The Romanian deadlift can be an effective exercise to improve the development of your glutes, low-back, and hamstrings.
However, there are several reasons why you might need an alternative to the Romanian deadlift, including you want to isolate one muscle group more than another, you don’t have a barbell available, or you’re simply looking to add more exercise variation to your workout.
The 9 best Romanian deadlift alternatives are:
- Stiff Leg Deadlift
- Block Deadlift
- Good Mornings
- Barbell Hip Thrust
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- Single-Leg Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- Weighted 45-Degree Back Extension
- Standing Cable Pull Through
- Floor-Lying Glute Ham Raise
In this article, I’ll split each of these exercises into the different equipment you’ll have available at the gym, from barbells, dumbbells, cables/bodyweight exercises. Let’s get started!
This article is an extension to my Top 10 Deadlift Alternatives. There are some great glute, low-back, and hamstring variations detailed in that article as well. Open it up in a new tab and read it next!
What Makes An Effective Romanian Deadlift Alternative?
An effective Romanian deadlift substitute is going to target similar muscle groups to the Romanian deadlift.
The muscles used in the Romanian deadlift are the:
- Low Back
- Adductor Magnus (inner thigh)
Mechanically speaking, the Romanian deadlift is a hip extensor dominant exercise.
What that means is the hips are responsible for taking the barbell through the range of motion. In other words, the hips are the main pivot point.
This is in contrast to an exercise like the squat, where both the knees and hips are extending to lift the weight.
Since the knees in the Romanian deadlift remain relatively unchanged, exercises involving a lot of movement of the knees, like the squat, WILL NOT be an effective alternative to the Romanian deadlift.
On the other hand, exercises that WILL BE good substitutes for the Romanian deadlift involve a lot of action at the hip joint.
Below I will cover several variations of the Romanian Deadlift that use different pieces of equipment so that you have a range of options to pick from.
You may also be interested in my article comparing the Deadlift vs Romanian Deadlift. In that article, I cover the form, benefits, and key differences between these two lifts. The deadlift is not a good replacement for the Romanian deadlift because they are two very different exercises.
Barbell Romanian Deadlift Alternatives
If you have access to a barbell, there are several alternatives to the Romanian deadlift that you can choose.
Each exercise differs in having slightly more emphasis on one muscle group over another.
As well, each of these movements requires varying amounts of load to have a positive training effect. So depending on your skill level and goals, you can choose one of these variations over another if you want to lift more weight or not.
1. Stiff Leg Deadlift
The stiff leg deadlift is a great alternative to the Romanian deadlift because they are both hip hinge movements targeting similar muscle groups.
However, the stiff leg deadlift is often confused with the Romanian deadlift as they are similar-looking exercises. The main differences between the stiff leg deadlift and Romanian deadlift are:
- Range of motion: The stiff leg deadlift goes from floor to standing. The Romanian deadlift goes from hips to knees (not to the floor).
- Barbell position: The barbell in the stiff leg deadlift stays off the body. The barbell in the Romanian deadlift stays on the body.
- Muscles used: The stiff leg deadlift is more hamstrings. The Romanian deadlift is more glutes.
How To Do It
- Start with the barbell on the rack and walk the weight out by taking a shoulder-width stance
- Slightly bend the knees and then hinge forward from the hips
- The barbell should leave your body (i.e. not stay on your thighs)
- Come down until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings or the barbell reaches the floor
- You should not bend your knees anymore to get extra range of motion
- Return to standing by squeezing your hamstrings and glutes
Use the stiff leg deadlift in replacement of the Romanian deadlift if you want to target more of your hamstring muscles. I like to perfrom the stiff leg deadlift using a 3-sec tempo on the way down in order to add more time under tension for the hamstrings.
2. Block Deadlift
The block deadlift is a Romanian deadlift alternative that allows you to lift more weight comparatively.
They are similar in that only the top half of the deadlift is worked. However, the block deadlift will use slightly more knee extension to assist with the movement compared with the Romanian deadlift. So in addition to using all of the primary hip extensor muscles, the block deadlift will also use the quads.
In the block deadlift you will deadlift off blocks, or in the absence of blocks, the safety pins inside a power rack. The height of the blocks or pins will vary depending on how much range of motion you want to target. However, most people will set up the height to be around knee-level.
You can read more about the benefits of the block deadlift and how to program it in my Complete Guide To The Block Deadlift.
How To Do It?
- Set up boxes so that the barbell starts at about knee height
- Grip the barbell just outside your thighs
- Place your shoulders directly in light with the barbell, which will result in a slight forward torso lean
- Brace your core and squeeze your lats strong before lifting the barbell from the blocks
- Think about driving your hips toward the barbell by squeezing your glutes
- The barbell should remain on your thighs throughout the entire range of motion
- Your hips and knees should lock simultaneously
- Return the barbell to the blocks and repeat
You can typically handle 30-60% more weight in the block deadlift compared with the Romanian deadlift for the same rep range used. While your major muscle groups (glutes, low back, mid back) can tolerate this kind of overloading, your grip usually can’t.
This is why I recommend wearing straps to prevent any grip loss while performing this exercise. Check out my article on the benefits of straps.
3. Good Mornings
The good-morning can replace the Romanian deadlift if you want to target more of your low and mid-back muscles.
I wouldn’t suggest doing good mornings unless you are fairly competent with various complex barbell movements, like the back squat, front squat, and deadlift.
This is because good mornings rely on strong lifting mechanics, including knowing how to keep your spine neutral and how to implement a proper hip-hinge movement pattern. If you lift too heavy in the good morning and you don’t have the right technique, the risk of injury is quite high.
However, don’t shy away from good-mornings if you have experience under the barbell.
How To Do It
- Place the barbell on your back as if you are going to do a back squat
- Engage your lats by actively pulling the barbell into your back
- Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward folding your torso in half
- Stop when your back is parallel to the floor or you feel a stretch in your hamstrings
- Recruit your hamstrings, glutes, and low back to stand back up with the weight
- Avoid losing integrity in your spine by rounding your back
If you don’t have a barbell, or you want to try an easier variation, you can perform the good morning with a band. I prefer this variation because I can move more freely without feeling like the barbell is going to fall off my back. Stick to reps between 15-30 or until you feel a deep burn in your glutes and low back.
To learn more about the Romanian deadlift and good morning, check out: Good Morning vs Romanian Deadlift: Differences, Pros, Cons.
4. Barbell Hip Thrust
The hip thrust is one of my favorite Romanian deadlift alternatives as research suggests that you can target your hip extensor muscles groups equally using either exercise.
A study by Delgado et al. (2019), showed that there was no statistical difference between the hip thrust and Romanian deadlift in activating the glutes and hamstrings.
In the hip thrust, a barbell will lay across the crease of the hips while the back rests on a bench. The goal is to drive your hips up toward the ceiling, squeezing your glutes maximally at the top.
How To Do It
- Position the barbell on the crease of the hips
- Your upper back should be resting on the edge of the bench
- Set your feet slightly outside of shoulder-width apart with your toes slightly flared
- Position your feet so that when you are at the top range of motion yoru knees are at 90-degrees
- Drive your feet into the floor and lift your hips
- Squeeze your glutes to get full extension and tuck your pelvis underneath of you at the top
- The upper back and shoulders should be pushing into the bench with your chin tucked
If you want to target your glutes even more, a study by Smidt & Rogers (1982) showed that taking a wider than shoulder-width stance produces greater glute activation.
If you can’t do the hip thrust, then check out my article on the best hip thrust alternatives.
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Alternatives
This next section will cover alternatives to the Romanian deadlift that involve dumbbells.
With any dumbbell variation, you typically can’t lift as heavy compared with barbell variations. However, dumbbells allow you to move the load more freely based on your individual lifting mechanics, and can be a great way to build stability and body awareness.
I would implement one of these dumbbell Romanian deadlift alternatives following a barbell variation in your workout.
5. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
The dumbbell Romanian deadlift can be used for multiple reasons, including as a warm up for a barbell Romanian deadlift, as a teaching tool for instructing the hip-hinge, or as a replacement to the Romanian deadlift altogether.
I would also use the dumbbell Romanian deadlift if I already had a fairly intense/heavy leg day, but I wanted to finish the workout targeting the glutes and hamstrings with an exercise that didn’t create a lot of additional fatigue.
You can use a fairly light weight with the dumbbell Romanian deadlift, and if you pair it with a controlled/slower tempo, you’ll be able to create a high training effect.
How To Do It
- Grab dumbbells in each hand and place your hands in front of, and slightly outside of, your thighs
- Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward from your hips keeping your knees from bending any further
- Bring the dumbbels to just below the knee, thinking about pushing your hips back as far as possible
- The back should stay neutral with the shoulders in front of the dumbbells in the bottom position
- Squeeze your glutes to stand back to the start position
Many bodybuilders like to superset the dumbbell Romanian deadlift with a hamstring curl. The dumbbell Romanian deadlift will target the glutes, while the hamstring curl will target the hamstrings. Supersetting these exercises at the end of a workout will build hypertrophy for the posterior chain.
6. Single-Leg Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
The single leg dumbbell Romanian deadlift is one of the few alternatives to the barbell Romanian deadlift that uses a unilateral movement pattern.
Unilateral movement patterns are exercises that train each side (right and left) independently. The main benefit to a single-leg exercise is that they help you avoid overtraining or overusing the ‘stronger’ side, helps correct muscular imbalances, improves balance, and aids in injury prevention and rehabilitation.
Because the hips, glutes, and core have to work in unison with each other in order to stabilize the movement and prevent you from falling over, this is a highly functional exercise that transfers to other athletic movements such as running, jumping, and changing directions.
How To Do It
- With dumbbells in each hand slightly bend your right leg while keeping your hips square
- Kick your left leg back as you fold over forward keeping your back straight
- Your hips should stay square to the floor the entire time
- The dumbbells will hang in front of you with your arms naturally falling forward
- Once the back is parallel to the floor, use your right glute to pull your body back upright
- Perform the prescribed number of reps with your right leg, before switching to your left leg
Keep your gaze fixed on a spot slightly in front of you on the floor. If your eyes start to move, your entire body will follow your gaze. Therefore, having a fixed gaze will improve your balance.
7. Weighted 45-Degree Back Extension
The 45-degree back extension, sometimes called the hyper-extension, is a Romanian deadlift alternative that can be easily modified to isolate more of the glutes or lower back depending on what you want to target.
To target the glutes more, you will slightly round your low back and only focus on the bottom two-thirds of the range of motion. To target the low-back more, you will aim to keep your back perfectly straight and perform the movement through its full range of motion.
While you can do this exercise using body-weight, it’s best done when weighted by holding a dumbbell, kettlebell, or plate in front of your chest.
How To Do It
- Maneuver yourself into the back extension machine
- The crease of your hips should be at the top of the machine
- Grap a weight and hold it close to your chest
- Start with your back completely extended with your body in a straight line
- Slowly lower yourself down to the floor, keeping your legs straight, and hinging at the hips
- Use your glutes, low-back, and hamstrings to return to your start position
The most challenging variation of the 45-degree back extension is to place a barbell on your back while performing this movement. So, if you want an extra challenge after you’ve mastered the basics, try the barbell version.
Cable/Bodyweight Romanian Deadlift Alternatives
Finally, if you don’t want to use barbells and dumbbells, the following exercises will cover alternatives to the Romanian deadlift that either use cables or just your body-weight.
You shouldn’t think that just because you’re using cables or body-weight movements that these exercises are for beginners. I would still consider these exercises effective for intermediate and advanced-level lifters.
In terms of exercise order, I would place the following exercises after a barbell or dumbbell variation at the end of your workout.
8. Standing Cable Pull Through
The standing cable pull through places the same emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings as the Romanian deadlift. However, you can maintain constant tension on your muscles throughout the entire movement.
While the standing cable pull through is a highly effective Romanan deadlift alternative, it is somewhat awkward-looking to do in the gym. This is because the handles of the rope attachment are between your legs throughout the exercise.
This shouldn’t discourage you from trying this exercise, but for less confident gym goers, you might want to try another Romanian deadlift alternative until you feel more comfortable in the gym setting.
How To Do It
- Place a rope attachment at the bottom of the cable machine
- Pick up the rope in both hands in between your legs and face away from the machine
- Take a few steps away from the machine and assume a stance slightly wider than shoulder-width
- Have a slight bend in the knee and hinge forward at the hips
- The rope shold travel between your legs while keeping your back neutral
- Once the back is parallel to the floor, squeeze your glutes to return to your start position
- Maintain your balance by keeping your bodyweight on the front part of your foot
The cable pull-through can easily be modified to target different muscle groups. To target more of your adductor magnus (inner thigh) and glute medius (upper side glute), take a wider stance. To target more of your hamstrings and glute max (the part of your glutes where you sit down), take a narrow stance.
9. Floor-Lying Glute Ham Raise
The floor-lying glute ham raise doesn’t require any equipment or weight and is one of the more challenging Romanian deadlift alternatives that targets the hamstrings.
The floor lying glute ham raise is a variation on the popular glute ham raise, which requires the GHR machine. If you have a GHR machine, then you can choose to do that variation instead. But most gyms don’t have this piece of equipment, even though it’s an excellent substitute for the Romanian deadlift.
With the floor-lying glute ham raise, you will have a partner hold your ankles as you lower your torso toward the floor. The challenging component is to resist ‘dropping’ to the floor without maintaining tension on your hamstrings. As such, you want to go as slow as possible.
I go into more detail about the glute ham raise in my articles:
How To Do It
- Kneel on the floor with your legs shoulder-width apart and torso upright
- The ball of your foot should be pressing into the floor
- Have a partner apply strong pressure to the back of your ankles
- Place your hands outside of your shoulders with your palms open
- Lower yourself as slowly as possible to the floor trying to not break at the hips
- At some point, the tension will be too much and you’ll drop to the floor in a push-up position
- Catch yourself with your arms extended out and push yourself back to the start position
The floor-lying glute ham raise overloads the eccentric range of motion through the slower tempo. There are several benefits to eccentric training, including increasing your force production, working your connective tissue, and creating greater muscular damage leading to muscle growth.
If you can’t do a glute-ham raise, then check out my article on the best Glute Ham Raise Alternatives.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few frequently asked questions that I get around the topic of Romanian deadlift alternatives:
What Is Better: Deadlift or Romanian Deadlift?
Neither the deadlift or Romanian deadlift is inherently better. The outcome will depend on your lifting goals and the muscles that you want to target. The Romanian deadlift engages more of the glutes and hamstrings. While the deadlift engages those same muscles too, it also uses the quads and mid-back. You can also lift more weight with a deadlift compared with a Romanian deadlift.
How Can I Strengthen My Lower Back Without Deadlifts?
The best exercises to strengthen your low-back without deadlifts is to use the following exercises: (1) standing cable pull through, (2) banded good mornings, and (3) 45-degree back extension. It will take 4-6 weeks of consistently training with these exercises to see any sign of strength progress.
How Heavy Should You Romanian Deadlift?
You can typically use 40-50% of your 1 rep max deadlift for 6-10 reps on the Romanian deadlift. For example, if you deadlift 100lbs for 1 rep, then you should be able to Romanian deadlift 40-50lbs for 6-10 reps.
A good Romanian deadlift alternative either mimics a similar movement pattern as the Romanian deadlift or engages similar muscle groups, such as the glutes, low-back, and hamstrings. Many of the Romanian deadlift alternatives discussed in this article are exercises that you can also perform in conjunction with a solid lower-body workout.