What is a RDL in CrossFit? What does RDL stand for?

The acronym RDL stands for Romanian Dead Lift. It’s an exercise that is commonly associated with a barbell primarily working the hamstrings, glutes, and hips. One important fact is that the term is actually a misnomer and incorrect by definition. Simply put, a deadlift begins each repetition with the weight on the ground also known as the dead position. Many people associate deadlifts with a hip hinge movement, however, squatting to lift the weight is also acceptable.



A more appropriate description of the RDL is to call it a hang lift. Although, to perform the technique correctly for the exercise in question a hip hinge motion is necessary. While lifting weights by squatting has its own benefits, you’re bending in 3 joints instead of 2 making it an easier move. Essentially, you’ll use your ankles, knees, and hips whereas hip hinging requires you to keep the ankles in a neutral position.

You’ll likely see many videos of trainers and individuals using a barbell when searching for an RDL workout. Since the weight of a barbell is evenly distributed by the plates on either side, your arms must remain perpendicular to the bar during the lift. By contrast, when using a single kettlebell the weight is directly underneath the handle making it possible to lift with the arms in a V shape (shoulders to kb).

Now, if you truly want to simulate the barbell RDL you could opt to use 2 kettlebells, one for each hand. There are other benefits to using a kettlebell as your weight of choice too. First, it’s important to understand what steps are taken to perform the RDL.


Moves of the Romanian Deadlift

This powerful exercise is simple to execute by doing the following:

  1. Lift weight from the dead position into full extension (standing straight)
  2. Lower weight to hang position by flexion at the hips and knees
  3. Lift weight back into full extension
  4. Steps 2 and 3 are repeated


The video at the top of this post demonstrates the proper movements with 1 and 2 kettlebells. Also included is an example of the suitcase deadlift showing just how versatile the kettlebell is as a fitness tool. You’ll also learn what the benefits of hanging the kettlebell are rather than lifting it from the ground (dead) after each rep.


Why Use a Kettlebell Instead of a Barbell?

When it comes to the Romanian Deadlift exercise, a barbell, kettlebell, or even a dumbbell will suffice. However, by using a kettlebell you’ll work the same exact muscles as you would with a barbell. There is no right or wrong answer but if you’re shopping for weights here are a few reasons to choose kettlebells.

SPACE: The size of a barbell will limit where you can store and use it. Typically ranging in length from 5 to 6 feet, you’ll need adequate space to work out. A kettlebell, on the other hand, has a small footprint making it easy to store in a closet. When it comes to using a kettlebell for the RDL, you only need space for the width of your body. Perfect for hallways or cramped spaces.

PORTABILITY: If you travel you’ll need a weight you can easily transport. A barbell just isn’t practical to take with you on trips or vacations. Dumbbells are portable but you’ll have to bring two if you want to do RDL’s. For most kettlebells (and all competition kettlebells), the handle is wide enough for two hands for the RDL exercise.

GRIP STRENGTH: The weight of a kettlebell is directly underneath the handle. This concentration of weight gives the feeling of being heavier than an equal weight barbell. Furthermore, Olympic weight bars usually range 25mm to 28mm in diameter whereas kettlebell handles are typically 33mm or 35mm. A thicker handle requires a stronger grip.


Kettlebell RDL Workout

When first learning the proper form and technique for the RDL, you first master the hip hinge movement, then add a light or medium-weight kettlebell is recommended. For the average man, a 12 or 16 kg bell should do just fine. If you’re a woman an 8, 10, or 12 kg would be a good choice. As you become comfortable with the movement and load you may gradually increase the weight as you see fit.

As tempting as it might be to start off with a heavy weight – don’t. Remember, the RDL is not a true deadlift. You won’t have the benefit of resting the kettlebell on the floor after each rep. Your body is still doing work to hold the kettlebell in the hanging position.

The following RDL workout is very simple but will allow you to practice all phases of the exercise and go at your own pace. If you haven’t already, watch the video at the top of this post for the correct technique with a single or two kettlebells. You may use either for this workout.


EMOM Format

EMOM is a style of working out that is usually associated with high-intensity interval training. In the RDL, the speed of the lift is completely decided by you and how comfortable you are. Once you get the hang of things (bad pun!) then you may move through the reps more quickly. Try this short 8-minute EMOM workout and repeat on a daily basis to really hone those skills:

  1. Squat deadlift (to get those kettlebells or kettlebell off the ground)
  2. Bent-over row
  3. Romanian Deadlift
  4. Hang clean

4 to 5 reps per minute, depending on the weight(s) used.


Strength Format

All performed nice and slow with heavy weight(s).

  1. 6 to 8 reps of the RDL
  2. 6 to 8 reps of the Squat Deadlift
  3. 6 to 8 reps of the Bent-Over Row

Rest for 1 to 3 minutes and repeat for 6 to 8 rounds, depending on the weight(s) used.


What Should you Call the RDL?

You can name this exercise any way you like, but at Cavemantraining they call it a 3HL, as the weight is lifted from the hang position with a hip hinge, hence, it’s a HANG LIFT or a 3HL for Hip Hinge Hang Lift. They reckon that if you’ve been teaching your athletes correctly that DEAD means the weight starts dead on the ground with each rep, it becomes a chore to always having to explain that the Romanian Dead Lift is an exception that was named incorrectly. You can also try and avoid the full name by just using the acronym in your programming, but at some stage, they will ask you “What does RDL stand for?”…

Final word. The hang lift is a great exercise to teach the dead lift to those who are still lacking flexibility but it’s also a great exercise to keep tension on the posterior chain muscles due to the weight not returning to dead on each rep.


Kettlebell Workouts, Mentoring, and Accountability

If you liked learning about the Romanian Deadlift then you’ll definitely appreciate the Caveman Inner Circle. It’s a private and exclusive online kettlebell workout group that features new workouts each week with detailed analysis. Learn how to safely and properly perform common kettlebell exercises and understand the reasoning behind their technique.

Members of the CIC have the option of posting videos of themselves to receive professional feedback and advice if they desire. There are already over 100 workouts available that cover a wide range of goals including strength, endurance, cardio, mobility, and more. This diverse community welcomes people of all ages and backgrounds who want to learn in a friendly and supportive environment.

See what some of the members have to say in the testimonial video below. It’s not just a group for “gym people” but anyone who wants to improve their health and physique with one of the most underrated fitness tools available, the kettlebell.



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