There are no shortages of deadlift variations in the gym. Two of the most common deadlift variations are the traditional deadlift and Romanian deadlift.
So what are the key differences between the deadlift vs. Romanian deadlift? The Romanian deadlift differs from the deadlift in that it starts from a standing position and engages more of the glutes and hamstrings. The deadlift starts from the bottom position and engages more of the quads and mid-back. You can lift more weight with a deadlift vs Romanian deadlift.
I use several variations of the deadlift with my athletes to target different areas within the range of motion. In this article, I’ll talk about the key differences between these two styles, the benefits of each, and how to perform them correctly to maximize your strength gains.
What’s The Difference Between a Deadlift And Romanian Deadlift
First, let’s get the nomenclature correct.
The “deadlift” is also called the “conventional deadlift” or “traditional deadlift”.
You can use either of these names interchangeably. But, I’ll just simply refer to it as the “deadlift”.
The Romanian deadlift is also called the “RDL”.
With that said, there are some key differences between the deadlift and Romanian deadlift that you should understand.
The deadlift starts from the floor, whereas the Romanian deadlift starts from a standing position.
The deadlift starts with the ‘concentric’ range of motion (upward motion), whereas the Romanian deadlift starts with an ‘eccentric’ range of motion (downward motion).
The deadlift is taught as a ‘push’ off the floor with the knees, whereas the Romanian deadlift is taught as a ‘pull’ from the hips.
The shoulders in the deadlift are kept slightly in front of the barbell, whereas the shoulders in the Romanian deadlift are much further in front of the barbell.
Both the deadlift and Romanian deadlift involve hinging from the hips, but the Romanian deadlift is taught to hinge more, really emphasizing pushing the hips back as the barbell comes down.
Both the deadlift and Romanian deadlift involve similar muscules. However, the deadlift uses more quad activation, whereas the Romanian deadlift uses more glute and hamstring activation.
Let’s look at the deadlift and Romanian deadlift in more detail, including how to set up each of the movements, some tips on how to perform them effectively, common errors, and the muscles used.
How To Do a Deadlift?
- Place your mid-foot directly underneath of the barbell
- Stand with your feet either shoulder-width apart or slightly inside shoulder-width
- Grab onto the bar with your hands just outside your shins
- Engage your core by taking a big breath, holding it, and then forcefully exhaling without letting out any air
- Drop your hips into the start position
- Keep your shoulders slightly in front of the barbell with your back straight
- Engage your lats by ”flexing your armpits’
- When ready, push the floor away with your knees, making sure your hips don’t rise faster than the barbell
- When the barbell is at the knees, think about driving your hips forward, and locking your hips and knees at the same time
Technique Tips For a Deadlift
Successful deadlift technique relies on:
- Ensuring that you start with the barbell over the midline of the foot. This will keep the load over your centre of mass and allow you to feel more balanced and in control of the movement.
- Keeping the barbell as close to your body as possible throughout the entire movement. This will make it easier for your mid and upper back to stay neutral (i.e. not round)
- Thinking about using your quads to extend the knee off the floor. This will allow you to generate more speed and power to begin the movement.
- Making sure that you’re not rushing your bottom position as you cycle through reps. Keep your shoulders slightly over the barbell and engage your core and lats before starting each rep.
Common Faults When Doing Deadlifts
The most common faults of the deadlift are:
- Rounding through the mid-back. This is likely caused by using a weight that’s too heavy. But for a full breakdown, check out our article on How To Keep Your Back Straight While Deadlifting.
- Having your hips rise up too quickly off the floor. This is caused by not engaging your quads to extend the knee to begin the movement.
- Having the barbell drift away from your body. This is caused by either not starting with the barbell on the body or having weak lats that cannot control the barbell position throughout the lift.
- Grip Failure. It doesn’t matter the strength of your legs and back if you can’t hold the bar because of weak hands/forearms. To improve grip, check out our article on Maximizing Your Deadlift Grip.
Muscles Used In The Deadlift
The muscles used in the deadlift are:
- Adductor Magnus (Inner Thigh)
- Abdominals & Obliques
The one main muscle group that is recruited more in the deadlift vs. Romanian deadlift is the quads. This is because when you start the deadlift from the floor, the quad is responsible for initiating knee extension, which is how you should begin the movement.
To understand how each of these muscles contributes to the deadlift, and how to identify muscular weaknesses throughout the range of motion, check out our guide on the Muscles Used In The Deadlift.
Benefits of The Deadlift
Some of the benefits of the deadlift, which have been noted in the scientific literature, include:
- Building muscle mass and strength for the hip, thigh, and back
- Improving body awareness, coordination, and balance
- Improving jump performance
- Increasing and preventing a decline in bone mineral density
- Rehabilitating the knee after knee replacement surgery
- Decreasing the risk of ankle, knee, and leg overuse injuries
So, whether you’re an athlete playing a contact sport and need to build muscle and strength, an older adult who needs to improve your balance for everyday activities, or someone rehabbing from a knee injury who wants to get back to normal functioning faster, the deadlift is an effective exercise.
How To Do a Romanian Deadlift?
- Start with the barbell resting on the pins inside a power rack
- Walk up to the barbell and grip it just outside of your thighs
- The height of the pins should be set up so that you have a slight bend in the knees
- Take a big breath, brace your core, and lift the barbell from the pins by extending the knees
- Walk the weight back from the rack in 2-3 steps, placing your feet shoulder-width apart
- Slightly bend your knees – you’ll keep this bent-knee position throughout the entire movement
- Hinge at the hips to bring the barbell to the knee, think about keeping the weight on your heels
- The barbell should remain on your thighs while your shoulders travel over the barbell
- Think about driving your hips back to feel the tension in your glutes and hamstring
- Once the barbell is just below the knee, squeeze your glutes to drive your hips up and forward
- Don’t extend your knees at the top, you should still have the slight bend you began with
Technique Tips For a Romanian Deadlift
Successful Romanian deadlift technique relies on:
- Hinging aggressively from the hips. The movement should involve your hips traveling behind you as far as possible. This will allow you to activate your glutes and hamstrings more.
- Cueing yourself to ‘feel the floor’ with your feet. You want to make sure that your body-weight is on the heels in order to feel balanced while your hips drive behind you.
- Engaging your lats. This will allow you to keep the barbell on your thighs throughout the entire movement, which will prevent your low and mid-back from rounding.
- Squeezing your glutes hard on the way up. At the bottom range, your hips will be quite far behind you and you’ll need to engage your glutes to extend the hips back to the starting position.
Common Faults When Doing Romanian Deadlifts
The most common faults of the deadlift are:
- Locking the knees at the top range of motion. You’ll always want to keep a slight bend in the knees in order to successfully hinge forward at the hips without causing too much strain on the low back.
- Bending the knees to bring the barbell forward. Yes, you want a slight bend in the knees at all times. But you don’t want to ‘squat’ the weight down by bending the knees any more than necessary. This will make sure your glutes are always loaded at all times throughout the movement.
- Going down too far. The range of motion should stop just below the knee. This will ensure the Romanian deadlift doesn’t turn into a deadlift where you need to bend the knees to bring the barbell to the floor.
- Not keeping the bar on you. If the barbell comes off of your thighs it will make it much easier for your mid-back to round. It will also place the majority of the tension on your hamstrings, which is okay, but then you lose the benefit of engaging your glutes and hamstrings at the same time.
Muscles Used In The Romanian Deadlift
The muscles used in the Romanian deadlift are similar to the ones already discussed for the deadlift.
However, the Romanian deadlift activates the glutes and hamstrings to a larger extent compared with the deadlift. This is not to say that the deadlift doesn’t use the glutes or hamstrings, but simply that the Romanian deadlift shows greater levels of activation for those muscles.
Several gurus might suggest that the Romanian deadlift is a good choice to train the lower back (lumbar) muscles. However, a study by Fisher et al. (2013) showed that there are better exercises to train the lower back than the Romanian deadlift.
Benefits of The Romanian Deadlift
Some of the benefits of the Romanian deadlift include:
- Greater glute and hamstring hypertrophy
- Increased hip extension strength
- Being a great method for teaching the ‘hip hinge’ for novice lifters
- Strong application to other sport movements, such as Olympic weightlifting
- Preventing hamstring-related injuries by developing strength and control
Deadlift vs Romanian Deadlift: Frequently Ask Questions
How much weight should you do for deadlift vs Romanian deadlift?
You will be able to lift more weight with the deadlift vs Romanian deadlift. Most people should be able to Romanian deadlift between 30-40% of their 1 rep max deadlift for 8-10 reps. Whereas most people should be able to deadlift between 60-70% of their 1 rep max deadlift for 8-10 reps.
Is the Romanian deadlift the same as stiff leg deadlift?
The Romanian deadlift is not the same as the stiff leg deadlift. The stiff leg deadlift uses a longer range of motion, where you bring the barbell to the ground vs. the Romanian deadlift where you stop just below the knee. Additionally, the barbell in the stiff leg deadlift is allowed to come off the body, whereas the barbell is instructed to stay on the body for the Romanian deadlift. The stiff leg deadlift activates the hamstrings more compared with the Romanian deadlift.
Is the Romanian deadlift dangerous?
The Romanian deadlift is not dangerous. In fact, the Romanian deadlift is often one of the first exercises coaches teach athletes in the gym because it serves as a basis for so many other, more complex movements (like the deadlift, clean and jerk, and snatch). It’s important that basic technique is followed such as keeping the bar on your body, ensuring your back is straight, and not lifting too heavy when learning.
Why is it called the Romanian deadlift?
The Romanian deadlift was named after a Romanian Olympic weightlifter named Nicu Vlad. He was from Romania and popularized the exercise to develop stronger posterior muscles for the snatch and clean and jerk.
Is the Romanian deadlift compound?
Almost every exercise involving a barbell, the Romanian deadlift included, is considered a ‘compound movement’. A compound movement simply refers to multiple muscle groups acting in coordination to execute a movement. Because the Romanian deadlift uses musculature from the low/mid-back, glutes, and hamstrings, it is a compound exercise.
Regardless of the deadlift variation you choose, both the deadlift and Romanian deadlift involve the simultaneous activation of multiple muscle groups throughout the entire body. This coordinated effort results in several benefits, including increased strength, hypertrophy, balance, and stability.
Each of these exercises should be included in a well-rounded training program. Neither the deadlift or Romanian deadlift is inherently better. It’s simply a matter of which exercise will help you serve your overall training goal.
I have several articles discussing the deadlift, including:
- Rack Pull vs Deadlift
- Best Deadlift Back Angle For Your Size
- Deadlift Grip Width
- How to Keep Your Back Straight While Deadlifting
- Tips to Improve Your Deadlift Lockout
- How to Breathe Properly During The Deadlift
- Top 10 Deadlift Cues For Stronger Pulls
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Fisher J., Bruce-Low, S., Smith, D. 2013. A randomized trial to consider the effect of Romanian deadlift exercise on the development of lumbar extension strength. Physical Therapy in Sport. 14(3), 129-145.
Thompson, B., Stock, M., Shiels, J, Luera, M., Munayer, I., Mota, K., Jacob, C., Elias, O. 2015. Barbell Deadlift Training Increases The Rate of Torque Development and Vertical Jump Performances In Novices. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 29(1), 1-10.
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