By Jim Schmitz
U.S. Olympic Weightlifting Team Coach 1980, 1988 & 1992
Author of Olympic-style Weightlifting for Beginner & Intermediate Weightlifters Manual and DVD
RDL: Where It Came From, How to Do It
I get quite a kick out of all the mileage the RDL (Romanian deadlift) has gotten in the world of strength and conditioning. It seems I almost always come across the RDL exercise in every article written about training for power and sport in all the journals on the subject. The reason for my amusement is that the “discovery” of the RDL was in my gym, The Sports Palace, in San Francisco in 1990.
Olympic and world champion and world record holder Nicu Vlad, of Romania, and his coach Dragomir Cioroslan were conducting a clinic there. They were in the U.S. for the 1990 Goodwill Games that were being held in Seattle and Spokane, Washington. USA Weightlifting, for which I was president at the time, invited Nicu and Dragomir to conduct some clinics while they were here, and my gym was one of the locations. Part of the clinic was Nicu doing a workout where he cleaned and jerked around 220 kg to 230 kg, and then he proceeded to do this lift, a combination stiff-leg deadlift and regular deadlift, but actually neither. He did several sets, working up to 250 for triples.
Someone watching asked what the exercise was he was doing. Nicu just shrugged his shoulders and said it was to make his back strong for the clean. Dragomir also said the same; it was just a lift that Nicu had developed for his back and clean. Well, then everyone was really interested and asked Nicu to demonstrate it with lighter weights and describe how to do it. Someone taking notes asked what this lift was called. There was a long pause and Nicu and Dragomir didn’t have a name, so I said, “Let’s call it the Romanian deadlift or RDL for short,” and every one agreed and there you have the birth of the RDL. MILO publisher and editor-in-chief Randall Strossen was there taking photos.
Let me tell you how to correctly perform the RDL for those who may not be sure. You grab the bar with your clean grip, pull the bar to the tops of your thighs, but don’t complete the lift: knees are not locked out, chest is out, and back is flat. You then lower the bar to about two inches from the platform, keeping your back perfectly flat or arched and your knees slightly flexed, then you return to the almost erect position—but is very critical here not to fully lock the knees—then repeat. Two very important details are 1) your back stays flat or arched at all times, and 2) your knees stay slightly flexed at all times. This lift is almost all low back, glutes, and hamstrings. I recommend 3 to 5 reps with a weight 80% to 100% of your best clean. An interesting side note here is that Yoshinobu Miyake, Japan’s 1964 and 1968 Olympic champion, was at the clinic and he said he did the same exercise back in his prime, the 1960s.
For more information on Olympic-style weightlifting, weight training, lifter profiles, and competition reports, visit our Weightlifting Resource Pages.
Jim Schmitz’s gold-medal articles on weightlifting and weight training are regularly featured in MILO: A Journal for Serious Strength Athletes.
Take advantage of what Jim Schmitz, absolutely one of the best American coaches in the sport, can teach you in his Olympic-style Weightlifting for the Beginner & Intermediate Weightlifters Manual and DVD.