Legend has it that the Romanian deadlift aka RDL got its name when American Olympic weightlifting coaches watched a group of Romanian lifters training. At the time, Romania was a dominating force in weightlifting, and they used this exercise to increase hamstring, glute, and lower back strength.
Believing they’d uncovered a “secret” exercise, the US coaches took the now-called Romanian deadlifts and introduced it to their lifters. It quickly became a popular exercise with athletes from all sports, including bodybuilding.
The Romanian deadlift is a lot like the stiff-legged deadlift. The main difference is that the Romanian variation is done with slightly bent knees, making it a little more lower back-friendly while increasing glute activation.
As posterior chain exercises go, the Romanian deadlift is tough to beat but, if that’s the only exercise you ever do for your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, your progress will eventually stall. Your body adapts quickly to the exercises in your workout, and even a heavyweight champ like the Romanian deadlift will soon lose its potency if you do it too often.
With that in mind, here are 13 of the best Romanian deadlift alternatives. Use these exercises to maintain your progress and build the strongest, most muscular posterior chain possible.
The 13 Best Romanian Deadlift (RDL) Alternatives
The best Romanian deadlift alternatives involve similar movements but require different training equipment. Others work the same muscles but in a slightly different way.
Whether you train at home or in a commercial gym, you can use these exercises to strengthen your posterior chain.
1. Good mornings
Good mornings are a cross between squats and Romanian deadlifts. They’re a useful exercise if your grip fails before your posterior chain. This exercise is so-called because, when you are doing it, you look like you are greeting a friend with a polite bow.
However, make no mistake, despite its genteel name, the good morning is a brutally effective exercise. The long lever between the weight and your lower back means that you won’t need to use much weight to get a great workout from this exercise.
Learn how to do good mornings in our in-depth guide.
2. Deficit deadlifts
Deficit deadlifts are a popular powerlifting and weightlifting assistance exercise. Performed while standing on a low platform, deficit deadlifts involve a wider range of motion than conventional deadlifts, which increases glute, hamstring, and lower back activation.
On the downside, this Romanian deadlift variation requires good flexibility and core strength, so don’t go too heavy too soon, or you could end up with serious back pain.
Read more about deficit deadlifts here.
3. Single-leg Romanian deadlifts
Single-leg Romanian deadlifts will improve your balance while identifying and fixing any left-to-right strength imbalances. Working one leg at a time, you won’t need to use as much weight, which also makes them a little easier on your lower back.
This exercise can be a little tricky to master, but your perseverance will pay off. Regular Romanian deadlifts will feel much easier in comparison.
Check out our in-depth guide to learn more about this awesome exercise.
4. Cable pull-throughs
Romanian deadlifts are a very effective posterior chain exercise, but they can be hard on your lower back. Holding a heavy barbell in your hands compresses your spine, which could actually make you shorter, albeit temporarily.
Cable pull-throughs are basically Romanian deadlifts done using a cable machine or resistance band. This makes them much more lower back-friendly. As an added benefit, this variation keeps constant tension on the target muscles, making them potentially better for hypertrophy and conditioning.
Read all about cable pull-throughs here.
5. Zercher Romanian deadlifts
The term Zercher refers to holding your barbell in the crook of your elbows. You can use this Zercher grip for squats, lunges, weighted carries, and Romanian deadlifts.
Zercher Romanian deadlifts increase upper back and biceps activation while giving your grip a welcome grip. However, as you progress to heavier weights, you may find it necessary to pad the bar to avoid elbow pain.
How to do it:
- Put a barbell in a squat rack set to about waist height. Hook your elbows under the bar, clasp your hands together in front of your chest, and unrack the bar.
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, knees slightly bent.
- Push your hips back and lean forward as far as your flexibility allows. Do not round your lower back.
- Stand back up and repeat.
6. Glute-hamstring developer
The glute-ham developer, or GHD for short, is a sort of back extension/leg curl hybrid. This is a challenging bodyweight alternative to Romanian deadlifts. It’s a little easier on your lower back than Romanian deadlifts, but it will HAMMER your glutes and hamstrings, which is why it’s a popular assistance exercise for powerlifting.
How to do it:
- Adjust the pad of the GHD so that when your feet are pressed against the footplate, your quads rest on the thigh pad. Your torso should be upright, arms crossed over your chest.
- Lean forward until your upper body is roughly parallel to the floor. Keep your hips and back straight.
- Contract your hamstrings and pull yourself back up and into the upright position.
7. Kneeling hip extensions
Kneeling hip extensions work the same muscles as Romanian deadlifts, but instead of using a barbell for resistance, you lift your own body weight instead. This makes kneeling hip extensions ideal for home workouts. In addition, this variation is good for your balance and coordination.
How to do it:
- Kneel on the floor, so your thighs are perpendicular to the floor. Cross your arms over your chest.
- Sit back on your heels and simultaneously hinge forward from your hips. Lean over as far as you can without rounding your back or falling forward.
- Push your hips forward and return to the upright position.
- If you have a large upper body, you may need to anchor your feet to do this exercise. Anchoring your feet increases hamstring recruitment.
8. Hip thrusts
Hip thrusts are a popular butt-building exercise. They also work your hamstrings. However, hip thrusts are a little more lower back-friendly than Romanian deadlifts, and you don’t need a strong grip to do this exercise.
You can do hip thrusts using a barbell, and there are also specialized benches for this exercise, although you can do it sat on the floor or leaning against a flat workout bench or stability ball, too.
Learn how to do this popular exercise here.
9. Kettlebell swings
Kettlebell swings might not look much like Romanian deadlifts, but they still work the same muscles. Unlike most Romanian deadlift alternatives, this exercise is performed at speed, making it useful for developing posterior chain power. High-rep sets of kettlebell swings are also a very effective conditioning and fat-burning exercise.
How to do it:
- Hold a kettlebell in front of your thighs and stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and brace your core.
- Keeping your arms straight, push your butt back and lean forward from your hips, lowering the weight to about knee height.
- Without rounding your lower back, snap your hips forward and use this momentum to swing your kettlebell forward and up to around eye level. Tense your glutes, lats, and abs at the top of the rep.
- Lower the weight and repeat.
- Set a brisk but even rhythm and stick to it for your entire set.
- You can also do this exercise using a dumbbell held in a fingers-interlocking grip.
10. 45-degree back extensions
Most people know 45-degree back extensions as a lower back exercise when, in actuality, they’re a total posterior chain workout. You don’t have to limit yourself to just your body weight for this exercise; hold weights in your hands, or use a resistance band around the back of your neck to make it harder.
Check out our in-depth guide and learn how to do this exercise.
11. Reverse hyperextensions
Also known as reverse hypers, this exercise is a lower back-friendly alternative to Romanian deadlifts. When you do reverse hypers, your upper body is held in place and supported, leaving you free to focus on extending your hips. This is another popular powerlifting accessory exercise.
Find out how to do this effective exercise in this detailed guide.
12. Snatch grip deadlifts
Like deficit deadlifts, snatch grip deadlifts involve a larger range of motion, which makes them more glute, hamstring, and lower back-centric. However, because you don’t need an extra platform to lift from, this exercise may be more accessible for some lifters. Like deficit deadlifts, snatch grip deadlifts require good hamstring flexibility and a strong lower back and core.
Check out our in-depth guide to snatch grip deadlifts and learn how to do this challenging exercise correctly.
13. Reeves deadlifts
If you enjoyed snatch-grip deadlifts, you’ll probably like this Romanian deadlift alternative, too. The Reeves deadlift is named after old-school bodybuilding legend and Hollywood actor Steve Reeves.
It uses an ultra-wide grip to really work your back, glutes, and hamstrings. You’ll need quite long arms to do this exercise; otherwise, you may not be able to reach the barbell plates.
How to do it:
- Position your feet for conventional deadlifts. Bend forward and reach out to grab the top of your weight plates. Drop your hips, lift your chest, and brace your abs. Pull your shoulders down and back.
- Drive your feet into the floor and, without rounding your lower back, stand up straight.
- Lower the bar to the floor and repeat.
Romanian Deadlift Alternatives – Wrapping Up
Here at Fitness Volt, we’ve got a lot of love for the Romanian deadlift. It’s a great way to learn and perfect hip hinging, and it’s one of the best conventional deadlift assistance exercises around. And, if you want to build a rock-hard booty, Romanian deadlifts are hard to beat.
However, as much as we value this exercise, we also understand that you can have too much of a good thing. Doing RDLs too often will reduce their effectiveness, making your workouts less productive.
Avoid training ruts and progress plateaus by switching up your workouts with some well-chosen Romanian deadlift alternatives. Your posterior chain will thank you!