It may sound daunting — anytime you throw an Eastern European country in front of an exercise, you immediately picture burly men in dark, dungeon-like gyms performing brutish feats of strength in between sips of gruel — but the Romanian deadlift isn't all that intimidating, truth be told.
Actually, it is a rather simple move that targets your hamstrings, glutes and lower back, synergistically developing those areas. Of those, the key is the hamstrings. That's because, while most other popular ham exercises target the muscle from the knee joint, Romanian deads hit it from the hip joint, essential for complete hamstring development from the muscles' origins to insertions.
Muscles Worked: Hamstrings primarily, with assists from the gluteus maximus and erector spinae.
Starting Position: Stand upright, feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell in front of your upper thighs with an overhand grip. Tighten your core for stability, and keep your knees just slightly bent (not locked out).
Action: Maintain the natural arch in your low back (i.e., “flat back”) as you lean forward from your hips, pushing them rearward until your torso is roughly parallel to the floor. As you do this, keep your arms straight and slide the bar down your thighs toward the floor until it reaches your shins. From the bottom position, contract your hamstrings and glutes to lift your torso, shifting your hips forward until you bring the bar back to the start position.
Do: Elevate your chest and “puff it out” before you start, and keep it there as you rep — this helps keep your torso in the correct position and protects your lower spine.
Don't: Let the bar track out further than your mid-foot, which would put the bar too far away from your center of gravity and compromise your lower back.
Variations: If you have good hamstrings flexibility, you can do Romanians off of a platform, which allows you to go a little deeper in the bottom position. Just don’t allow your back to round in an effort to extend your range of motion.
Uses: The Romanian deadlift is a solid pick as your leadoff exercise in a hamstrings-focused workout, or in second position as well. Doing it later in an intensive routine may leave you too tired to execute the form properly, so if you try it as a finisher, go lighter and really focus on slow, smooth reps.
Advanced Technique: Pairing deads with seated or lying leg curls is a potent weapon in your fight for bigger, stronger hammies. Just be sure to do lying curls second, since the machine offers some safety as you tire. Try this for 3–4 sets in your next ham workout: Start with 10–15 reps of Romanian deadlifts, followed by curls to failure, resting one to two minutes between sets.