The Romanian dumbbell deadlift is a staple in any workout program for building stronger glute and hamstring muscles. However, it is one of the most common exercises that lifters do incorrectly.
The dumbbell RDL is a top movement for any program and shouldn’t be restricted to just athletes. It provides a movement pattern common in all types of sports and with our daily routine.
Be sure to read to the end as I’ll share how to perform the movement correctly and help you avoid injury.
As a coach and a parent, I am constantly picking things up off the floor, which is very close to the mechanics of the Romanian deadlift.
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How To Do Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts
Here’s how I’d instruct one of my clients on how to do RDLs with dumbbells using the correct form and technique:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Engage your core and maintain a slight bend in your knees throughout the movement.
- Keep your chest up and shoulders neutral while maintaining a rigid neutral spine.
- Hinge at your hips, pushing them backward.
- Lower the dumbbells along the front of your legs, allowing them to move toward or below your knees.
- Feel the stretch in your hamstrings and glutes, but avoid rounding your back.
- Keep the dumbbells close to your body as you lower them.
- Once you reach the maximum stretch or as far as your flexibility allows, reverse the movement by bringing your hips forward and return to the starting position.
Pro Tip: If you want to improve muscular recruitment of the glutes, try to squeeze your glutes at the top of each rep to pre-exhaust them for the proceeding reps.
Benefits of Dumbbell RDLs
The dumbbell Romanian deadlift is an effective exercise for developing the glutes and hamstrings within a movement pattern relevant to sports and daily activities. The RDL engages the hip joint, enhancing the recruitment of multiple muscle groups to benefit hypertrophy and strength.
The dumbbell Romanian deadlift benefits include its ability to target the entire posterior chain of the lower body, making it a valuable addition to training programs seeking lower body strength, hypertrophy, and functional movement advantages. For benefits to occur, though, the dumbbell RDL form must be on point.
The dumbbell RDL can be better than the conventional dumbbell for working on muscle imbalances since you can vary your technique for each arm.
Trying to recruit your hamstrings more? Check out this article about the best eccentric hamstring exercises for building strength and size!
Common Mistakes Doing Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts
Some of the most common mistakes that occur with the dumbbell Romanian deadlift form are:
- Spinal flexion (rounded back)
- Knees locked out
- Weight away from the body
- Squatting with the weight
When performing the Romanian deadlifts with dumbbells, it's important to prioritize the position of the dumbbells for each rep. The dumbbells should be close to the body, preferably in front of the legs and practically touching your body each rep. This can help eliminate issues such as spinal flexion and any back pain.
It’s also important to understand the mechanics of the dumbbell RDL, and that the lifter should hinge their hips and push them backwards and forwards. This, coupled with a flat back and hip-width stance, will help make each rep target the glutes and hamstrings more effectively.
What Muscles Do Dumbbell RDLs Work?
These muscles used during the RDL with dumbbells have to do with the following posterior chain muscles:
- Hamstrings: The hamstrings are a group of muscles located at the back of your thigh. They consist of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus.
- Glutes: The gluteus maximus is heavily engaged during the hip hinge movement of the RDL. This muscle plays a significant role in hip extension.
- Erector Spinae: The erector spinae muscles run along your spine and are responsible for keeping your back straight during the RDL. They contribute to spinal extension.
Can’t feel the hamstrings during the Romanian deadlift? Check out this article with top tips for feeling hamstrings with the RDL!
How To Add Dumbbell RDLs To Your Workout
With my experience in strength and conditioning, I would recommend the dumbbell RDL as a secondary exercise that is supplementary to other leg exercises in a training session.
Below are some sample workouts for different populations that would benefit from incorporating the dumbbell RDL:
- Back Squat: 3 sets of 5 reps
- Dumbbell RDLs: 3 sets of 8 reps
- Walking Lunges: 2 sets of 12 total reps
- Seated Leg Curls: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Seated Calf Raises: 3 sets of 15 reps
- Hack Squat: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Dumbbell RDLs: 3 sets of 15 reps
- Walking Lunges: 2 sets of 20 reps
- Seated Leg Curls: 3 sets of 12 reps
- Seated Calf Raises: 3 sets of 30 reps
Looking to learn more leg exercises besides the RDLs with dumbells? Check out this article with the top 15 leg workouts to do with dumbbells!
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Alternatives
Two popular alternatives to the DB RDL exercise are:
- Barbell RDL
- Single leg RDL
Barbell Romanian Deadlift
The barbell RDL is a great alternative to the dumbbell RDL as you can overload the exercise with more weight to increase muscular size and strength. You can load more weight because you are performing the exercise with a single barbell instead of two separate dumbbells which might require more stability and effort.
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
The single-leg RDL is also a great alternative for those who want to challenge balance and stability, and improve athletic performance. This can be done with a dumbbell or barbell, and the idea is to perform the mechanics of an RDL while keeping one leg in contact with the floor while the other leg moves backward to counterbalance the effort.
Looking for other alternatives to the RDL? Check out this article that highlights 12 alternative exercises to the Romanian deadlift.
Is the Romanian deadlift better with dumbbells?
The RDL with dumbbells isn’t necessarily better when compared to the barbell RDL. Both forms of this exercise provide external resistance to help challenge the anatomy to get bigger and stronger.
Should you go heavy on the dumbbell Romanian deadlift?
As long as you have experience with resistance training, you can go heavier on the dumbbell Romanian deadlift to help strengthen the posterior muscles and provoke enough exhaustion to stimulate the growth of muscle tissue.
Should you lift more weight on RDL or deadlift?
You should lift more weight with the deadlift instead of the RDL. The deadlift is a compound exercise that recruits both knee and hip joint for better leg drive. Due to these enhanced mechanics, more muscle groups are incorporated than in an RDL, which allows the lifter to be stronger in a deadlift instead of an RDL.
Looking to learn more about the deadlift versus the RDL? Check out this article that discusses the differences and common mistakes between the deadlift and the Romanian deadlift!