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.
Stand in your snatch or clean pulling stance with a clean grip on the bar. Set your back in the same extension you use to pull the snatch and clean and brace your trunk forcefully.
Hinge at the hip while bending the knees very slightly to bring the bar as far down the legs as possible without losing any back extension. Actively keep the bar as close to the legs as possible throughout the motion.
Stay balanced evenly over the whole foot rather than pushing the hips back more than necessary and shifting to the heels. This will limit how much weight you can handle, but it will make the exercise more effective by increasing the force on the hips and back while reinforcing the balance we want in the snatch and clean, as well as strengthening the back and shoulders’ ability to keep the bar close to the body.
Stay braced tightly so as you change directions at the bottom, you don’t allow any softening of the back extension.
If you’re mobile enough to get the plates to the floor with perfect back extension, still stop just short of touching—the changing of direction without compromising back extension is an important element of the exercise.
Historically I’ve differentiated between the RDL and the stiff-legged deadlift, but over time I’ve come to decide the minor difference isn’t worth the headaches it creates. In the RDL, the knees would remain in the very slightly bent position all the way through, and in the stiff-legged deadlift, each rep would start and end with straight knees in the standing position. This makes the RDL emphasize the glutes slightly more than the stiff-legged deadlift, and somewhat mimic the scoop of the snatch and clean. However, the differences are extremely minor—do whichever variation you find more effective.
The Romanian deadlift strengthens isometric back extension along with the glutes and hamstrings. 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. It’s used to support stronger pulling for the snatch and clean.
Sets of 3-8 reps are most common. Weights usually start around 40% of the lifter’s best back squat and often be very heavy, sometimes as much as 70% of the back squat.
The Romanian deadlift can be done with a snatch grip, or without lifting straps (or hook grip) for more grip strength work.