Last updated on March 10th, 2023 at 04:15 pm
Romanian deadlifts are a fantastic exercise for building muscle and strength in the glutes and hamstrings.
In fact, they are often the “go-to” exercise when it comes to training the lower part of the posterior chain.
However, many of you will complain that you actually feel Romanian Deadlifts in your lower back.
So, allow me to explain why this happens and what you can do about it.
The most obvious reason you’re feeling Romanian deadlifts in your lower back is that you’re not hinging at the hips, but rather bending at the waist. This can often lead to you either rounding or hyperextending your lower back in order to control the weight. You should also ensure that the bar is kept close to the body throughout your entire set. Furthermore, try reducing the weight until you get your technique correct. You should also be aware that you may actually be feeling the movement in your ilium, as opposed to your lower back.
You’re Not Hinging at The Hips
Firstly, it’s important to say that Romanian deadlifts do work the back muscles to some extent.
However, rather than the lower back, RDLs focus more on the erector spinae muscles.
These are the muscles that extend from the sacrum and vertically up the length of the back.
Therefore, you will definitely feel these muscles working during RDLs.
With that being said, regardless of what many others will say, you shouldn’t be feeling the movement specifically in your lower back.
The most common reason this occurs is that you’re not hinging at the hips.
In fact, it is likely that you are simply bending at the waist.
When you’re properly hinging at the hips you’ll find that your hips and butt move backwards.
In essence, you should focus more on pushing your butt back, and less on bending forwards.
If you’re using correct form you should feel a slight stretch in the hamstrings whenever you lower the bar.
And realistically you shouldn’t be lowering the bar more than a few inches past knee level.
So, if you’re lowering the bar much further before you feel it in your hamstrings, it’s likely that you’re bending at the waist rather than hinging at the hips.
A great way to practice the desired movement is with the stick hip hinge.
This involves placing a stick, broom, etc. behind you.
You then hinge at the hips, but the stick must remain in contact with the back of your head, your mid-back and the back of your hips/top of your butt throughout.
As soon as the stick is no longer in contact with one of these 3 points you have gone too low.
Are You Rounding or Hyperextending Your Lower Back?
The most widespread form issue when it comes to performing Romanian deadlifts is allowing the back to either round or to hyperextend.
Actually, back rounding or hyperextension happens with various exercises, including conventional deadlifts and barbell back squats.
However, the one thing they have in common is that this use of incorrect form will place a great deal of unwanted stress onto the lower back.
You should maintain a neutral spine throughout the Romanian deadlift.
There is a tendency to hyperextend (curve) at the lower back through exaggeration of movement.
Basically, you’re trying too hard to either push your butt back or keep your chest high.
Yes, these are important technique points during RDLs, but be wary that your lower back doesn’t curve when you do it.
When it comes to rounding your back, the following two sections explain the most obvious causes of this.
The Bar is Too Far Ahead of You
Another frequent flaw in Romanian deadlift technique is having the bar too far ahead of you.
I would hazard a guess that this occurs because you are worried about your knees getting in the way of the movement.
However, as soon as you move the bar away from your body you’ll typically find that your back rounds.
Additionally, you won’t be keeping the chest high.
I would also say that your head typically moves out of alignment (as discussed in the stick hip hinge video above).
Unfortunately, all of these things will immediately place additional strain on the lower back.
What you should actually be doing is keeping the bar close and tight to the body, both as you lower and bring the bar back up.
Furthermore, you should lock your shoulders in place, which will help to bring the chest up and stop your back from rounding.
Plus, maintain a nice, strong isometric contraction in your upper back.
This will ensure that you maintain perfect upper body position, and of course, it takes the pressure off your lower back.
I have previously mentioned that you shouldn’t have to go too deep with RDLs.
In fact, if you do you may go beyond your hamstring flexibility, which once more leads to rounding your back.
You’re Using Too Much Weight
When it comes to any exercise, not just Romanian deadlifts, trying to lift too much weight will usually be the culprit when your form breaks down.
You want to feel your hamstrings stretch and your glutes working whenever you perform RDLs.
However, the vast majority of the time when you’re lifting too much weight the emphasis is taken away from these muscles.
In effect, it’s probably time for you to relearn the Romanian deadlift properly.
The traditional deadlift is the larger compound exercise.
But, I view the Romanian deadlift as more of an isolation exercise for the glutes and hammies.
So, I see nothing wrong with going much lighter with the movement, and therefore really isolating these muscles.
You can start off again with an empty bar or even your own body weight.
The aim here is to perfect the movement and really feel that stretch in your hamstrings.
As soon as you feel a pinch or activation of your lower back your form has broken down.
This could well be a case of starting over again with literally no weight and working your way (slowly) back up over a period of weeks/months.
The Romanian deadlift is definitely an awesome exercise, but only when performed correctly.
So, perhaps it’s time to swallow your pride, reduce the weight on the bar, and focus on your technique once more.
It isn’t Actually Your Lower Back That You Feel
Did you know it may not actually be your lower back that you’re feeling at all?
Firstly, if you feel RDLs straight up and down the lower part of your spine then you’re doing it wrong.
However, if you’re feeling it across what you assume to be your lower back then you’re doing RDLs right.
You are actually feeling the exercise in your ilium.
This just happens to be the uppermost part of the gluteus maximus muscles.
So, in effect, you are working the upper part of the glutes.
You are more likely to feel it here if your glutes are not well-trained or simply because they’re weak.
Mat Hsu does a fantastic job of explaining where and why you’re actually feeling Romanian deadlifts in the video below.
Key Learning Points
Ensure that you’re hinging at the hips and not bending at the waist.
Try the stick hip hinge until you perfect your form.
You’re more likely to feel pain if you’re either rounding or hyperextending your lower back while performing Romanian deadlifts.
Ensure the barbell is close to the body to avoid rounding or hyperextending.
Romanian deadlifts are an isolation exercise for the glutes and hamstrings, so don’t try to lift too much weight, as this will reduce the effectiveness of the exercise. Plus, you probably won’t feel it in your glutes and hamstrings any longer, as your lower back takes over.
You could be mistaking lower back pain for the ilium, which is the uppermost area of the glutes. This usually means that your glutes are weak, butt he pain will subside the stronger your glutes get from Romanian deadlifts.
Next, a subject that I have alluded to above, discover the perfect depth for Romanian deadlifts – how far down should you actually go?
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.