Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: How To, Benefits, Variations

These days, more and more people are taking advantage of the dumbbell Romanian deadlift for the benefits it offers, and I don’t blame them. This lower-body movement activates the hamstrings, glutes, and hips, which are weak and underused for many people – plus, you can add strength and muscle mass to them, which is never a bad thing.

Aside from that, another significant benefit of this deadlift is that you can practically do them anywhere, as they only require a pair of dumbbells with enough space to hinge at the hips – and that’s it!

This article will teach you everything you need to know about this superb posterior chain exercise to have a fully functional, toned set of hamstrings and glutes that look great and feel great.

Muscles Worked by the Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

The dumbbell RDL works the following muscles:

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Lower back
  • Bicep femoris
  • Semitendinosus
  • Semimembranosus
  • Erector Spinae
  • Core muscles

The dumbbell Romanian deadlift targets the entire gluteal muscles: the gluteal maximus, medius, and minimus; however, the gluteus maximus gets most of the work as it’s the largest of the three muscles.

The erector spinae plays a vital role in the dumbbell RDL as it helps bend your spine in different directions.

The three muscles in the erector spinae are the spinalis, longissimus, and iliocostalis.

Finally, this exercise involves the core, namely, the abdominals and obliques.

How To Do the Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

The only thing you’ll need for this exercise is a pair of dumbbells.

  1. Start by standing with feet shoulder width apart, holding the dumbbells with palms facing inward.
  2. Contract your core, bring your shoulder blades together, and keep your chest held high, then with knees slightly bent and a hinge at the waist, lower the weight toward the ground, ensuring you go low enough to feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings as your hips move backward.
  3. Return to the starting position by reversing the motion and squeezing your glutes as you do so.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Important note: Always start with a lighter weight than you think you can use and assess. If, after a few warm-up sets, you feel fully warmed-up and ready to start your working sets, gradually increase the weight of each set.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Benefits

The dumbbell Romanian deadlift offers many benefits; however, below are the most important ones:

Muscular Hamstrings and Glutes

The dumbbell RDL helps increase muscle mass (hypertrophy) in the hamstrings and glutes when trained correctly. The muscle mass helps with increasing speed, power, strength, and overall sports performance.

It is worth noting that the exercise alone will not cause optimal muscle growth and strength without having a sound nutrition plan alongside it.

Increased Pulling Strength

It’s not uncommon to see athletes like powerlifters and strongmen perform heavy dumbbell RDL to increase muscle mass and strength in the hamstrings, back, and glutes.

The beauty of this exercise is that it has an excellent carry-over to the traditional deadlift and barbell row, allowing one to become stronger and more muscular.

Athletic Performance Improvement

The dumbbell Romanian deadlift can help improve your athletic performance in running, sprinting, jumping, and walking as they primarily rely on the lower body, especially hip strength.

It is crucial to train your lower half if improving your athletic performance is essential to you.

It won’t happen if you solely focus on working your upper body, and this is the mistake many trainers face.

Hip Function Education

Learning to hinge at the hips properly is extremely important when performing the dumbbell RDL. Proper hip mechanics are necessary for weight lifting. They are also required for everyday life as they can prevent us from having stiff and sore hip joints.

The sticking point for many newbie and novice weightlifters is that they lack support in their lower back as they tend to bend from the spine instead of hinging at the waist, which increases the risk of injury.

If you learn to hinge at the waist effectively, you will become stronger and less likely to get injured.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Variations

1. Bulgarian Split Squat


The Bulgarian split squat primarily hits the legs and glutes and is a fantastic isolation exercise. Elevate one leg on a bench and squat down, ensuring you keep your back straight. Drive out of the bottom through the legs and return to the starting position.

2. Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

via Gfycat

The single leg Romanian deadlift is a killer exercise. It works the entire posterior chain and challenges your core and balance. Grab a pair of dumbbells with palms facing inwards. Engage your core and glutes, and bend forward to extend your back leg in the opposite direction.

Return to the starting position and do the same again with the alternate leg. If dumbbells are too challenging for your balance, try bodyweight only until you feel comfortable enough to move up to dumbbells.

3. Barbell Romanian Deadlift

via Gfycat

The barbell RDL is an excellent option for those who want to ramp up the weight and is a perfect variation to the dumbbell RDL.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Mistakes

Knees Locking Out

During the dumbbell RDL, we should only have the knees slightly bent, but we should avoid locking them out as this can cause injury, especially in the lower back area.

Ensure you hinge at the waist and keep the dumbbells close to your body as you track them down your legs.

Rounding the Back

If you’re going to see anyone make a mistake during the dumbbell RDL, it’s likely to be rounding the back. It’s essential to be conscious of every move you make during any exercise and engage the appropriate muscles.

To avoid rounding the back, pinch your shoulder blades together before hinging at the waist and tighten your core to engage your abs.

Following this will reduce the risk of any injury during the dumbbell RDL.

Looking Up

Many people create an excessive arch in their lower back when they have locked out at the top.

Again, you are at risk of injury doing this.

A way to avoid this is to keep your chin tucked and focus your gaze on something in front of you instead of looking up.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Alternatives

If you’re doing the dumbbell Romanian deadlift to activate the legs and glutes, perhaps give these alternative exercises to help with your lower body training:

1. Glute Ham Raise

via Gfycat

With the glute-ham raise exercise, the clue is in the name for the muscles it works.

Yes, you guessed it – the glutes and hamstrings.

Start vertically on the glute-ham machine and contract your abs and glutes as you lower your body parallel to the ground.

Engage your hamstrings by flexing them to raise you back to the starting position where you’re vertical, then repeat.

2. Kneeling Hip Extensions

Kneeling hip extensions are a great alternative to the dumbbell RDL. This exercise uses your body weight, making it more challenging; however, it’s fantastic for coordination and balance.

Kneel on the floor and cross your arms over your chest.

Make sure you sit back on your heels and hinge forward from your hips simultaneously. Now lean as far as possible without the desire to round your back or fall forward.

Use your hips to push forwards and return to the starting position.

3. Straight-legged Deadlift

Similar to the Romanian deadlift, the straight-legged deadlift requires both knees to be fully locked and to reach the weight as close to the floor as possible, providing you are flexible enough.

More hamstring activation is generated in the straight-legged deadlift, whereas you use more hip flexion in the dumbbell RDL.

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About the author

Chris Jones

I'm Chris. I have a vast interest in all things relating to health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition. I also love to improve my mindset and learn how to increase my productivity. If you'd like to say hello or ask me a question, please visit my contact page, and I'd be glad to hear from you. Alternatively, you can find me on Twitter (@liveliftlife).