Romanian deadlift alternatives are types of exercises that replace standard Romanian deadlifts or RDLs. Standard and alternative RDLs target the same muscles (glutes, hamstrings, and lower back). The primary difference between typical and substitute RDLs like hip thrusts and single-leg deadlifts is versatility, mobility, and emphasis. Incorporating alternative exercises to replace standard RDL allows you to vary your routine. Alternatives additionally provide greater mobility for people who can’t master the hip-hinge or simply struggle with basic RDLs. Alternative exercises also help you emphasize certain muscles like the hamstrings.
Standard Romanian deadlifts are an excellent exercise for strengthening the glutes and lower back. However, there are plenty of other exercises to try if RDLs don’t feel great to you or if you want to shake things up a bit. Today, we’ll look over eight Romanian deadlift alternatives to add to your workout. We’ll provide an overview of each exercise, including steps on how to complete them safely and other important facts.
1. Good Mornings
Good mornings are a suitable RDL alternative for those who haven’t taken the time to master the hip hinge. A lot of people struggle with Romanian deadlifts due to the difficulty of the hip hinge. Proper hip hinging is essential to correctly perform a Romanian deadlift (or any other type of deadlift, for that matter). If you have a hard time doing this and find yourself rounding your back, practicing good mornings for a while before going back to the RDL can be a helpful option.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when doing good mornings to get the most out of them:
- Start by holding a barbell on your back as though you were going to do a back squat
- Use an empty barbell or choose a lightweight pre-loaded one so you can focus on form without overloading your muscles and joints
- Inhale as you lean forward and send your hips back behind you while holding the barbell in place on your back
- Keep your legs and back straight and aim to form a 90-degree angle with your legs and torso
- Exhale as you push down into the floor and rise back up to the starting position
If you still have trouble with the hinging pattern, consider standing close (about six inches or so) to a wall while doing this exercise. As you lean forward, try to tap the wall with your glutes. This will help you to feel more comfortable hinging and sending your hips backward.
2. Glute Hamstring Developers (GHDs)
Glute hamstring developers (or GHDs) are a Roman deadlift alternative that provides a more targeted workout. GHDs allow you to adjust your position so that they place a greater emphasis on different muscle groups. For example, when the knees are bent, it’s easier to isolate the glutes and hamstrings. When the knees are straight, though, that helps you to better strengthen the middle and lower back.
If you’re looking for an alternative to Romanian deadlifts, chances are you’re more focused on finding a different way to target the glutes and hamstrings. Here are some cues to keep in mind when performing GHDs to experience those desired results:
- Set yourself up on the GHD machine with your hips pressing into the pad and your arms crossed in front of you
- Stand with your knees bent and lean forward over the machine while inhaling
- As you exhale, squeeze your glutes and begin to straighten your back to rise up into the starting position
- Keep your upper back rounded as you rise up to place more of an emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings
- Inhale and fold at the hips to lower back down
Learn more: The Glute Ham Raise: Techniques, Benefits & Common Mistakes
For many people, GHDs with body weight only are very intense. If you want to make this exercise more challenging, try holding some weight while doing it. You can hold an empty or loaded barbell in your hands or hang onto the handle of a kettlebell. Some people like to hold a plate against their chests, too.
3. Block Deadlifts
Block deadlifts are another alternative to RDLs that free up your movement. A lack of mobility in the hamstrings makes RDLs difficult for some. You may find yourself rounding your back or excessively bending your knees to compensate. If this is the case, block deadlifts can be a good substitute for the Romanian deadlift.
Block deadlifts bring the weight closer to your body and save you from having to reach as far as you might normally to lift them up. They can also help you work through the sticking point in your regular, heavier deadlifts, making them an excellent exercise to add into your routine regardless of your specific goals.
To do block deadlifts correctly, follow these tips:
- Set up two boxes that are about knee-height and place the barbell across the top of them
- Stand behind the barbell and grip it with your hands positioned slightly outside of your thighs
- Hip at your hips and send them back behind you
- Make sure your shoulders line up with the barbell
- Inhale, brace your core, and squeeze your lats
- Exhale and push into the floor while rising up to a standing position, lifting the barbell off of the boxes
- Squeeze your glutes at the top of the exercise and drive your hips toward the bar
- Keep the barbell close to your thighs through the entire movement
- Inhale as you hinge at the hips and lower the bar back down to the boxes
4. Single-Leg Deadlifts
Single-leg deadlifts are a suitable alternative to the Romanian deadlift because they help you to correct strength or mobility imbalances between your two legs. By working on single-leg deadlifts, you can create more balance. You can also ensure that your weak side doesn’t hold you back when doing Romanian deadlifts or other deadlift variations.
You can do single-leg deadlifts with dumbbells, kettlebells, or even a barbell. For the sake of this example, though, we’ll talk about doing them with dumbbells. Here are some cues to help you when doing single-leg deadlifts for the first time:
- Stand up straight while holding a dumbbell in each hand (start with a lighter weight if this is your first time doing this exercise)
- You can hold the weights in front of your body or on either side
- Inhale as you shift your weight onto one foot and let your other foot hover off the ground a couple of inches
- Hinge at the hips and send the hovering leg back behind you (think about it going straight back toward the wall, rather than up in the air)
- At the same time that the leg is going backward, you should be leaning forward with your torso and bringing the dumbbells down toward the floor
- Stop leaning forward when the dumbbells reach the mid-shin (keep the weights close to your body, the same way you would when performing another type of deadlift).
- When you’ve reached this point, exhale and press into the floor as you return to the beginning position
5. Seated Hamstring Curls
Seated hamstring curls are an effective exercise to add to your routine if your main goal is to target your hamstrings. Seated hamstring curls replace Romanian deadlifts while you work on increasing your hamstring strength or aim to further develop this part of your body.
Here are some cues that will help you get the most out of your seated hamstring curls:
- Sit on the seated hamstring curl machine with your ankles resting on top of the bar
- Adjust the machine to your desired weight (consider starting with a lighter weight if this exercise is new to you)
- Inhale and sit up straight on the machine, then exhale and bend the knees to curl the weight back toward your body
- Inhale and straighten your legs to return to the starting position
- Don’t let your legs straighten out all the way; keep a slight bend to maintain tension on the hamstrings
6. Hip Thrusts
Hip thrusts are potential Roman deadlift alternatives. Most people think of hip thrusts as a glute-building exercise. It’s true that they do target the glutes in a significant way, making them a staple exercise for those whose fitness goals include “booty building”.
What you might be surprised to learn, though, is that hip thrusts strengthen the hamstrings, too. In fact, a 2019 study showed that there is no statistical difference between hip thrusts and the Romanian deadlift when it comes to activating the glutes and hamstrings.
To get the most out of your hip thrusts, follow these instructions:
- Sit on the floor with your upper back leaning against a bench or box
- Position the weight so that it sits in the crease of your hips (you can use a barbell, dumbbells, or a kettlebell, but most people report best results using a barbell & a barbell pad)
- Separate your feet so they’re a bit farther than shoulder-width apart and the toes are pointed out slightly
- Inhale, then exhale and press into the floor as you lift your hips to send the weight up toward the ceiling
- Squeeze your glutes, tuck your pelvis, make sure your knees form a 90-degree angle when you’re at the top of the exercise; if they don’t, adjust your feet before setting up for the next rep
- Make sure your chin stays tucked throughout the exercise to keep the spine properly aligned and place more of an emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings
- Inhale and lower your body back down to the floor
7. Cable Pull-Throughs
Cable pull-throughs are a type of hamstring and glute exercise to substitute RDLs. Cable pull-throughs also help you to feel more comfortable when performing the hip-hinging pattern. They can be a bit awkward at first, but they definitely provide a lot of benefits.
Keep these cues in mind when doing cable pull-throughs for the first time:
- Hook a rope attachment onto the cable machine and adjust it so it’s at the bottom of the machine
- Face away from the machine, hold one end of the rope attachment in each hand, and stand with the attachment between your legs
- Keep a slight bend in your knees as you hinge forward, inhaling while sending your hips back toward the machine and keeping your back in a neutral position
- When the torso is parallel to the floor, exhale and press into the floor as your return to the starting position
- Squeeze your glutes at the top of the exercise, then inhale as you hinge at the hips again and begin to perform another rep
If you find that you have trouble maintaining your balance while doing this exercise, consider keeping your weight in the front part of the feet. This will help you avoid getting pulled backward.
8. Walking Lunges
Walking lunges may initially seem like a strange Romanian deadlift substitute. Walking lunges are typically thought of as an exercise for the quads, rather than the hamstrings. In reality, though, lunges are very good for the glutes and hamstrings. They can help you build more strength in the legs, in general, too.
You can do walking lunges with just your body weight, or you can hold dumbbells, kettlebells, or even a barbell on your back. If you’re just getting started with them, try doing them with your bodyweight-only. You can always add weight later if they feel too easy.
Follow these cues when doing walking lunges to get the most out of them:
- Stand with your feet together and hands on your hips
- Take a big step forward with your right foot as you inhale
- When your right foot hits the floor, bend both legs so they form 90-degree angles, and your back knee hovers just an inch or so above the ground
- Exhale as you press into your right foot and rise back up to a standing position
- Inhale and take a big step forward, repeating this same pattern with the left foot in front this time
When stepping forward, be sure to keep your torso straight and perpendicular to the floor. Engage your core, and don’t let your torso tip forward. This will be especially helpful when you start adding weight to this particular exercise.
Try these Romanian deadlift alternatives today
Romanian deadlift alternatives offer new ways of working out your glutes and hamstrings. Standard RDLs are beneficial for those who can master them. However, substitutes such as block deadlifts and hip thrusts are suitable for those who can’t nail down traditional Romanian deadlifts. RDL substitutes provide greater mobility and versatility to your routine. There are plenty of Romanian deadlift alternatives that you can do during your workouts if you want to strengthen your hamstrings, lower back, and glutes in a different way. Keep the alternatives we’ve explored above in mind if you want to shake up your workout, make progress toward your fitness goals, and stay safe.