a BA in Health/PE, and has been in the industry for over twenty years. He is the creator of the DUP “Squatcentric” G&R program. Craig runs Team Synergy and Science and Nutrition.

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