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The Most Effective Way to Level Up Your Deadlift

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In a recent post, I went over two exercise upgrades that I think most people can easily work into their program. I’ll recap those quickly, and then we’ll move on to my favorite.

Photo: BGI South

The Overhead Squat (OHS)

This an upgrade exercise for various reasons: in addition to getting all of the benefits of a squat, you also build mobility, balance, and work the oft-neglected postural muscles of your upper back. The only drawback is that you can’t use as much weight, so if you’re looking to build big legs and lots of strength, the OHS should be used in conjunction with more traditional squatting movements like the front and back squats.

The Push Press

On the other hand, the second upgrade is actually more suited to building strength and muscle than its little brother, the overhead press. Push pressing with a barbell allows you to use more weight due to the explosive nature of the exercise. You’ll also burn more fat and use more muscle overall. As pressing exercises go, the push press is one of the best.

 

Now that we’ve covered that, let’s move on to the main event.

It’s no secret that if you want to build a great physique—both in terms of a sculpted musculature and being lean enough to see it—you need to use a lot of the “big boy” exercises.  Squats and overhead presses, for sure, but also the upgrades we talked about.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you sometimes get bored with even the most beneficial of exercises.

Which goes even for the King of All Exercises: The Deadlift. (Yes, it is better than the squat.  Yes, I mean that. Check out my post on why I’m done with back squats for more insight.)

I love the deadlift more than most people, but I also see that while it’s great for building strength and overall muscle, there are ways to make it more effective for both fat loss and hamstring development. If the deadlift is my favorite “basic” exercise, then it should come as no surprise that my favorite exercise upgrade is one that address both of those issues.

Which brings us to…

The ROMAN deadlift.

(Yes, I named it after myself. Sort of. If you read Engineering the Alpha, you’ve seen this called the Alpha Deadlift.)

Falling under a category of movements known as “compound-isolation” movements, the Roman Deadlift is a hybrid of a traditional deadlift and a Romanian deadlift.

The theory is this: you are stronger eccentrically (lowering the weight) than you are concentrically (lifting the weight). You’re also much stronger in the standard deadlift than the Romanian dead. Therefore, we can to work more effectively in both the eccentric and concentric phases by performing the lifting portion as a deadlift and the lowering portion as a Romanian deadlift.

This leads to greater hamstring development and greater fat loss. 

(Oh, and if you’re wondering if it’s better for your booty…well, I’m told my butt is pretty fantastic. Sometimes even by girls!)

While it’s not easy, the Roman deadlift is absolutely one of the best exercise upgrades for overall lower body development and fat loss. Plus, I named it after myself (sort of), so the more people doing it, the more awesome I feel.

Give this one a shot and let me know your thoughts!

About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

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  • Ben

    Very clever variation and combination of the RDL and SLDL!

  • Steve Lewis

    Cracked some Romanian Deadlifts last week……………can't wait to try your Roman variety tomorrow! Unsurprisingly it'll probably be raining again in sun-drenched England so I won't be able to get outside!

    Thanks

  • meg

    got to agree with you man, deads are the bomb.

    damn, just did romanians earlier will try the romaniello version next week :D

  • Hey Meghan – CONGRATS! You've won a t-shirt =)

    I put everyone in a random number generator and you have been selected.

    I'll email you as well, but congrats again!

  • Truer words are rarely spoken =) You read my mind.

  • James

    Whenever you mention Guest Post and Deadlift in the same sentence, you know it's gotta be Cressey, Roman. There's none better.

  • Dana

    Sure looks easy coming down

  • Roan

    Yeah I'm just posting for a chance for that t-shirt and we all know it.

    Still; I'm gonna use those Roman deadlifts for sure. I LOVE it to feel all your muscle contract when you're lifting something really heavy. :D

  • Robert

    Thanks for the new exercise. I am loving Final Phase Dat Loss so far and look forward to adding this to my program.

  • Nora

    Hey Roman,

    Thats really great stuff, definitely gonna give it a shot! But I actually had a question about FPFL 2.0, I just bought it and was looking through the exercises and got confused, In lactic acid workout #5 Set A and set B You did not specify how many time to repeat the circuit. Same thing for lactic acid workout #1 set A and set B. So if you could just let me know that would be awesome! Also would I be needing a lot of equipment to do this? and I really cant afford the prograde stuff so would that stall my results? or should I not start FPFL until I CAN get the prograde stuff? and while we are on the program are we allowed to do other workouts along with the ones in FPFL?

    Thanks a lot Roman, your techniques are great!

    Nora~

  • Sounds *rough* – let's give it a go. Maybe even with a video!

  • Thanks for the feedback, Jorma! Relaxed is what I aim for = )

  • I will do a series…BUT Eric Cressey did a whole article series at T-Nation.

    Check out part 1 here:

    http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/mastering_the_deadlift_part_i

  • I'll cover it in a future post for sure!

  • aw, c'mon maaaaan! Haha thanks for that.

  • Thanks, Reka! I appreciate that, truly!

  • Correct – if there is one exercise I could do, it's the deadlift. For. Real.

  • I appreciate that! I think the video is okay – again, for YouTube I keep it pretty basic and nearly everything is filmed on my iPhone. Just off the cuff stuff.

  • Sweet talker.

  • They are not included in the programming, but you can put them anywhere you see either deadlifts, RDLs, or SLDLs.

    Pumped to see your results!

  • Anywhere you'd put deadlifts.

    Great circuit…

    Roman deadlifts

    OHS

    Push Press

    Pull Ups

    3 sets of 8.

    Bam. Instant awesome!

  • Ha! I've ever gone above 50's, but I'll see what I can do!

  • lol, point taken. In my defense, this was during a series of shooting something like 60 videos, so I was probably exhausted and just trying to keep my energy up.

    Or I had to pee.

    But for my youtube vids, I keep it really casual, whereas I'm a bit more structured for my tv stuff. But I'll keep it in mind.

    Thanks for the feedback =)

  • For working hamstrings, I'd replace with lying hip raises. check my youtube channel!

  • Sure thing – perhaps I'll bring a guest coach on and do a video

  • You can do it with dumbbells, or even KBs. For this one, I like a barbell, though.

  • And with regards to all the comments on safety – PEOPLE you should NOT be training yourself off the internet if you have medical issues or relatively no experience in the gym. Best you seek out an experienced coach or exercise physiologist to help with your program.

    Roman isn't responsible for putting exercises up here and discussing all of the technique flaws – the video would go all day! He's just showing you different things you can add to your program.

    It's up to you to seek out one-on-one professional help on how to deadlift properly/safely!!!

  • I think that would be a great exercise for higher reps and mid-range weight. I like to see people trying out new combinations of compound lifts.

    Not sure it would be appropriate with big weights for the eccentric phase??? Will have to give it a try.

    I've always found the lowering of a 'heavy' deadlift is harder than the lifting part.

    Thanks for sharing, Roman. ;-)

  • Jen

    can this type of lift use something other than a barbell? I don't have easy access to that but have hand weights.

  • craig oconnell

    Thats a sick idea and makes sense! Are they included in FPFL? Im on the last week of LHM reloaded bro then going right into FPFL cant wait!

  • I like the exercise. Will have to work it in.

  • Adrianne

    I love the deadlift, and this tweek looks like a great addition to my workout. I'll try it tomorrow!

  • Jefe

    interesting idea. I'll try it today. Roman, how could I incorporate this exercise as part of the density or lactic acid workouts? Would you even suggest doing that? Thanks.

  • Jorma

    I worked this into this morning's set. Definitely going to keep challenging myself with this best-of-both-worlds upgrade.

    I'm not giving up my regular DL sets but this new one goes onto my “must do” exercises roster.

    Thanks for the great tip.

  • Tom Kisner

    Thanks for posting great content on a regular basis. Much appreciated!

    -Tom

  • Paul McCloskey

    Excellent info, as usual. Tried the 'roman' deadlift last night and I like it. Feels better on the back, too. I'm not straining so hard to keep the back straight.

  • Bjorn Rosinger

    Nice way to do it :)

    I only use this for and it rocks.

    But you already know, that I know, that you are a good trainer so I don’t go on with this

    But lets come back to something more interesting, I would love to see some explosive rotation movements from you, dedicated to the midsection (e.g. for a better golf-swing, or baseball-swing)

    Maybe not your specialism but i would love to pick your point of few ;)

    Wishes from Germany

    -Björn

    PS: my T-shirt size is medium: P jk

  • Bjorn Rosinger

    Nice way to do it :)

    I only use this for and it rocks.

    But you already know, that I know, that you are a good trainer so I don’t go on with this

    But lets come back to something more interesting, I would love to see some explosive rotation movements from you, dedicated to the midsection (e.g. for a better golf-swing, or baseball-swing)

    Maybe not your specialism but i would love to pick your point of few ;)

    Wishes from Germany

    -Björn

    PS: my T-shirt size is medium: P jk

  • Frank A

    Hey John,

    Your hair grew back really fast!!!

    SInce I don't have a barbell and don't go to the gym, how would I do this with PowerStack dumbbells? The DBs in front or at the sides?

    Thanks

  • jussa

    This exercise upgrade series are really great addition to your site, never thought of doing a deadlift this way, thanks.

    As for the body language, I think it goes nicely and naturaly with John's style of writing and speaking which I like a lot by the way. I guess if you ever write anything about weather or fertilizers I will gladly ready it too, even though I'm not really into neither.

  • Kyle

    Awesome idea John, I love learning new exercises, or new ways to do old exercises. Keep up the good work!

  • Lisa Lepla

    Hey Roman. This exercise sounds great. Can't wait to incorporate it into my routine.

  • Monique

    I have lost 25 lbs and have plateau'd. I really want to lose another 15-20 lbs and tone up. I've been following your blog and have downloaded your FPfl program. I'm overwhelmed with all the excercises and don't know how to get started. For a complete amateur am I in over my head thinking I can do this? Especially at home? I'm afaid of giving up before even starting. Any words of advice would be really appreciated. Thanks!

  • Aimee

    Ditto on the fusion-confusion.

    Video is gr8, whereas the critic is SNOT! ;;)

  • ANTHONY EDOSOMWAN

    When I heard upgrade, i rushed over thinking the great Roman has devised a way for his adherents to put on muscle without lifting a thing. Maybe just thinking about it to slap on muscle!!! (C'mon Roman that's got toi be your next project!!!). But still the Roman deadlift sounds cute (i mean the name). Will give it a try and see how it goes

  • Lynn

    This looks great and like something I will definitely add to my new program. Do you think this will be just as effective when using kettlebells as compared to the bar? I do no have a bar and am working with bodyweight exercises and kettlebells to lose a great deal of fat. Thanks.

  • Brian

    Fuck.. Defo gona give that a go… I read something about a t-shirt??? Size M please :P

  • Natalie

    Roman thanks for the lovely articles always great to learn something new. one thing tho u always make me laugh and thats what keeps me hooked :)

    u inspire me. babyfat is going away slowly but surely.

  • Andy Liew

    Great modication to the deadlift. Now the deadlift has gotten better!

  • Murray

    I must have typed some thing out of place? Anyway thanks for the tip great way to do heavy on the hamstrings…

  • Murray

    Yes cool man, Ihave just been doing the roman deadlift as part of my leg routine but guess what I will now do the deadlift concentric phase and the roman on essentric…Thanks Man! you Roman man….

  • Louis

    Nice stuff Roman, keep it coming.

    But i'm sorry to tell you that Spartan Deadlift is a way more badass name than Roman Deadlift.

    And every serious lifter knows that badassness is very important for results.

  • Louis

    Nice stuff Roman.

    But i'm sorry Spartan Deadlift is a way more badass name than Roman Deadlift. :/

  • Alan

    Nearly at 80! Love these little vids.

  • Oliver Davie

    Great stuff Roman, deadlifts rock…

  • Ylwa

    Nice! As everyone else on this post I love deadlifts. Squats are over-rated in comparison. And still being on the ice cream-quest (even more so now since I'll be competing) this looks lovely.

    I don't know about your clients, but many of mine struggle ALOT with Romanian deadlifts the first time I introduce it, and finding their hamstrings.

    This looks like a good way to introduce it, since I find that the lowering phase is often the hardest part for them and at least personally I'm alot more aware of my back form with a heavier weight.

  • Ylwa

    Nice! As everyone else on this post I love deadlifts. Squats are over-rated in comparison. And still being on the ice cream-quest (even more so now since I'll be competing) this looks lovely.

    I don't know about your clients, but many of mine struggle ALOT with Romanian deadlifts the first time I introduce it, and finding their hamstrings.

    This looks like a good way to introduce it, since I find that the lowering phase is often the hardest part for them and at least personally I'm alot more aware of my back form with a heavier weight.

  • Vic

    I too will be very interested in doing a modified exercise or form to protect lower back

  • Craig Abrahamson

    wrd :)

  • Michelle

    This exercise is perfect for me as a woman to make my butt look firmer and tighter overall, as well as getting my legs in shape for my upcoming bikini swimsuit contest.

  • Nicole

    I never knew about deadlifts before reading your blog. Keep these good posts coming!

  • Rosalind

    Looks like a great exercise – gotta try it & hope to get a cute butt too! I really want a T-shirt too, please :)

  • Mageratt

    Can't wait to give this a try at the gym tonight!

  • Malcolm

    I always did Romanian Deadlifts after deadlifts on my lower body day because I just felt that the deadlift did not hit my hams and glutes enough. I will never had thought of combining the 2 together. Now, it not only saves my time in the gym but also gives my legs the most bang for the buck.

  • Max

    will definately try on my next workout.

    For people with bad back i would suggest trying a Sumo Style Deadlift. You can also try squats the same way, even with the bar the same way as for deadlift. It's also a fun way to mix up the deadlift routine.

  • Andy

    Just when everyone thought the deadlift cannot be modified any further into a more intense,fat burning exercise. You killed it, Roman.

  • Derrick

    Oh boy, I have weak hamstrings, and this exercise came in nice for me. Got to go at it in the gym today!

  • Max

    Thanks for the idea John , Will definately try it on my next workout.

    As Rachel asked for those with a bad back i would suggest trying trying a Sumo Style Deadlift.

  • KC

    Would you suggest super setting these – or doing them in isolation?

  • marty

    Great combo move can't wait to destroy my legs.

  • marty

    Great combo exercise can't wait to destroy my legs.

  • John

    Good info; I shall save this for later, as you've already dreamed up sufficient ways to torture me for the time being. (And thanks for that, BTW.)

  • JMJ

    I'm a big fan of deads. I like the spin you put on it.

  • Laura

    Deadlifts are my favorite. Love that you combined two great lifts into one…this will definitely help me make efficient use of my time!

  • Audrey

    Hi Roman,

    Seeing how you do the deadlift is almost the way that I have been preforming it for many months (except for the eccentrically phase) – 50 lbs and i am a 67 year old woman. Not too weak!

    Watch your langusge – from a grandma!

  • Shark

    Wow, it's painful, but awesome.

  • Wayne Sparinga

    Cool exercise John. Simple yet effective. Great combination!

  • Jonathan

    sweet. good deal bro.

  • Josue

    I really like the deadlift too, can't wait to try out this variation.

  • rocky

    I have this kinda love hate relationship with deadlifts. They are the king at killing you during a back workout but since I've started doing them my lower back never hurts anymore. Still dread deadlifts on a strength day. Awesome variation though. I'm gonna have to try this.

  • Tony Roe

    You know I dig this!

    However, I feel weaker lowering the weight. Think it's a flexibility issue?

    Keep up the all-around awesomeness.

    Brony

  • Michael

    Interesting exercise Roman, have to give this one a whirl!

  • Sharon

    I saw at least one comment up there about safety. I would like to see this addressed as well, especially for folks coming into exercise with medical issues. It wouldn't hurt to talk about what to watch out for with form etc to keep from hurting yourself by doing a move the wrong way. Other than that – keep up the good work – you rock :-)

  • Lily

    Looks awesome, I'll do it tonight! I want a T-shirt, size M please!! :-)

  • AKA

    Pretty cool. Will have to give it a go!

  • maureen

    another great tip. Thanks for keeping it fresh

  • Dan

    Roman Deadlifts are in for sure. You rock!

    I used deadlifts to strengthen my core and my back pain disappeared. Be sure to active your core with every lift – this protects your back.

  • James

    Bodybuilding takes the kind of serious dedication and commitment not everyone can deliver….your site helps the battle, lol.

    Really like the site.

  • Alfonso

    I still have a hard time with deadlifts! I don't know what I'm doing wrong. Am I supposed to feel it in the lower back?

  • adam

    I was very impressed with your piece on

    hormones and how to manipulate them via training.

    What's the hormonal effect of heavy (1-3 rep) lifting?

    What's your take on how diet plays a role in complementing the hormonal effects of training?

    Thanks.

    adam

  • Just getting back into working out, Deadlifts are becoming my favorite, so I tried this new technique, fast up…slow down..it really did a great job on my hamstrings. Go Roman!

  • Guillaume

    Good stuff can't wait to give this a try

    Awesome

  • Cassandra

    I can wait to give this a try!

  • ian

    sounds good. i'll give them a try. the overhead squat was good done a few today to see and will add them into workouts

  • Edmundo

    Hey Roman, Good stuff man, I really appreciate the technique. Listen I am a former lifter and long story short: I had some abdominal surgery a few years ago(Dang gall bladder!) and went back to the gym too soon and, yup, I got a hernia. I had to quit lifting heavy, which really bummed me out. It's been a few years now,so i'm wondering what kind of core excersizes could I do that won't make it worse, thanks Edmundo

  • Naomi

    Thank you so much for this. I got told at my gym that I was not to drop the barbell (“not good for the floor, the weights, nor my back” was the idiotic advice). I immediately hurt my back. I'm switching to these!

  • Shawn

    Looks great! Can we insert these into FPFL workouts where one or the other is called for?

    Also, can you suggest exercises to build the upper body strength and more importanly flexibility to start to do heavier OHS?

  • Mark

    Seems like such a simple tweak with such huge benefits!!!

    Thanks for the insight!

  • Adam

    Awesome Roman. Just getting back into deadlifts after 6 months of body weight training.

  • Rob

    Always a fan of using OHS as part of a circuit. I'm a tall dude, so deadlifts have always been a favorite of mine. I'll have to give this one a go.

  • GymPixie

    These are great exercises! My trainer has me doing a superset….

    10 Roman Deadlifts

    10 OH Squats

    10 Suitcase Squats

    **Repeat for 4-6 Rounds**

    Try this and listen for those muscles screaming – beats a regular weight workout anyday!

  • Jarrod

    Looks like some a.m. fun tomorrow. Mix these in with some plyometrics and other body weight exercises and lower body should be sore for days! Thanks for the variation.

  • Aaron

    awesome tip, will def throw this into the FPFL 2.0 workouts when i feel i have some extra energy in final sets

  • Jorma

    That's one slick move. DL is one of my best moves but this is going to be a great variation. I never liked the lower weight potential on the Romanian, so the “Roman” might become a new favorite. I can't wait to give it a shot, may glutes and hams never get hit hard enough anyway.

    Only bummer is I've got to wait 5 hours until I get to the gym.

    Hey and some previous commenter dissed your body language. I rather think it keeps your videos “down to earth” and real. Not some stiff stuck up “expert” but a real guy with real world experience to share. I really like your style of writing and speaking and I think the body language is perfectly fitting to it.

  • Laura

    Thanks Roman I will definitely add this to my routine. Awesome!!!!

  • Vicki

    Good stuff…keep it coming!

  • Surprised I hadn't really come across those type of deadlines yet. Seem like a great addition to lower body workouts. Thanks again Roman.

  • There was this one time (at bandcamp?), several years ago, I did one deadlift (with admittedly crappy form) and now I have a mess of titanium rods in my back from a spinal fusion. Naturally, I'm a little squirrelly about deadlifts. Can you touch on form and modifications to protect lower back?

  • That's a real nice variation that I have never thought of before. I'll have to try that out on my next lower body day.

    I am also with you on the: deadlifts are better than squats. I'd like to hear your reasoning for it though.

  • Niiice! Wish i'd've thought of that.

    I, too, am cursing u this week as I began FPFL 2.0 yesterday – LOVIN IT!

    And your video's fine- screw the haters, they don't HAVE to watch!

  • Meghan

    Thanks for all the motivating suggestions!!

  • Vanessa

    Definitely doing this tonight. Thanks Roman!

  • Alicia

    Push Presses and Deadlifts are probably in my top 3 fav exercises, along with pullups. Can't wait to try the deadlift variation, I've always loved the concentric of the regular dead and eccentric of the stiff-legged so this is definitely for me! As always, thanks Roman!

  • vicky

    nice move! anything to get a spectacular butt & hammies has got to be a go-to excercise!

  • Form-Corrector

    Hey Roman, keep the bar closer to your shins when you deadlift! :)

  • Stephen McCaldin

    Awesome, going to try and work that it with my workout this week! :-)

  • Reka

    Wow… this is a very creative and professional mixture! Most of the upgraded exercises I've seen so far are such that I used them myself without thinking that they had any special cool sounding names, but this is one I could have never found out by myself! Work of a true pro!!!

  • Danavir

    Good stuff! That's actually how I first performed deadlifts before I actually knew that its a combo lol

  • Gav

    Great exercise, any exercise that adds variety and brings something new to the table is a winner. To many people are stuck inthe same old routine week after week. Good job!!!

  • Glenn

    If you could only ever do one exercise I think the deadlift would have to be it. Awesome variation, my hammies are hurting just thinking about it.

  • Allison

    I will definitely try it and, unlike at least one previous commentor, I thought your video was fine.

  • Deena

    Between version 2.0 of FPFL and this little gem…I hate n love u all at the same time, Roman!!! Thanx for keeping me motivated and for inspiring me to now drop f bombs during my workouts – I'm flipping u off and cursing u on a daily basis, but in the most appreciative way. :)

  • John Walsh

    Cool!

  • Claus

    Interesting, what I would like to know is what kind of other exercises you would combine that with? Would you do it on a day of just training lower body, or would you mix it up on other days too?

    Keep the good posts coming

  • Jim

    I have the same question as Tyler, ie good substitute exercises for folks with bad backs.

  • Khaled

    Thanks for sharing for the info bro.. Keep up the good work!

  • Tom

    Interesting variation on the DL, I am looking forward to giving it a try.

    I got a good laugh from the TV new video, I understand the limitations of live TV but OHS with dumbells! Pretty tough to lock the shoulders in place, lets see you demo that with some big dumbells. lol

  • Raj

    Cool, this is a great exercize!!

  • KC

    Roman, awesome content my friend. I like overhead squats and love push presses so I'll have to give Roman Deadlifts a shot.

    You're a great speaker but your body language is crazy. You spend half the video rocking side to side like the Rainman and the other half facing partway away from the camera.

    You don't have to stare like we're fresh meat in prison but calm your body down and relax. You're a good looking guy who knows his shit, why so nervous?

  • Rachel

    So Roman… what would be your go-to substitution if someone has a bad back and has been advised not to do deadlifts?

    -R

    PS – pick me! pick me! I wanna t-shirt!

  • Tyler Carter

    This is my favorite way to do deadlifts.

    Another post about deadlifts would be great!