When it comes to strengthening the posterior chain and improving overall lower body strength, two popular exercises often enter the spotlight: Good Mornings and Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs). But, which exercise is best for your fitness goals?
In this article, we'll take a look at both exercises, directly compare Romanian Deadlifts vs. Good Mornings and even leave you with some tips on getting the most out of both lifts. Let's get started!
What is a Romanian Deadlift?
Before diving into the differences, it's essential to know what each exercise entails. The Romanian Deadlift, often referred to as RDL is a compound back exercise that primarily targets the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. It's mainly aback exercise performed with a barbell or dumbbell, where you hinge at the hips while maintaining a slight knee bend. The key to RDLs is the controlled eccentric (lowering) phase, keeping the bar close to the body.
What are Good Mornings?
Good Mornings is another lower body exercise that focuses on the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Unlike RDLs, Good Mornings are performed with a barbell placed on your upper back, similar to where you'd position a squat bar. The movement involves bending forward at the hips while keeping your back straight, creating a stretch in the hamstrings.
The Main Differences Between Good Mornings & RDLs
Good Mornings and Romanian Deadlifts exercise similar muscle groups, but there are some key differences, some of which are more common than others. Below, we take a look at the main differences between Good Mornings and RDLs.
Related: Here are some other exercises we’ve compared with deadlifts and its variations:
- Stiff-Leg Deadlift vs. Romanian Deadlifts
- Rack Pulls vs. Deadlifts
- Deadlifts vs. Power Cleans
- Deadlifts vs. Romanian Deadlifts
1. Set Up
For Romanian deadlifts, you begin by positioning the barbell in front of you, typically at mid-thigh height. Your feet are set hip-width apart, with your toes pointing forward, and your shins are close to the bar. To grasp the bar, you bend at the hips and knees, maintaining a slightly bent knee position, and use an overhand or mixed grip with your palms facing you or in opposite directions. Your back remains straight with core engagement throughout this setup.
In contrast, good mornings involve a different setup. The barbell is placed behind you, often at shoulder height on a squat rack, or on the ground. Your stance is shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing forward, and your shins are positioned away from the bar. To grasp the barbell, you bend at the hips and knees to reach back, using an overhand or cross grip with your palms facing each other in the case of a cross grip. The barbell rests on your upper back, specifically on your traps and rear shoulders, with your back held straight and your core engaged during this setup.
2. Range of Motion
The range of motion in multi-joint compound exercises such as the good morning and Romanian deadlift is primarily influenced by an individual's unique bodily proportions and mobility. However, the distribution of weight on the barbell can also be a contributing factor. For those not experienced in maintaining spinal neutrality, the good morning often offers a slightly greater range of motion, thanks to its upper back loading. In contrast, the Romanian deadlift can be more challenging to execute with an extended range due to the increased difficulty in keeping the back straight.
Moreover, the setup of the Romanian deadlift, with the barbell positioned relatively distant from and in front of the lifter's torso, demands enhanced mobility and strict adherence to proper form. It's important to note that this experience can differ among individuals, and, conversely, lifters with shorter torsos might find the opposite to be true. Ultimately, the range of motion in these exercises is a nuanced interplay of individual factors, and choosing the right exercise depends on various considerations, including one's own body mechanics and training goals.
3. Bar Placement
In the Romanian Deadlift, the barbell is in front of your body held with straight arms close to your body. For Good Mornings, the bar is placed on your back in a low bar position. Since they both affect the spine in different ways, figure out which exercise you want to prioritize more for proper load management.
4. Muscles Targeted
Both good mornings and Romanian deadlifts engage several key muscle groups, including the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, erector spinae, and core, as they drive movements involving the hips and knees. However, the Romanian deadlift encompasses a broader array of muscles due to its unique stance, some of which aren't as actively involved in a good morning repetition. When performing Romanian deadlifts, the lifter's grip on the barbell also leads to moderate training of muscles such as the forearms, trapezius, and latissimus dorsi. This added muscle recruitment can pose challenges in terms of programming but can also be advantageous for athletes seeking a more comprehensive functional training experience.
Aside from the muscle groups they work, these two exercises diverge in terms of muscle recruitment intensity. Good mornings primarily emphasize the erector spinae and other back muscles, focusing on the posterior chain. In contrast, Romanian deadlifts place a greater emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes, making them a preferred choice for those looking to target these muscle groups more intensely during their training regimen. These distinctions in muscle engagement allow individuals to tailor their workouts to meet specific training goals and muscle development priorities.
The good morning exercise typically places far less demand on grip strength, which is often not a limiting factor when it comes to the weight lifted or the number of repetitions performed. In contrast, grip strength can be a significant limiting factor for the Romanian deadlift (RDL).
When it comes to grip options for the good morning, there are two main choices: the thumb-under grip and the overhand grip. These options provide versatility and accommodate a range of preferences. On the other hand, the RDL presents more demanding grip choices. Lifters usually opt for the double overhand grip, a mixed grip (one palm facing you, one facing away), or even use lifting straps to help maintain a secure hold on the barbell due to the increased challenge posed by the exercise.
Good Mornings can be used to improve your squat and deadlift thanks to its low bar position. RDLs are better suited for conventional deadlifts since the RDL is a variation of the exercise and focuses more on your grip, hamstring and glutes, and lat engagement.
How to Do Good Mornings
- Stand with feet hip-width apart inside the rack.
- Place a barbell on your upper back, resting on your trapezius muscles, or opt for no weights. It should feel like a low bar back squat. Using your upper back muscles, create a platform so that your barbell has secure positioning.
- Bend at your hips, pushing your buttocks back, keeping a slight knee bend. Make sure to keep your upper back and core engaged. While your hips move backward, keep your knees bent but don’t travel forward.
- Lower your torso until it's nearly parallel to the ground. Go as far as you can, but keep your chest neutral.
- Pause briefly, feeling the stretch in the hamstrings and lower back.
- Reverse the movement by pushing your hips forward and standing up.
- Perform 8-12 reps in a controlled manner, focusing on form and safety.
Because you’re handling heavy loads under a wide range of motion, your technique is critical if you don’t want to risk injury. Some tips we recommend are to keep your weight in your heels and imagine you’re pushing a door closed with your butt. Both of these will help you keep your knees bent without traveling too far forward.
Pros of the Good Morning Exercise
Teaches You to Hip Hinge
The Good Morning helps individuals learn and practice the hip hinge movement. Since the bar is on the back, it encourages a stable and upright back position, allowing them to focus on mastering the hip hinge without the complexity of a bar in front.
Built Hip and Lower Back Strength
This exercise is an effective way to build strength and muscle in the muscles along the posterior chain, including the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes. Developing these muscles can significantly enhance performance in other lifting exercises while also improving overall athletic performance.
Minimal Grip Strength Needed,
Unlike exercises that involve holding the bar, such as deadlifts, the Good Morning does not place a significant demand on grip strength. This means you can perform a higher number of repetitions or use heavier weights without worrying about grip strength limitations.
Enhances Posture & Core Stability
Good Mornings enhances posture since you focus on keeping your spine in a neutral position during the lift. Additionally, the exercise strengthens the erector spinae muscles and helps you become more aware of your body positioning, countering poor posture habits.
The exercise also improves since you need to create intra-abdominal pressure when doing the exercise. This translates to enhanced balance, reduced injury risk around your obliques, and better overall stability and posture in everyday activities.
Great Alternative for Injuries & Rehab
Good Mornings can be a valuable alternative exercise for individuals with specific physical limitations. For instance, it can substitute for exercises like the Romanian deadlift when someone has shoulder or grip issues. Moreover, it can be adapted to a seated position for those unable to stand, making it versatile and accessible.
Cons of the Good Morning Exercise
Higher Risk of Injury
Good Mornings can put substantial stress on the lower back and hamstrings, which may lead to injury if performed with improper form or excessive weight. It's crucial to maintain a flat back and avoid rounding to mitigate this risk.
Directly Loads the Spine
Good Mornings place a direct load on the spine. This aspect is a crucial factor to consider when planning a workout regimen because excessive loading can place significant pressure on your vertebral discs and lead to nerve compression or even spinal misalignment.
Depending on an individual's goals and physical condition, it might not always be advisable to incorporate high-volume training that significantly loads the spine during a specific training block. Consult with your trainer or take a deep look at your goals to see if this is something you want to do.
Mistakes to Avoid
Good Mornings can provide a lot of benefits for your body but only if the exercise is done correctly. Here are some mistakes to avoid when doing the exercise.
Improper Knee Positioning
Two common mistakes are keeping your knees locked or too bent. Whenever your knees are locked, you place extra stress throughout the movement while placing less emphasis on your hamstrings. On the other hand, bending your knees too much engages your quads more and you’ll find yourself doing a squat more than a Good Morning.
High Bar Position
The purpose of placing the bar low on your back is so that your upper back can act as a shelf for the barbell. If you place the bar too high, the downward angle could cause the bar to roll up your spine.
How to Do Romanian Deadlifts
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell in front of your thighs with an overhand grip.
- Maintain a straight back, chest up, and engage your core.
- Begin by pushing your hips back, bending at the waist while keeping a slight knee bend.
- Lower the weights down along your legs, keeping them close to your body for a good hamstring stretch.
- Continue until your upper body is parallel to the ground, feeling the stretch in your hamstrings.
- Hold this position briefly to emphasize the hamstring stretch.
- To return to the starting position, push your hips forward and straighten your body.
- Perform 8-12 reps with controlled movements, focusing on proper form andsafety.
Pros of RDLs
Improve Other Exercises
The Romanian Deadlift is a great accessory exercise for the conventional deadlift. Furthermore, since the exercise focuses on your core, glutes, and hamstrings, RDLs can also improve squat performance.
Knee Injury Rehab
Since RDLs focus on building your knees and hamstrings, it’s great for preventing lower body injuries. On top of this, it’s also an effective exercise for rehabbing your knee post-injury.
By strengthening the lower back and core, RDLs help improve posture by promoting better spinal alignment. This can alleviate back pain associated with poor posture.
Increased Hip Mobility
Did you know that Romanian Deadlifts target your hips as well? During an RDL, as you hinge at your hips to lower the weight, your hip joints go through a significant range of motion. This movement helps increase the flexibility and mobility of your hip joints. Improved hip mobility means that your hips can move more freely and comfortably, which is beneficial for various daily activities and sports. It can help you bend, squat, and reach with greater ease, reducing the risk of strain or discomfort. Additionally, enhanced hip mobility contributes to better overall movement quality, making it easier for your body to perform a wide range of motions and improving your functional fitness which we’ll get into below.
Functional Fitness & Strength
When you do RDLs, you're mimicking a common real-life action: bending at your hips to pick something up from the ground. By practicing this movement with weights, you develop the functional strength needed for these daily activities. This means that when you need to lift a heavy box, pick up your child, or even tie your shoelaces, your body is better prepared to handle these tasks with ease and reduce the risk of strain or injury. RDLs help your muscles and joints work together more effectively in these everyday movements, making your daily life more manageable and less physically demanding. In essence, RDLs make your body stronger and more capable in practical, real-world scenarios.
Cons of RDLs
Difficult Exercise to Master
The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) can be tricky for newcomers as it demands maintaining a straight back and proper hip hinging while keeping the barbell close to the body. Unlike some exercises, it doesn't provide back support as a guide for a neutral spine. Because of these technical requirements, it might not be the best starting point for beginners. It's often more suitable to begin with simpler exercises to establish good form and strength before progressing to the RDL.
Overemphasis on Hamstrings
One potential drawback of the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is that it primarily targets the hamstrings, and this can be a con for some individuals. When an exercise predominantly focuses on one muscle group, like the hamstrings in the case of RDLs, it might not align with everyone's fitness goals. Some individuals may be looking for a more balanced development of their leg muscles, including the quadriceps on the front of the thighs. An overemphasis on the hamstrings can create an imbalance in leg strength, potentially leading to unequal muscle development and a greater risk of injury.
Risk of Lower Back Strains
A high risk of lower back strains arises if you don't execute the Romanian Deadlift with proper form. When done incorrectly, RDLs can put excessive strain on your lower back. The critical element here is maintaining a neutral spine throughout the movement, avoiding any rounding or excessive arching. If your form is not precise, the lower back may bear the brunt of the load, increasing the risk of discomfort, pain, or injury. Therefore, it's crucial to pay close attention to your technique, start with manageable weights, and gradually progress to reduce the risk of lower back strain when performing RDLs.
RDLs work on your grip strength but due to how demanding the exercise can be, it can be hard to hold onto the barbell for an extended number of reps. To counter this, athletes will usedeadlifting straps.
Pro Tip:Learnhow to use lifting straps for heavy load exercises, but don’t depend on them. Establish the fundamentals first before using straps to upgrade your workout.
Long Recovery Times
When you incorporate RDLs into your workout routine, especially if you're new to the exercise or using heavier weights, they can cause significant muscle soreness in the hamstrings and lower back. This soreness might require more time to recover before you can engage in other lower-body exercises or resume your regular activities. It's important to gradually introduce RDLs into your routine and allow your muscles time to adapt to the exercise to minimize the duration of post-workout soreness and recovery time.
Mistakes to Avoid
Romanian Deadlifts are physically demanding on the body. If done incorrectly, the exercise can lead to longer recovery times and consistent injuries around your back and lower body. To prevent this, avoid these mistakes when doing RDLs.
Rounding Your Back
When you round your back, it means your spine isn't in a neutral, straight position. Instead, it curves, particularly in the lower back. This can be problematic because it places excessive stress on the spinal discs, muscles, and ligaments, potentially leading to lower back pain or injury. To avoid this mistake, focus on maintaining a flat, neutral back throughout the RDL movement. Imagine your spine as a straight line from your head to your tailbone. This helps distribute the load evenly and keeps your lower back safe, allowing you to target your hamstrings and glutes effectively without risking back strain.
Bending Your Knees Too Much
Bending your knees excessively during Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs) is a common mistake that can impact the effectiveness of the exercise. In RDLs, the primary focus is on working the hamstrings, lower back, and glutes, and excessive knee bending can turn the exercise into a squat-like movement, shifting the emphasis away from the intended muscle groups. Proper RDL form involves maintaining a slight bend in the knees to allow the hips to hinge backward while keeping the legs relatively straight.
For more information on the differences between squats and deadlifts, take a look at our in-depth analysis ofsquats vs. deadlifts.
Keeping Your Knee Locked
In RDLs, the goal is to engage your hamstrings and lower back effectively. When your knees remain locked, the exercise loses its intended hip-hinging movement, which is crucial for targeting these muscles. Proper RDL form includes maintaining a slight, but not excessive, bend in your knees. This bend allows your hips to hinge backward, creating the necessary stretch in your hamstrings while keeping your back straight.
Pushing Bar Away From You
When the barbell drifts away from your body, it can lead to several issues. First, it makes the lift less efficient as the weight is not moving along the most direct path, requiring more effort to complete the lift. Second, it can increase the load on your lower back, leading to common lifting injuries like back strains or ligament sprains. To avoid this mistake, focus on keeping the barbell as close to your body as possible throughout the lift, maintaining a vertical path from start to finish.
So, Which Exercise Should You Do?
Both Good Mornings and Romanian Deadlifts are valuable exercises for strengthening the posterior chain. The choice between them depends on your fitness goals and most importantly, your body’s limitations.Figure out which exercise benefits you the most and focus on mastering the movement. Don’t be afraid to alsouse straps for deadlifts but only after you’ve mastered the fundamentals. Get after it and happy lifting!