If you want to build strength, deadlifts are one of the most important exercises you can perform.
As well as being a strengthening exercise, deadlifts have a range of other benefits.
Because they require core power, they help you build your core strength.
In turn, this can help you improve your motor patterns, stabilize your body’s trunk, and improve your overall agility and coordination.
These are just some of the reasons why deadlifts remain a popular choice of exercise for bodybuilders and athletes looking to boost their strength and performance.
Even if you’re not a professional bodybuilder or athlete, you can benefit from different types of deadlifts.
They can increase your range of motion in your knees and hips as well as improve joint stability and bone density.
Deadlifts can be quite tricky to master but the good news is that there are numerous variations to try out in the gym.
Two of the most common forms are the traditional deadlift and the Romanian deadlift.
Being able to adapt these versatile exercises allows you to tailor your workout to meet your goals and abilities.
Today, we are going to discuss the differences between traditional deadlifts and the Romanian variation.
We will look at the muscles each exercise targets and the benefits and cautions you should consider before starting either activity.
For a short explanation of the differences, we look at the positions. Romanian deadlifts differ from a regular deadlift when you start.
You begin in a standing position that engages more of your glutes and hamstrings.
On the other hand, a deadlift starts from the bottom position and tends to engage your quads and mid-back more.
Additionally, you can generally lift more weight with a deadlift than the Romanian type.
Let’s look at the differences in more detail.
The differences between a deadlift and a Romanian deadlift
Deadlifts can also be referred to as conventional deadlifts or traditional deadlifts.
Either name can be used or even interchangeably but during this article, we will simply refer to it as the “deadlift.”
As for the Romanian deadlift, it is also called “RDL.”
Now, let’s look at some of the main differences between these two exercises to help you understand which one may suit your workout routine best.
As we mentioned, the key difference between the deadlift and the Romanian deadlift is:
- The deadlift starts from the floor.
- The Romanian deadlift starts from a standing position.
Deadlifts begin with the concentric range of motion, otherwise known as an upward motion.
Romanian deadlifts start with the eccentric range of motion, also known as a downward motion.
When you first learn how to perform a deadlift, you are taught to push off the floor with your knees.
The Romanian deadlift differs as you are taught to pull from your hips.
Your shoulders should remain slightly in front of the barbell with a deadlift while situated further in front of the barbell with a Romanian deadlift.
Both are similar in that they involve hinging from the hips. However, you are taught to hinge more with a Romanian deadlift.
This is to emphasize the pushing back of your hips as you bring the barbell down.
Hinging taxes the glutes and hamstrings by keeping your torso perfectly horizontal to provide maximum resistance.
The more you move toward a vertical position, the more resistance is removed.
Although both deadlifts have different ranges of motion, they involve similar muscles. However, the traditional deadlift tends to use more quad activation while the Romanian deadlift focuses more on activating the glutes and hamstrings.
To get a better idea of how these exercises differ, we need to focus on the setup of each movement as well as some tips to perform the deadlifts correctly.
How to do deadlifts
- Stand with your mid-foot directly below the barbell.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart or just inside your shoulder’s width.
- Firmly grip the bar with your hands just outside of your shins.
- Now, take a deep breath to engage your core. Hold this breath and exhale with force without letting any air out.
- Lower your hips to the starting position.
- Make sure your shoulders remain slightly in front of the barbell with a straight back.
- Flex your armpits to engage your lats.
- When you’re ready, push off the floor with your knees but make sure your hips don’t rise any faster than the barbell.
- When the barbell is at the level of your knees, try and drive your hips forward. Then, lock your hips and knees at the same time.
Useful technique tips for deadlifts
To perform a proper and successful deadlift, you need to do the following:
- Make sure you begin with the barbell over the midline of your foot. This means the load over the center of mass remains and it helps you feel more balanced and in control throughout the entire movement.
- Keep the barbell as close to your body as possible when performing the whole movement. Doing this makes it easier for your upper and mid-back to stay neutral and not become rounded.
- Try and use your quads to extend your knees off the ground. This helps generate an increased speed and improves your power when beginning your movement.
- Ensure that your bottom position is not rushed when moving through your reps. To do this, keep your shoulders over the barbell, but only slightly. And before each rep is started, engage your core and lats.
Common mistakes to avoid with deadlifts
All exercises come with a risk of injury.
However, this can usually be avoided through the proper technique.
Because deadlifts use such heavy weights, you are more prone to damaging your muscles or back.
Therefore, it is critical you abstain from these common faults:
- Rising your hips too quickly off the ground. This is when you do not engage your quads when trying to extend the knee in the initial movement.
- Rounding your mid-back. Most often than not, this is caused by using weights that are too heavy for you. Start with lighter weights to ensure your back remains straight while deadlifting.
- Letting the barbell move away from your body as you lift. This usually occurs if you do not begin with the barbell on your body or if your lats are not strong enough to control the barbell position throughout the lift’s movement.
- Failing to grip the barbell properly. While your legs and back may be strong, it’s down to your hands and forearms when gripping the barbell. You can improve your grip with the use of chalk on your hands and using different techniques to hold on.
How to do Romanian deadlifts
- Rest the barbell on the pins in a power rack.
- Grip the barbell slightly outside of your thighs.
- Ensure the pins are at a height where you only have to bend your knees slightly.
- Take a deep breath in and brace your core.
- Extend your knees and lift the barbell from the pins.
- With your feet shoulder-width apart, slowly take 2 or 3 steps back from the rack with the weight.
- Bend your knees lightly and maintain this position for the entire movement.
- Hinge your hips so that the barbell is brought to the knees and think about keeping the weight down by your heels.
- The barbell should then stay on your thighs while your shoulders move over the barbell.
- If you can, drive your hips back to feel the tension in your hamstrings and glutes.
- As the barbell moves just below your knees, squeeze in your glutes to move your hips upward and forward.
- Do not extend your knees when at the top. Instead, a slight bend should still be in place.
Useful technique tips for Romanian deadlifts
To perform a successful Romanian deadlift, you must:
- Forcefully hinge from your hips. When doing this, your hips should travel behind you as far as you can so your glutes and hamstrings are activated more.
- Prepare to touch the floor with your feet. Ensure your body weight is resting on your heels. This will make you more balanced while your hips move behind you.
- Engage your lats. This helps you keep the barbell on your thighs while performing the whole movement. In turn, your lower and mid-back will not round.
- Tense your glutes as hard as you can when moving upward. When at the bottom range, your hips should be quite a way behind you. You must engage your glutes so that your hips are extended to the starting position.
Common mistakes to avoid with Romanian deadlifts
As with traditional deadlifts, there are some mistakes you should try and avoid when performing Romanian deadlifts. Here are a few:
- Do not lock your knees when at the top range of motion. Always maintain slightly bent knees so you can hinge forward properly at the hips. This shouldn’t cause as much strain on your lower back.
- Do not bend your knees when bringing the barbell forward. While your knees should be slightly bent throughout the entire movement, you shouldn’t move into a squatting position. Doing this can result in fully loaded glutes at all times during the exercise.
- Never move down too far. Your range of motion should cease just below your knees. Any further down and your Romanian deadlift can turn into a deadlift when you need to bend your knees in order to bring the barbell to the ground.
- Always keep the bar on you. If the barbell slips off of your thighs, your mid-back can easily become rounded. Furthermore, your hamstrings will receive the majority of the tension. While this can be beneficial for these muscles, it means your glutes are not engaged and are forgotten about.
Muscles used in deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts
The muscles that are activated during a deadlift are:
- Adductor Magnus (your inner thigh)
- Abdominal muscles and obliques
Romanian deadlifts tend to activate similar muscles to traditional deadlifts.
However, the glutes and hamstrings are used to a larger extent.
Yes, a deadlift does activate your glutes and hamstrings but if you want to work on these areas with more aggression, then Romanian deadlifts are the better option.
Many athletes have used Romanian deadlifts to work on their lower back muscles over the years but there are better exercises for this region such as back extensions, back extensions on a ball, reverse hyperextension on a ball, and good mornings to name a few.
Benefits of doing deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts
There are scientifically proven benefits from doing deadlifts.
Whether you’re an athlete or you’re just looking to build muscle mass and strength, deadlifts are a great way to improve your balance for everyday activities.
Other benefits include:
- Building muscle strength and mass in the hips, thighs, and back.
- Helps improve body awareness, balance, and coordination.
- Can improve your jumping performance.
- Helps increase and prevent a decline in bone mineral density.
- Excellent as a rehabilitation exercise after a knee injury or knee replacement surgery.
- Can limit the risk of leg, knee, and ankle injuries from overuse.
As with traditional deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts have a range of benefits such as:
- An increase in hip extension strength.
- Better glute and hamstring hypertrophy.
- Can act as a very strong application to a range of different sports movements such as weightlifting.
- Can help teach beginner lifters the hip hinge.
- Regular routines can prevent hamstring-related injuries as you develop your strength and control over time.
If you’re looking to take your deadlift game from a beginner level to a more advanced stage, the Romanian deadlift can help significantly.
Is one deadlift better than the other?
Between deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts, it is quite hard to choose a superior exercise.
But, when you consider the key differences, there are some benefits that one can offer which the other can not.
You should consider your goals, strengths, and limitations when trying to decide which variation is best for you.
You should also think about which one feels the most comfortable for you. Therefore, you may not know which is best until you have tried it.
Although there are many variants of the deadlift exercise, you should always keep your head slightly lifted.
This is critically important if you already suffer from neck complaints.
And if you have knee concerns, all deadlift exercises can be a safe option to not aggravate your issues anymore.
Both deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts target your hamstrings but if you want to put most of your focus on this area, as well as your glutes, then Romanian deadlifts are the way to go.
They are the better option for putting less pressure on your back making them ideal for people who have back pain.
While traditional deadlifts can strengthen your back more, you stand more risk of aggravating an existing back problem when compared to performing a Romanian deadlift.
If you wish to increase your hip mobility, then Romanian deadlifts are again, the best option.
Targeting your hips and glutes is especially beneficial when needing to bend down for certain activities and when you need to squat.
Deadlifts target your lower back and legs to a greater extent than all other types of deadlifts.
Therefore, they are ideal for building strength and muscle mass in these areas. However, this can lead to a great chance of injury.
If you have any concerns regarding your lower back, we suggest that you avoid traditional deadlifts altogether.
Before choosing which type of deadlift suits you best, think carefully about what you want to achieve.
Consider any limitations you may have such as back, hip, or knee problems.
When you start these exercises, ensure you do them safely and efficiently with proper technique.
It is easy to perform a new exercise wrong and bad form usually results in an injury.
Romanian deadlift: Is it the same as a stiff-legged deadlift?
No, these exercises differ in certain ways.
A stiff-legged deadlift tends to use a longer range of motion as you bring the barbell to the floor. A Romanian deadlift sees you stop just below the knee instead.
Also, you are allowed to bring the barbell off your body during a stiff-legged deadlift whereas the barbell should stay on your body during the full Romanian deadlift movement.
Although Romanian deadlifts activate your hamstrings, stiff-legged variations tend to activate them even more.
Deadlift vs Romanian deadlift: How much weight should I use?
You can lift heavier weights with deadlifts than the Romanian variation.
When performing a Romanian deadlift, the majority of lifters should be able to deadlift between 30-40% of their 1 rep maximum deadlift for around 8 to 10 reps.
With deadlifts, most people should be able to deadlift 60-70% of their 1 rep max deadlift for approximately 8 to 10 reps.
Romanian deadlifts: Are they dangerous?
No, the Romanian deadlift is not dangerous.
It is actually one of the first exercises that are taught to athletes in the gym.
This is because it acts as a basis for a range of other more complex variations and movements. These include the deadlift, the snatch, and the clean and jerk.
Basic techniques such as keeping the bar on your body and ensuring your back remains straight must be followed.
Learning the correct form from the beginning will put you in good stead as you progress.
Start with bad form and you will continue with bad form and possibly injure yourself. And never lift weights that are too heavy for you. Always know your limit!
Whichever deadlift variation you decide to try, both traditional deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts activate simultaneous muscle groups throughout your body.
Both forms of deadlifts have numerous benefits such as increased muscle strength, muscle mass, improved balance and stability, and better hypertrophy.
Don’t be afraid to include both exercises into your training routine.
A well-rounded training program can certainly benefit from both types of deadlifts as neither can be called better than the other.
It’s down to your personal goals and which deadlift will help you reach your strengthening targets.