I'm a PT and before you deadlift you should practice this one exercise first to avoid injury and build strength

Master the correct form for the essential strength exercise by starting with this one move

Personal trainer in a gym corrects the form of a woman gym-goer holding a barbell
(Image credit: AzmanJaka / Getty Images)

The deadlift is a staple of any strength training plan worth its salt, and it's not just for weightlifters and bodybuilders. It tops our list of the best strength training exercises for weight loss because it's so effective at building muscle, and it also makes an appearance in our expert selection of the best exercises for longevity because it improves your ability to pick up heavy objects safely.

It's an exercise everyone should learn to do, but before I give my clients a barbell to deadlift, I make sure they are moving well with one of its variations: the Romanian deadlift (RDL).

What is the Romanian deadlift?

While a deadlift starts with the weight on the floor, the RDL begins with you standing straight, holding the weight in front of your thighs.

Learning the RDL develops your physical body awareness (the technical term is proprioception) so you become more familiar with hinging at the hips while keeping a flat back. This minimizes your risk of injury and enhances your confidence for the deadlift and any other gym move that requires a hip hinge, like the kettlebell swing.

The RDL also fires up more of your hamstrings than a traditional deadlift. It strengthens your glutes (the muscles in your buttocks) and back, and is a great way to build the strength needed to deadlift with confidence.

How to do the Romanian deadlift

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a slight bend in your knees, holding a weight (you can use a barbell, dumbbells or kettlebell) at hip height with palms facing you.
  • Engage your core and move your shoulder blades back and down.
  • Keeping a neutral spine, push your hips backward to slowly lower the weight, keeping it close to your body.
  • Lower until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, don't bend your knees any further or round your back.
  • Drive your hips forward to return to the start and squeeze your glutes.

Three things to remember

Keep these tips in mind as you perform the move.

  1. Focus on the alignment of your back, ensuring it's flat and not rounded, by keeping your shoulders back and chest proud.
  2. Lower the weight slowly and with control. This eccentric phase is essential for putting your muscles under tension to lengthen and strengthen them.
  3. Avoid moving your knees—only your hips and buttocks go backward as the weight goes down.

Once you're confident you're performing the move correctly, check out our explanations of how to deadlift with dumbbells and deadlift using a barbell.

Yanar Alkayat
Contributing editor

Yanar Alkayat is a yoga therapist, PT and journalist. Her experience includes 15 years as a health and wellness editor for national titles such as Runner’s World, Women’s Health and Men’s Health.