The Best Romanian Deadlift Alternatives for Muscle and Strength

The Romanian deadlift (RDL) is an exercise for building strength in the muscles in the posterior chain of the body. The RDL is a compound exercise, which means it works for more than one muscle group at the same time, utilizing multiple joints simultaneously. The Romanian deadlift targets the muscles in the legs, butt (glutes), and back. 

The Romanian deadlift is commonly known as the RDL. In this article, the terms will be used interchangeably. Romanian deadlift alternatives are exercises that target the same muscle groups as the Romanian deadlift with different movements. These alternatives often mimic the movement of the RDL while being in a different body position. 

There are a couple of reasons someone would prefer an alternative to the Romanian deadlift. Using an alternative to the Romanian deadlift provides exercise variety. It is a good idea to change the workout program from time to time. Variation keeps workouts interesting, which can increase adherence to the program. 

In addition, it may be necessary to choose an alternative to the Romanian deadlift if the person is at a higher risk for back pain or injury. It would also be a good idea to choose an RDL alternative if the person’s hamstrings or hip flexors are excessively tight or otherwise have a limited range of motion. 

A Romanian deadlift alternative exercise can put more emphasis on different muscles within the target muscle group. For example, certain alternatives take the emphasis off the lower back and rely more on the back of the shoulders (deltoid) or back of the legs (hamstrings).

Here is a list of 9 alternative exercises for the Romanian deadlift. 

  1. Good morning
  2. Barbell hip thrust
  3. Cable pull through
  4. Kettlebell swing 
  5. Sumo deadlift
  6. Hamstring curl
  7. Reverse lunge
  8. Sumo squat
  9. Weighted hyperextension

1. Good Morning

The good morning exercise is an RDL alternative that focuses on your hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and the erector spinae muscles of the lower back for bodybuilders and powerlifters.

It replicates the RDL’s movement and builds strength in the lower back. In good mornings, hold the barbell on the shoulders in a low-bar squat position. The person hinges at the hips to bend the torso forward. 

Bodybuilders and powerlifters use good mornings to strengthen the lower back to increase stability for performing a barbell deadlift.

A common mistake when doing good mornings is allowing the back to round or arch. Keep the back flat while bending forward from the hips. A flat back will help prevent injury and focus on the lower back and hamstrings to stabilize the body.

For more efficiency, slow down the exercise and use a lighter weight to help focus on your back muscles instead of your legs.

In the proper form, this exercise has an easy level of difficulty. 

2. Barbell Hip Thrust

The barbell hip thrust exercise is an RDL alternative that focuses on your hamstrings and gluteal muscles for strength athletes and powerlifters.

Even though it does not mimic the movement of a Romanian deadlift, the barbell hip thrust is an alternative to the RDL because of the muscles it works. Doing a hip thrust takes the emphasis off the back and relies on the back of the legs and butt to perform the movement. 

Barbell hip thrusts begin from a seated position on the floor. Sit in front of a bench with the back of the shoulders propped against the bench and a barbell placed over the hips. Press the feet into the floor to lift the hips and barbell off the floor. 

Bodybuilders do barbell hip thrusts to grow and shape the hamstrings and glutes. Powerlifters and other strength athletes do barbell hip thrusts to strengthen those same muscles to have better strength capacity for the squat and deadlift movements. 

It is common for the lifter to allow the head to fall back toward the bench at the top of the movement. To achieve proper form, keep the head and neck in a forward-facing position while lifting and lowering the bar with the hips.

When done correctly, this exercise has a difficulty level of medium to hard. 

3. Cable Pull Through

The cable pull-through exercise is an RDL alternative that focuses on your hamstrings and gluteal muscles for bodybuilders and powerlifters.

This cable machine Romanian deadlift alternative mimics the movement of an RDL but allows for a longer range of motion, resulting in a better stretch in the hamstrings than one would get from an RDL. 

To do a cable pull-through, stand facing away from a cable station with a rope attached to the cable in the lowest position. Bend over to grab the rope between the feet. Pull the rope through the legs to stand up. Return to the starting position with a controlled release of the tension on the cable. Keep the hips high and the back and knees straight throughout the movement. 

The greater range of motion strengthens the hamstrings at the lower part of the movement. This helps a powerlifter increase strength for the first part of the movement in a deadlift, which is a primary performance exercise for powerlifters. A bodybuilder would use this exercise to increase the size of the muscles, the hamstrings, and glutes.

Be careful not to use your spine to lift the cable. Instead, focus on your hips to complete the motion. Also, try to wear flat-soled shoes to help transfer the motion directly from your feet to your hips. 

When performed correctly, the cable pull-through is an easy level of difficulty.

4. Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing exercise is an RDL alternative that focuses on your hamstrings and gluteal muscles for athletes and weightlifters. Kettlebell swings use a more explosive movement to help strengthen the same muscles as the Romanian deadlift and incorporate bursts of energy into athletes’ workouts.

Kettlebell swing
Kettlebell Swing

First, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your knees bent roughly 45 degrees. With your arms straight, hold a kettlebell between your legs. Then, stand up to fully extend your hips and engage your glutes. Allow the kettlebell to swing forward, keeping your arms extended, but do not use your arms to lift the weight.

Athletes or beginner weightlifters often use this exercise as an alternative to the Romanian deadlift to focus on their legs using a more intense motion. A common mistake people make is simply swinging the weight without focusing on the bending motion, or even trying to lift with their arms.

Unlike the RDL, a kettlebell swing is a dynamic exercise that is more useful to an endurance athlete than a bodybuilder. However, a kettlebell swing can still build plenty of muscle if you forgo lighter kettlebells for heavier and more challenging ones.

When done correctly, the kettlebell swing has a difficulty level of easy to medium.

5. Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift exercise is an alternative to barbell Romanian deadlifts that focuses on your hamstrings, adductors, and gluteal muscles for bodybuilders and powerlifters. Like the barbell hip thrust, the sumo deadlift takes some of the emphasis off the lower back and relies more on the hamstrings and glutes to perform the movement. 

Sumo deadlift 1
Sumo Deadlift

In a sumo deadlift, the exercise begins in a similar position as the barbell deadlift. The lifter stands behind the bar with feet wide apart and angled outward. The hands grip the barbell by bending at the knees and slightly at the hips, with the arms reaching straight down between the legs. Pull the bar from the floor by standing straight up.

A bodybuilder would use the sumo deadlift as an alternative to the RDL to shape and grow the size of their hamstrings and glutes. A powerlifter would use this exercise as an alternative to a barbell deadlift to minimize the distance needed to lift the bar from the floor. 

Whatever the goal for the lifter, this exercise strengthens and grows the muscles in the legs and butt with less stress on the lower back.

A common mistake for most lifters is not having a wide enough stance. You should also make sure your shoulders are behind the bar before you lift, as this will help you keep that signature upright posture.

When done correctly, this exercise has a difficulty level of medium to hard.

6. Hamstring Curl

The hamstring curl exercise is an RDL alternative that focuses on your hamstrings and glutes for athletes, bodybuilders, and powerlifters who want to target muscle growth in that area.

To do a hamstring curl, you may be sitting or lying prone. This exercise may use dumbbells or bands but more often uses a machine designed specifically for this movement. 

Much like the RDL and all of these alternatives, bodybuilders and strength athletes like powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters all use this exercise frequently, but for different reasons. 

Bodybuilders do hamstring curls using lighter weight and higher repetitions to grow the size of the hamstrings. Strength athletes perform the exercise with heavier weights and fewer repetitions to make the muscles stronger and prepare them for their main performance lifts, usually the barbell deadlift and squat. 

One of the more common mistakes for the hamstring curl is using a too-heavy weight. Starting with lighter weights and higher reps can help you focus more on building muscle and will help prevent injury.

With the proper form, the hamstring curl has a difficulty level of easy to medium.

7. Reverse Lunge

The reverse lunge exercise is an RDL alternative that focuses on your hamstrings and gluteal muscles for athletes and weightlifters who want to work on their balance.

Reverse lunge
Reverse Lunge

A reverse lunge is an alternative to single leg Romanian deadlift when the athlete wants to strengthen their leg muscles without putting stress on the lower back. This exercise is also good for endurance and agility athletes because it increases balance and stability in the core.

To do a reverse lunge, hold a dumbbell in each hand or a barbell on the shoulders. Stand with your feet together. Step one foot back into a lunge position and then step forward to the starting position. 

A common mistake that people make is focusing on their balance instead of the muscles targeted. For the best results, keep your core tight, and make sure your hips stay square through the movement.

When done correctly, the reverse lunge has a difficulty level of easy to medium.

8. Sumo Squat

The sumo squat exercise is an RDL alternative that focuses on your hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and quadriceps for athletes, bodybuilders, and powerlifters.

The stance for the sumo squat is like that of the sumo deadlift. Start with feet wide and angled outward. The barbell sits on the back of the shoulders while the lifter squats down, keeping the back straight and only slightly angled forward. The hip path is back and down as if sitting in a chair. The chest remains lifted throughout the movement. 

A common mistake made during the sumo squat is allowing the upper body to lean forward too much. The movement should not be a hip hinge. Carry out the downward movement by bending the knees and sitting the hips back. Make sure you align the shoulders, knees, and ankles at the bottom of the movement. 

With the proper form, this exercise has a difficulty rating of medium to hard.

9. Weighted Hyperextension

The weighted hyperextension exercise is an RDL alternative that focuses on the erector spinae muscles for sports athletes, strength athletes, and bodybuilders who want to strengthen their lower backs.

The previous alternatives to the Romanian deadlift put most of the emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes. These are also the biggest muscles worked in the RDL. The weighted hyperextension, however, is an alternative exercise that puts more emphasis on the lower back and less on the hamstrings and glutes.

You can perform a weighted hyperextension exercise on an apparatus designed for this specific movement. The body drapes prone over the structure with the torso hanging perpendicular to the floor and feet anchored with ankle pads. 

Perform the exercise by holding a weight, usually a plate or dumbbell, in the hands and extending at the hips to raise the torso until the body is in a straight diagonal line. The muscles in the lower back will contract and are responsible for most of the movement. The glutes and hamstrings act as stabilizers in this exercise. 

This alternative to the RDL is an excellent exercise for all strength athletes, bodybuilders, and sports athletes. The emphasis on the lower back helps build a strong core for other movements required by the athlete. 

The most common mistakes during the weighted hyperextension are moving too fast or overextending. For the best results, slow the movement to make it more difficult. Pay attention to when you come to the top of the motion, so you do not overextend yourself and put unnecessary strain on your back.

With the proper form, this exercise has a difficulty level of medium to hard. 

What to Know about Romanian Deadlift Alternatives

There are some additional things to note when considering Romanian deadlift alternatives.

  1. Muscle Growth: An alternative exercise to Romanian Deadlift can benefit certain muscle groups better than a barbell Romanian Deadlift alternative, such as the quads or adductors that Sumo squats or Sumo deadlifts target.
  2. Beginner or Expert Level: Alternatives for Romanian Deadlift are useful to either beginner exercisers or experts, as some, like the Reverse Lunge, are easy to accomplish and still benefit the same muscle groups as a traditional Romanian Deadlift.
  3. Injury Prevention: Alternatives to Romanian Deadlift can help prevent injury that could occur from the conventional Romanian Deadlift. For instance, exercises like the Sumo squat or Reverse lunge takes the stress off of your lower back, so you can avoid injuring yourself.

The conventional Romanian Deadlift focuses more on the hamstrings and glutes than an alternative exercise. However, an alternative exercise for Romanian Deadlift can give you less stress on your lower back and also work other helpful muscle groups, including your quads and adductors. 

Which Romanian Deadlift Alternative Is Beginner Friendlier?

The hamstring curl or the reverse lunge are two Romanian Deadlift alternatives that are the most beginner-friendly. Neither exercise needs you to learn the movement required for the Romanian Deadlift, but both focus on the same muscles, making them the best exercises for beginners. 

The hamstring curl is straightforward, and you can also begin with light weights. The reverse lunge requires no weights at all for beginners, although it does take some balancing. The reverse lunge, in particular, is great for anyone who doesn’t have access to a gym or who travels a lot.

Which Romanian Deadlift Alternative Is Better for Legs?

Either the Sumo squat or the hamstring curl is the best Romanian Deadlift alternative for your legs. Both exercises focus primarily on the same leg muscles as the Romanian Deadlift, making them the best leg exercises even though they don’t use the same movements. 

The hamstring curl, in particular, is a great way to focus on your hamstrings, which is one of the primary muscles used in the Romanian Deadlift. If you want to work on your hamstrings as well as your glutes and quads, then the Sumo squat might be a better option for you. 

Which Romanian Deadlift Replacement Exercise Is Better for Back?

The weighted hyperextension is the best Romanian Deadlift replacement exercise for your back muscles. The entire movement of the weighted hyperextension relies on your lower back muscles for completion. Because of the emphasis on your lower back, weighted hyperextension is one of the best back exercises that also focus on your hamstrings and glutes. 

Which Romanian Deadlift Substitute is Better for Strength?

The Sumo deadlift is the best Romanian Deadlift substitute for strength training. It specifically targets the same muscles as the Romanian Deadlift without stressing your spine or lower back. It also works a few other leg muscles for overall stability and strength, allowing you to grow stronger legs than other alternatives in a shorter time. 

When Should an Athlete Use Romanian Deadlift Alternatives for Exercise?

An athlete should use Romanian Deadlift alternatives for exercise to specifically target the growth of their hamstrings and glutes along with other muscle groups. 

For instance, if an athlete wants to work their quads at the same time, they should look to an alternative for Romanian Deadlift. Or, if they need to work on their balance, they should choose a Romanian Deadlift like Reverse lunges. 

Alternate exercises for Romanian Deadlifts will also prove helpful if the athlete has a weak or injured back. An alternative like the Sumo squat can work the desired muscles without stressing the lower back. 

What Are the Advantages of Substituting the Romanian Deadlift?

The athlete can customize any of these alternatives to the goal of the sport. 

Bodybuilders are focused on making their muscles bigger and shaping them in a certain way for a specific aesthetic. Powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, and other strength athletes are more interested in getting stronger than sculpting the body for a certain shape. 

Each of these alternatives for the Romanian deadlift can accomplish whichever goal the athlete has. You can tailor your programming strategy for each type of goal with repetition and weight variations for the exercise. 

Which Romanian Deadlift Alternative Is Safer for the Back?

The Reverse Lunge is the safest Romanian Deadlift alternative for your back. The reverse lunge puts little to no stress on the lower back, as the movement focuses on muscles in your legs instead. There is no bending of the waist or lifting in the reverse lunge either, unlike other Romanian Deadlift alternatives.

Can Romanian Deadlift Alternatives Replace the Romanian Deadlift?

Yes, Romanian deadlift alternatives can replace the Romanian deadlift. The versatility of these alternative exercises provides many of the same benefits as the RDL. The RDL strengthens the muscles in the back, glutes, and hamstrings. 

That said, some people with movement restrictions to the lower back can have difficulty performing the RDL. These people can get the same benefit as the rest of the targeted muscle groups with alternatives to Romanian deadlifts without putting extra strain on the back. 

What Are the Romanian Deadlift Variations?

There are three variations of the Romanian Deadlift.

  1. The dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
  2. The single-leg Romanian Deadlift
  3. The trap-bar Romanian Deadlift

The dumbbell Romanian Deadlift alternative uses the same movement as the conventional Romanian Deadlift. The only difference in this alternative Romanian Deadlift is you swap out the traditional barbell for dumbbells. 

The single-leg Romanian Deadlift also has much the same movement as the conventional exercise, but you can only stand on one leg while doing it. This one legged Romanian Deadlift alternative can help you work your legs one at a time and even out any imbalances. 

The trap-bar Romanian Deadlift requires a trap-bar instead of a barbell. Though you use the same movement to lift and lower the bar as the conventional Romanian Deadlift form, you start this exercise from the floor instead of in a standing position.

Each of these Romanian Deadlift variations can be great for beginners. You can practice with small dumbbells for a Romanian Deadlift alternative at home, use lighter weights and work on your balance for the single-leg variation, or start with the trap-bar if you don’t have great mobility or want to protect your spine.

Professional weightlifters might benefit from single-leg Romanian Deadlifts if they want to fix an imbalance in their leg muscles. However, the other two variations might not be as useful to them.

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