12 Week Program for the Romanian Deadlift

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Snapshot of Takeaway Points

  • The man who popularised the movement could snatch over 200kg
  • If in doubt, make the posterior chain stronger
  • Use the Romanian deadlift as an indicator lift to gauge performance


The Romanian Deadlift was thus named due to a Romanian Olympic Weightlifter, Nicu Vlad, who would utilise them after his clean and jerks. He was asked to present a weightlifting clinic in the States in 1990 and when asked what the exercise was called, he didn’t have a name for them. Jim Schmitz, who’s gym it was, recommended Romanian deadlifts and it has stuck ever since.

Nicu was an impressive lifter. He won an Olympic gold, silver and bronze and also World and European golds. Impressively he set world record in the snatch, 200.5kg at 100kg bodyweight in 1986.

Why use it?

It’s been said that the best assistance exercise is the one you aren’t doing. I can agree with this to a point but I also like to consider indicator lifts. For the Romanian deadlift I like clients to achieve at least 85% of their deadlift 1RM for a minimum of 3 repetitions at 40X0 beltless.

The exercise is fantastic for the posterior chain making it an ideal tool for enhancing athletic performance. If your ratio is currently well below what is advised then improving this number can also lead to improved deadlift performances.

One of the reasons that the ratio is high is that the eccentric portion is completed first whereas the deadlift asks to lift with the concentric as the first part. You can load the posterior chain like an elastic band and then spring back to the top as opposed to having to overcome inertia first.

For execution I only ask for the torso to reach just above parallel with the floor. Any lower and you’re either really flexible, which usually means you lack sufficient strength, or you possibly have a technique issue. If you have access to the automatic releasing hooks that mimic a monolift then I highly recommend using this for all Romanian deadlifts. It ensures optimal feet alignment which means your hips and the spine are safeguarded from injury. When you get up to top weights, walking backwards out of the rack with the bar in front of your hips is bit of a bitch.

The Program

Complete this as part of your assistance work after your main lift (Squat or Deadlift) if you are a strength athlete. If you are a field athlete (E.g. Rugby, Football etc.) you would do well to utilise this as your main lift so the first part of your lower body workout. Each phase can last for 2-3 weeks.

Acc 1: Pre-Fatigued Snatch Grip Romanian Deadlift (Omni)

The goal of this phase is to pre-fatigue the hamstrings in knee flexion therefore ensuring the erector spinae work harder and effectively pick up the slack. It is a useful way to isolate and target hypertrophy of the erector spinae.

The omni foot positioning ensures we hypertrophy a larger selection of fibres within the knee flexors and posterior chain.

  • A1) Lying Leg Curl: 4 x 4-6 reps, 5010, 10s rest
    • Set 1: Dorsi. To Plantar., Inwards
    • Set 2: Dorsi. To Plantar., Outwards
    • Set 3: Dorsi. To Plantar., Neutral
    • Set 4: Dorsi. To Plantar., Neutral
  • A2) Romanian Deadlift (Snatch Grip): 4 x 6-8 reps, 4110, 180s rest
    • Set 1: Duck Stance
    • Set 2: Sumo Stance
    • Set 3: Shoulder Width Stance
    • Set 4: Shoulder Width Stance
Int 1: Eccentric RDL-Concentric Deadlift

For this phase we want to use eccentric only repetitions. You lower to the floor or blocks performing a Romanian deadlift and then use a bent knee deadlift to restart the movement. The benefits of eccentric training can be found in my article here.

  • A) Romanian Deadlift (Clean Grip): 5 x 4-6 reps, 50X0, 240s rest
Acc 2: 1 & Quarter Snatch Grip Romanian Deadlift

One and a quarters performed at the bottom of the eccentric will further time under tension and strengthen what is the weakest portion of the movement for most. A snatch grip further stretches the fibres in the traps, lats and posterior chain.

  • A) Romanian Deadlift (Snatch Grip): 4 x 4-6 reps, 4110, 180s rest
    • Set 1: Duck Stance
    • Set 2: Sumo Stance
    • Set 3: Shoulder Width Stance
    • Set 4: Shoulder Width Stance
Int 2: Complete Paused Clean Grip Romanian Deadlift

I refer to these as a complete pause because a 4+ second pause will dissipate all elasticity within the muscle group. So we are taking the stretch reflex out on purpose for a different stimulus and further strengthen the weakest portion of the lift.

  • A) Romanian Deadlift (Clean Grip): 5 x 3-5 reps, 24X0, 180s rest
Acc 3: Accommodating Resistance Romanian Deadlift

This is essentially a speed day or as I like to refer to, an inter-muscular co-ordination day. The key is perfect technique alongside a barbell concentric speed of 0.8m/second. If those two factors aren’t adhered to then worrying about percentages is as useful as a fart in a spacesuit. Accommodating resistance must be used and you can use chains, banded or reverse band.

  • A) Romanian Deadlift (Clean Grip, Chains): 9 x 3 reps, 30X0, 120s rest
    • Set 1-3: Duck Stance
    • Set 4-6: Sumo Stance
    • Set 7-9: Shoulder Width Stance
Int 3: Clean Grip Romanian Deadlift

This phase uses the post activation potentiation method whereby the set of 3 reps potentiates the next set of 5. Allow the repetitions to dictate the weight selected and aim to increase each set of 5 reps and 3 reps as you make your way through the 6 sets.

  • A) Romanian Deadlift (Clean Grip): 5,3,5,3,5,3 reps, 30X0, 240s rest


The Romanian deadlift is a fantastic exercise with many applications. Improving your performance in this lift will reap rewards. It’s been said, if in doubt, make the posterior chain stronger. This program will certainly do that! Subscribe to the Winning Performance Forum for bonus content including how to enhance flexibility with this lift!

Article written by: Tom Hibbert

Published on: 24/4/2019

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