The Romanian deadlift’s exact origins and original execution are points of contention. It certainly originated when Nicu Vlad of Romania and his coach, Dragomir Cioroslan, were in the US in 1990 for the Goodwill Games. Vlad was performing an exercise that hadn’t been seen before, and someone (Jim Schmitz at the Sports Palace or one of the lifters at the Olympic Training center, possibly both at separate times) suggested the exercise be called the Romanian deadlift when Cioroslan said they didn’t have a name for it.
With your feet in the pulling position and holding the bar in a clean grip, bend your knees slightly with your trunk vertical—this is the start position and the position you’ll return to at the end of each rep. Keeping the same slight bend in the knees, set your back in a tight arch and hinge at the hips as far as you can without losing any arch in your back. Once you reach the lowest point, return to standing while maintaining the same slight bend in the knees. Use lifting straps.
The Romanian deadlift and stiff-legged deadlift are often considered the same exercise, but we distinguish between the two. In the stiff-legged deadlift, the knees start fully extended and unlock slightly as part of the forward hinge rather than remaining bent throughout the entire movement.
The Romanian deadlift strengthens the back arch along with the glutes and hamstrings, but places somewhat less emphasis on the hamstrings because the knees remain bent throughout. Because of this bend, it can also be used as a way to reinforce the knee movement under the bar as occurs in the snatch and clean pulls. It also strengthens the lats and shoulders because of the effort to keep the bar close to the legs with the shoulders in front of the bar.
Sets of 3-6 reps are most common. Weights usually start around 50% of the lifter’s best back squat and often be very heavy, sometimes as much as 70-80% of the back squat.
The Romanian deadlift can be done with a snatch grip and with more bend in the knees to be able to handle more weight for increased back arch strengthening. It can also be done without lifting straps for more grip strength work.