Skip to content

How to Do Barbell RDLs: Pro Tips, Form, & Muscles Worked

barbell rdls


You’re at the gym. You’re all psyched up for the deadlifts you planned to do today. 

Only thing is: When you get to the barbell station, you realize you just can’t. Your mind says yes, but your body’s saying NO, and it just can’t do another deadlift. Maybe this is because: 

- You’re just plain old sick of deadlifts 

- Your back is feeling a little sore or tired

- OR deadlifts are a bit too advanced for you at the moment

Whatever your reason for struggling with deadlifts, there’s no judgment. We’ve all been there. 

Sometimes you just hit a lull in your deadlift routine, and for those moments…there are barbell RDLs

What are barbell RDLs? 

Oh, just the perfect substitute for OR accessory to the deadlift. So, whether you just need some variety in your routine or you’re wrestling with a back injury…barbell RDLs are worth your time. 

Today, we’ll explore: 

- Barbell RDLs How To 

- Barbell RDLs vs. Deadlifts 

- Barbell RDLs Pro Tips 

- Barbell RDLs Form 

- Barbell RDLS Muscled Worked 

- Barbell RDLs Variations 

- Resources for Lower Back Pain 

Barbell RDLS How To 

So, let’s cover the basics. Barbell RDLs are similar to deadlifts, but you’ll notice a few key differences in the step-by-step instructions below. Here’s how to do RDLs with a barbell: 

rdls with barbell


1) First, set up a barbell with your desired amount of weight, and let the barbell chill out on the ground. 

2) Now, stand just behind the barbell, positioning your feet just under the barbell in a shoulder-width stance. 

3) Grab the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing you)–with your grip just slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. 

4) Now, come up in a standing position–letting the bar rest naturally on the front of your thighs with your arms straight. 

5) Hinge back into a regular deadlift stance–back flat and in neutral position, butt pushed back, hips hinged at the waist, and knees softly bent. 

6) As you do this, slowly lower the bar down your legs. Bring the bar as low as is comfortable for you. You should feel a deep hamstring stretch at the bottom–but your back should NOT start to round. 

7) Pause at the bottom. 

8) Then, squeeze your glutes as you lift the bar back up and return to a standing position. 

9) Repeat for the desired amount of reps. 

Barbell RDLs vs. Deadlifts 

rdls with barbell


Now that you know the basics of how to do RDLs with a barbell, you probably already noticed some similarities and differences when comparing the barbell RDL vs. deadlift. 

The differences are subtle, but to become a pro at RDLS with a barbell (or deadlifts), you’ll want to make sure you know! 


Barbell RDLs vs. Deadlift: Starting Position

The name of a deadlift says it all. When you start a deadlift, you’re lifting dead weight right from the ground. 

With a deadlift, you’re starting position is YOU squatting to pick up weight from the floor. 

Differently, barbell RDLs start at the top of the motion–similar to a squat or a bench press. 

So, with a barbell RDL, you’re in a full standing position–holding the bar and ready to lower. 

Because you start at the top with barbell RDLs, you also want to breathe at the top of the exercise–whereas in a deadlift, you breathe at the bottom of the exercise. 


Barbell RDLs vs. Deadlift: How to Use in a Workout 

RDLs with a barbell are perfect for: 

1) Building up to a deadlift as a beginner. 

2) Recovering from an injury. 

3) Using as an accessory or supplemental workout to deadlifts. 

Why so? 

- Typically, people cannot lift quite as much in barbell RDLs as in deadlifts due to the nature of the exercise. 

- RDLs without a bar allow for a lifter to learn the important skill of the hinge. More about that later. 

- Barbell RDLs allow you to use MORE volume with LESS getting beaten up (which can happen in a deadlift). You’ll still get hypertrophy–especially in your hamstrings–with less wear and tear on your body.  

- Barbell RDLs are ideal for people with lower back injuries because instead of testing HOW FAR DOWN your back can go right off the bat with a deadlift–you can start a barbell RDL in a natural standing position and slowly lower to a position that is comfortable for you. 

This ensures that your back is not being pushed into an uncomfortable position before it’s ready after a lower back injury. 


Barbell RDLs vs. Deadlift: Muscles Worked 

Many people ask: “What does barbell RDL work,” especially compared to the deadlift. We’ll get into specific muscles later on, but to compare: Both of these exercises work many similar muscles. 

The major difference is that deadlifts tend to activate quads a bit more as the lifter hoists the weight up from the ground. 

Since barbell RDLs don’t start on the ground, you’ll see less quad engagement throughout this exercise. 


Barbell RDLs: 7 Pro Tips 

barbell rdl form


Now that you know the basics: how to do RDLs with a barbell AND barbell RDLs vs. deadlifts, it’s time to become a pro. 

That’s why we put together this list of 7 pro tips–all to help you become the barbell RDL master you were meant to be. 

Barbell RDLs Pro Tip #1: Start Barbell-less 

You might be saying…but wait…this is the barbell RDL

But unless you’re a seasoned lifter and you know how to hinge with perfect form, adding weight to barbell RDLs could actually put your lower back in a sticky situation. 

Let’s avoid the injury and get form down before showing off how much weight you can lift. 

That’s why, if you’re a beginner, I recommend starting with bodyweight RDLs. 

Barbell RDLs Pro Tip #2: Perfect Your Hinge 

When you practice this exercise without a barbell, it puts you in the best position to learn the perfect hinge. 

Hinging back is used in TONS of other exercises, including the deadlift–and once you get this form down, you’ll be an unstoppable powerhouse. 

To hinge properly: 

1) Picture your hips reaching back to the wall behind you. 

2) And pushing your butt back as far as it will go. 

3) All the while, keep a flat (NOT ROUNDED) back. 

4) AND softly bend your knees. 

5) Continue going back until your torso is parallel to the floor. 

That, my friend, is a perfect hinge

Barbell RDLs Pro Tip #3: Ease Up to Higher Weight 

Once your form is perfect and you’ve tried RDLs without a barbell, you’re ready to start adding weight into the mix. 

I recommend keeping the weight lighter initially–with sets of 10-12 reps. 

Then, once you know you’re mastering that lighter weight, you can know you’re ready to load up some weight–with your reps now just hitting 6-8 as you max out. 

Barbell RDLs Pro Tip #4: Grip Width

Grab the bar too wide, and those lats won’t get engaged with the motion–so I recommend grabbing the bar just slightly wider than shoulder-width apart

Barbell RDLs Pro Tip #5: Bar Path 

Controlling how the bar travels down your legs is the key to great barbell RDLs! 

- First, you want to make sure you keep the bar directly over your mid-foot the whole time throughout the exercise. 

- On the way down, think about the bar moving up and down in a straight line. 

- As you lower the bar, keep it against your thighs until you get to your knees. 

- After your knees, hold the bar just slightly out from your shins–ideally about one inch. 

Bringing the barbell out too far will compromise the flat and neutral spine necessary for proper form during RDLs with a barbell–potentially causing lower back issues. 

This is why mastering the path of the barbell is so important–and it’s a great idea to practice this with lighter weight initially. 

Barbell RDLs Pro Tip #6: Speed of Motion

Lots of people like to rush the motion on the way down just to get it over with–but when you do this–you no longer optimize the muscle engagement, especially in your hamstrings. 

You can get explosive on the way up as you squeeze your glutes. 

But on the way down–take it niiice and slooow


Barbell RDLs Pro Tip #7: Range of Motion

How far should you go down in barbell RDLs? 

Great question–and there’s not one right answer. 

Each person’s body is different, so instead of telling you exactly HOW FAR to bring the bar down–let’s focus on what you should feel. 

Here are the two factors to note when deciding how far down to bring that bar: 

1) How much of a stretch you feel in your hamstrings: You want to feel a nice burn in your hamstrings. Nothing painful. Just a stretching feeling in the muscle. 

2) How flat your back is able to stay: If you push yourself to go too low in the exercise, and your back starts to round, you’re in trouble, my friend. You’ve now put your back in a bad situation just to go lower in the exercise, which is never worth it. 

Barbell RDLs: Form 

rdls with barbell


FORM IS EVERYTHING when it comes to RDLs with a barbell, so just knowing the basic steps doesn't always guarantee you that you’re maximizing muscle growth OR ensuring injury prevention. 

Now let’s cover what each part of your body should be doing during RDLs with a barbell. 

Barbell RDLs Form: Arms 

Keep your arms straight during the entire motion of barbell RDLs. If you bend your elbows, you could start to put some of that weight in your biceps rather than your hamstrings. 

Barbell RDLs Form: Chest  

Keep a proud and puffed-out chest during this motion to help your posture stay healthy and reduce risks of injuries. 

One other way to help this is to bring your shoulder blades back and down. 

Barbell RDLs Form: Back   

As we’ve mentioned before, avoid rounding your back during RDLS with a barbell at all costs! 

RDLs with a barbell require your back to be in a neutral spine. 

Bending or rounding your back to increase your range of motion will only cause your back a world of pain. 

Barbell RDLs Form: Abs 

Keep a tight core throughout the motion of barbell RDLs. 

Barbell RDLs Form: Glutes 

The main thing to focus on with your glutes during an RDL with a barbell is to squeeze to propel the motion as you raise the bar back up. 

Even if you don’t “feel” it in your glutes, trust the process. 

If you’re following these pro tips and proper form cues, your glutes will be working!  

Barbell RDLs Form: Knees   

If you straighten out or lock your knees, you might be trying to extend your hamstrings a bit further than they should go. 

Keep soft knees throughout the exercise–meaning that they are slightly bent. 

Barbell RDLs Form: Feet   

On the way down, you should hold the majority of the weight in your heels. 

One way to think about it is: Can I lift my toes off the ground during the motion? 

If so, you’re correctly distributing the weight to your heels and not your toes. 

What Does the Barbell RDL Work? 

When it comes to muscles worked during RDLs with a barbell, the main ones are: 

- Hamstrings 

- Glutes 

You can also expect to feel some work in your: 

- Core and obliques 

- Traps 

- Forearms 

- Erector Spinae

Barbell RDLs Variations

If you don’t have easy access to a barbell–or a barbell is just not your jam–no sweat. 

RDLs with dumbbells are a perfectly fine alternative to barbell RDLs.

Also, if you’re dealing with an especially severe back injury–but you still want to work your back–I recommend trying the B Stance RDL

This barbell RDL variation focuses the attention on just one side at a time–helping the exercise remain lighter and better for injuries. 

Check out our article on B Stance RDLs here: 

“B-Stance RDL: For Glutes, How To, Benefits, Muscles Worked”

Working Out With Lower Back Pain 

Speaking of lower back pain, if you’re suffering from lower back pain but STILL TRYING to stay fit–we’ve got some great resources for you! 

It’s our mission to help people like you STAY FIT while becoming the BOSS of your own back pain! 

Related Articles 

"Glute Focused RDLs: Full Tutorial"

“How to Perform Spine-Strengthening Stiff Leg Deadlifts With Zero Back Pain”

“Good Morning Exercise: How to, Mistakes, Alternatives”

Related Videos 

“How To Deadlift Without Hurting Your Back”

“How To Prime The Body For Deadlifting”

Lower Back Massage Device

Before working out with lower back pain, it’s always a good idea to massage those angry back muscles. 

For the perfect massage device designed to target your pissed-off lower back muscles, I recommend the QL Claw. 

It’s a one-of-a-kind back massage device designed to help your lower back. Because we believe if you fix the muscles, you can fix the pain! 

Ql Claw back massage device

Check out the QL Claw HERE. 

Barbell RDLs FAQs


What does barbell RDL work?

The barbell RDL primarily works your hamstrings and glutes

How to do an RDL correctly?

For good form during a barbell RDL, you’ll need to go back into a hinge as you lower the bar against your legs and then bring it back up. 

For more details on form, check out our how-to above! 

How is RDL different from deadlift?

RDLs start at the top of the motion–with the lifter standing up. 

Deadlifts begin from the floor–with the lifter squatting down. 

What is the difference between barbell RDL and dumbbell RDL?

Dumbbell RDLs are a good alternative exercise for barbell RDLs. 

With dumbbells, the tendency can be to hold them too far out from your body, so we recommend angling them out to 45-degrees and keeping your hands against your thighs. 

Is an RDL harder than a deadlift?

Both the RDL and the deadlift are great exercises!

RDLs work your hamstrings a bit more–while the deadlift works your quads a bit harder. 

Typically, people can lift more weight in a deadlift, which means this can lead to some more wear and tear on the body–making RDLs a perfect accessory exercise for the deadlift. 

Should you lift heavy for RDL?

I recommend starting lighter with weight when first trying out RDLs. This gives you a chance to focus on form. Then, you can gradually increase the weight. 






Leave a comment

Subscribe to our newsletter

Receive emails every few days with back pain relief tips, testimonials, and resources