Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift

The deadlift is a versatile exercise with several variations to suit your training needs. But with all these options, it can be hard to know the subtle differences between them. And harder still to understand when to use each type in your workouts to reach your goals.

Two of the most common variations are the conventional deadlift and Romanian deadlift. So I’m going to teach you how to do both. And show you when to use the Romanian deadlifts vs deadlifts based on your goals and your workout split.

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift

Before we dive in, let me define each exercise to ensure everyone knows what we’re talking about.

What Is a Conventional Deadlift?

The deadlift is an exercise where you lift a weight from the floor to hip level. And the conventional version is where you perform the full range of motion using a barbell.

This exercise is THE deadlift. All other variations will have a word or two modifying the description, such as Romanian.

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift: Barbell Deadlift

What is a Romanian Deadlift?

The Romanian deadlift is basically a partial range of motion version of the conventional deadlift. In this exercise, you move the weight from just below the knees to hip level.

You may also hear the Romanian deadlift abbreviated as simply “RDL”. And there are a few different variations of RDLs that I’ll cover later.

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift RDL

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift Differences

With that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the main differences between the Romanian deadlift and the regular deadlift.

Starting Position

One of the significant differences between the RDL and deadlift is the position from which you start the movement.

With the standard deadlift, you begin each rep from the floor. In comparison, each rep of the Romanian deadlift starts from the upright standing position.

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift Starting Position

Concentric vs Eccentric

As a result of the different starting positions, each exercise works the muscles through different lift phases. These phases are called concentric and eccentric.

In simple terms, the concentric phase is the lifting portion of the exercise. While eccentric is the lowering portion, also called the negative.

Since the deadlift starts from the floor, the focus is the concentric phase or lifting the weight. Followed by a controlled drop to the floor.

By comparison, the Romanian deadlift starts with a controlled eccentric phase or lowering the weight. And the concentric phase follows to raise back to the starting point.

Range of Motion

As I mentioned earlier, another significant difference between the Romanian deadlift vs deadlift is the range of motion.

The conventional deadlift works your body through the entire range of motion, from squatting to standing.

On the other hand, the Romanian deadlift focuses on the top half of the range of motion from bent over to standing.

Body Mechanics

Last, but perhaps most important, is the difference in mechanics between the two deadlift variations. In other words, how your body moves during the exercise.

With the standard deadlift, you bend at both the knees and hips. But you bend mainly at the hips with the Romanian deadlift.

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift Starting Position

All the differences I mentioned change the muscle recruited during the deadlift vs Romanian deadlift. So now, let’s compare the muscles worked.

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift Muscles Worked

The deadlift and the Romanian deadlift work the posterior chain group of muscles, including the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.

However, the deadlift involves the quadriceps due to the larger knee bend. While the isolated hip bend of the RDL targets more hamstrings and glutes.

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift Muscles Worked

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift: Which Is Better?

When comparing the deadlift and Romanian deadlift, you might ask which one is better. But one is not necessarily better than the other. Each has benefits and limitations.

Pros & Cons of the Romanian Deadlift

Pros

  • Good for targeting hamstrings
  • Don’t need as much weight
  • Not as hard on your nervous system

Cons

  • Not as good for overall strength gains

Pros & Cons of the Deadlift

Pros

  • One of the best exercises for total body strength
  • Works more muscle groups at the same time
  • Burns a ton of calories

Cons

  • Heavy loads require more time for nervous system recovery

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When To Use Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift

As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages to both exercises. So when to use the Romanian deadlift vs deadlift depends on your training goals and workout schedule.

Hypertrophy or strength?

If your goal is hypertrophy (muscle growth), you should use RDLs to add size to your hamstrings and glutes. At the same time, deadlifts are better for building a thick back.

When training for overall power, it’s generally a good idea to include deadlifts in your routine. While RDLs aren’t as great for strength building, you can use them to strengthen your hamstrings and improve your deadlift!

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift Hypertrophy

Training Split

Another factor to consider is your weekly workout schedule or training split. Common splits are total-body, push/pull, push/pull/legs, or the “bro split.”

You may use conventional and Romanian deadlifts in a total body workout. However, you should not do deadlifts in every workout as this would quickly lead to overtraining!

With a basic push/pull split, deadlifts and RDLs should be part of your pull day. But it would be best if you did deadlifts on the pull day with the push/pull/legs split. While RDLs could be either a pull day or leg day exercise.

Lastly, the bro split trains one or two muscle groups per workout. Typically, it’s a 5-day split, but you can also use a 6-day version.

With a 5-day split, it can be harder to work deadlifts into your routine unless you do them on a back day or leg day. So I recommend doing the 6-day split with a back/hamstring day. Then you can do RDLs that day too.

How To Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift

Next, I will show you how to do the Romanian deadlift and deadlift exercises properly.

How To Romanian Deadlift

For the Romanian deadlift, you’ll begin with a barbell sitting on the floor in front of you. Then, step up to the bar and plant your feet shoulder-width apart.

Now bend forward and grab the bar with an overhand grip just outside your shins. Then lift the bar to hip level like a conventional deadlift.

Push your hips back from this starting position and bend your knees slightly as you lower the bar. Keep the bar as close to the front of your thighs as possible.

Once the bar passes just below your knees, squeeze your hamstrings, and drive your hips forward to raise the bar back to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps before setting the bar back on the floor.

To recap, here are the step-by-step directions:

  1. Step up to the bar with feet about shoulder-width apart
  2. Grab the bar with an overhand grip just outside your shins
  3. Lift the bar from the floor to your hips like a conventional deadlift
  4. Push your hips back and bend your knees slightly to lower the bar
  5. Keep your back flat as you lower the bar just past your knees
  6. Squeeze your hamstrings and drive your hips forward to raise the bar
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps

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How To Deadlift

For the conventional deadlift, you also begin with the bar on the floor in front of you. Next, step up to the bar with your feet about shoulder-width or slightly narrower.

Now bend forward and grab the bar just outside your shins. You can use an overhand grip or a mixed grip (over/under) for this exercise.

Next, roll the bar back until it’s touching your shins and squat down by bending your knees and lowering your hips. Your back should be straight and angled to the floor.

From this starting position, pull the bar off the floor by pushing through your legs and driving your hips forward. Then, keep your back flat and pull your shoulders back as you stand up.

Allow the bar to drop straight back to the floor while controlling its descent. Then repeat for the desired number of reps.

To recap, here are the step-by-step directions:

  1. Step up to the bar with feet shoulder-width or slightly narrower
  2. Grab the bar with an overhand or mixed grip, hands just outside your shins
  3. Roll the bar towards your shins and bend your knees to drop your hips
  4. Pull the bar off the floor by pushing with your legs and driving your hips forward
  5. Lower the weight back to the starting point
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift Variations

So far, I’ve shown you how to do a barbell Romanian deadlift and deadlift. But several other exercise variations use different equipment or alternate ranges of motion. Below are a few examples.

Romanian Deadlift Variations

First, let’s look at some of the best Romanian deadlift variations and alternatives.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

One of my favorite variations is the dumbbell RDL. With this movement, you have more control over the path because a barbell does not restrict you in front of your thighs.

In addition, I like to make this exercise more challenging on the hamstrings by placing a weight plate under my toes!

Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift

The Smith machine RDL is an excellent alternative to free weights for beginners. The guide rails offer the stability of a machine with the feel of a barbell.

Also, the Smith machine puts more load on the hamstrings and glutes since you don’t have to stabilize the bar. So it’s great for advanced lifters working on hypertrophy.

Stiff Leg Deadlift

The stiff leg deadlift is like a Romanian deadlift where you bend your knees even less. In addition, this straight-leg position results in even more isolation of the hip rotation aspect.

With the SLDL, you should use very light weights and focus on the stretching of the hamstrings in the eccentric phase.

Deadlift Variations

Now let’s look at the top deadlift variations and alternatives.

Hex Bar Deadlift (Trap Bar)

The hex bar or trap bar deadlift uses a 6-sided bar with handles on either side of your body. This unique bar results in a more upright body position and changes the muscles worked.

Deficit Deadlift

A deficit deadlift is where you perform the exercise while standing on a weight plate or block. You start the deadlift from a lower point (or deficit) because your feet are higher off the floor.

While this makes the exercise more challenging, the benefit is that you get stronger in the bottom of the range of motion. And that, in turn, increases how much weight you can lift on conventional deadlifts.

Rack Pull

The rack pull is the opposite of the deficit deadlift – so you could think of it as a surplus deadlift (although nobody calls it that).

In this case, you put the weight on a rack or block, so the bar starts higher off the floor. The benefit of rack pulls is that you can pull more weight and target your back muscles.

Rack Pull vs Deadlift

The deadlift is awesome for overall strength. And the Romanian deadlift is great for building lower body size.

But what about building mass in your upper body, specifically your back? That’s why the rack pull is an excellent accessory to the deadlift.

Click here for my complete guide to Rack Pull vs Deadlift.

Rack Pull vs Deadlift
Rack Pull vs Deadlift

Now you can start implementing deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts in an efficient way to reach your fitness goals. Be sure to check out some of my articles below for more ways to get in better shape!

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