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Tone the butt and legs with a Romanian deadlift

This popular exercise can build muscle that leads to a rounder, firmer backside. Here's how to do it correctly.
TODAY Illustration / Stephanie Mansour

If you follow fitness influencers on social media, you likely see videos of them doing sets of Romanian deadlifts pretty often.

They are a popular exercise used to target the butt and legs — and can build muscle that leads to a rounder, firmer backside, while also improving hip mobility. It’s no wonder why so many people are hopping on the trend!

While some influencers may make it look easy, the Romanian deadlift can be challenging and somewhat complicated for those who aren’t familiar with performing lifts. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn with a few simple tips. Once you understand what muscle groups the Romanian deadlift is meant to target and learn proper technique, you’ll be a master of the move.

What does the Romanian deadlift do for the body?

Deadlifts activate the quadricep muscles as well as the gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles. The Romanian deadlift also works the chain of muscles in the back of the body, making it a great exercise to prevent lower-back pain. Because the Romanian deadlift requires lifting, it also helps improve grip strength.

The difference between a Romanian deadlift and a standard deadlift is that you start from a standing position instead of beginning at the bottom of the exercise. In doing this, you engage even more of the glutes and hamstrings. And this move does more than just strengthen your muscles. Performing the move properly and consistently can help you achieve a new level of power while running, too.

The common mistakes people make when performing the Romanian deadlift

Although this move is a variation of the deadlift, it requires different form than most lifting exercises. A lot of people think you need to perform a squat while doing the Romanian deadlift, but this isn’t true. It actually requires more leg stiffness with slightly bent knees.

I also find that a lot of my clients are unsure of how to return to the starting position. While it may seem natural to just lift your upper body, it’s more beneficial to thrust your hips and use your lower body to return to the standing position. It’s also important to keep your shoulders back and your chest open, which often goes unsaid. To prevent these common mistakes:

  • Keep your knees slightly bent. You want to bend your knees so that your butt sits back just enough to feel a small stretch in the hamstrings.
  • Don’t try and incorporate the squat into this move. It’ll only complicate things, and you won’t be benefiting from it!
  • Thrust your hips forward when returning to the starting position to make sure you’re working your glutes.
  • Don’t allow yourself to round your shoulders forward. Keep your back flat and your shoulders down and back so that your chest is open.

How to do a modified Romanian deadlift

It’s easy to modify the Romanian deadlift if you’re not comfortable lifting weights. All you have to do is use an extremely light weight or no weight at all! I suggest replacing dumbbells with a broomstick or something similar in shape.

Using this light weight, perform the Romanian deadlift the same way you would if you were using heavier weights. Stand up straight, holding the prop in front of your thighs. While bending your knees slightly, bring your shoulders back so that your chest is open. Push your hips back so that your torso bends forward and the your arms slide down in front of your shins. Thrust forward engaging the glutes to return to the starting position.

How to perform the Romanian deadlift

The Romanian deadlift may seem intimidating, but with a little practice you’ll be working those legs and glutes in no time!

  1. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell or dumbbells in your hands in front of your thighs. Keep your shoulders back, opening your chest.
  2. Keep your knees bent slightly. Breathe in and push your hips back so that you’re bending your torso forward towards the ground.
  3. Keep the weight close to your legs with your arms hanging down. Think about sliding the weight down the leg. Once you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, you’ve bent far enough.
  4. Breathe out and thrust forward using your glutes to lift your torso back to stand.

4 exercises that will help you with the Romanian deadlift

The Romanian deadlift requires a lot of leg and glute strength, so don’t be discouraged if you’re not ready to add them to your workout routine quite yet. Instead, start working on these four moves that will help you build the strength needed.

Stiff leg deadlift

You’ll be performing a similar motion here as in the Romanian deadlift, except you don’t have to worry about bending your knees at all. Using dumbbells, lower your weights towards your feet while keeping your back straight and bending at the hips. Lift back up to the starting position and repeat.

Lunges

Lunges are a great way to build leg strength. Take a step forward with your right leg, bending your knee at a 90-degree angle. Bend your left knee behind so that it’s almost touching the floor. Hold this position, then return to standing and switch legs.

Glute bridge

The glute bridge is another perfect move to begin building a stronger butt. Lay with your back on the floor and your knees bent so that your feet are on the ground. Squeeze your glutes to lift your butt off the ground. Make sure not to arch your back. Keep your butt in the air for a few seconds before releasing and repeating.

Box jump

The box jump helps develop power in your legs. Place a sturdy platform or box about a foot in front of you. Bending your knees, jump up onto the box swinging your arms forward. Repeat five times before taking a break. After performing this move consistently, you’ll feel more powerful and strong in your lower body.

More ways to master the move: