The conventional deadlift is one of the most popular exercises around, and for a good reason. It works your entire body, burns a ton of calories, and allows you to develop incredible strength. But often, it’s challenging to decide which you should focus on: conventional deadlifts or Romanian deadlifts.
In this article, I'll be comparing the Romanian deadlift vs deadlift so you can see the differences and choose which variation is best suited for your training goals.
- Romanian Deadlift Vs Regular Deadlift: What’s The Difference?
- Romanian Deadlift (Overview + Benefits Explained)
- Conventional Deadlift (Overview + Benefits Explained)
- which deadlift should you do?
- Romanian Deadlift Versus Deadlifting FAQs
Romanian Deadlift Vs Regular Deadlift: What’s The Difference?
When it comes to the Romanian deadlifts vs conventional deadlifts, you might be wondering what's the difference and which one you should be doing.
Here are some of the main aspects you need to know about the key differences between deadlift and Romanian deadlift.
A good way to differentiate these two exercises, is the starting position for the Romanian deadlift and conventional deadlift are the opposite.
The conventional deadlift is a compound exercise, meaning multiple muscular systems work together to lift the weight, therefore more weight can be lifted. The conventional deadlift starts from the floor. The barbell is lifted to an upright position and then lowered back down until it touches the floor again.
The Romanian deadlift is an isolation exercise, meaning it targets a specific muscle group. The Romanian deadlift is not a true deadlift as the weight is not lifted from the floor and isn't a dead weight.
The Romanian deadlift exercise starts from the upright position with the barbell just under your hips. It is then lowered with control using a hip hinge motion, to approximately mid-shin, and doesn't touch the floor between the reps. The barbell should always be elevated throughout the set for optimal tension on the muscles.
When it comes to traditional deadlift vs Romanian for strength, most people are stronger on the conventional deadlift.
One of the main reasons for this is that it recruits almost every muscle in your body during the hip hinge movement. It also focuses on the concentric portion of the deadlift, which is where your body develops the most power. As you drive hips forward, your glutes (the largest muscle in your body) are fully engaged, generating the force needed to move the barbell up off the floor.
It’s worth mentioning that the knee joint assists with power generation during the conventional deadlift, unlike the Romanian deadlift variation.
Throughout the conventional deadlift, controlling the eccentric portion of the movement isn’t necessary, allowing you to keep the focus on the “lifting” part, giving you more energy to lift heavier weight.
When doing the Romanian deadlift, the lifter starts from the standing position, and the emphasis is shifted to solely your hip hinge movement. This increases the load applied to your glutes and hamstrings, which helps them develop strength and grow quicker.
The Romanian deadlift focuses on eccentric movement, which is more taxing for the muscles and does hinder your recovery time. You’ll also find you can’t lift as heavy with the RDL, which is often less than 50% of what you can lift during the conventional deadlift.
Overall, if you’re looking to develop strength, you’d best use the conventional deadlift.
If you’re looking to grow your muscles, the deadlift is one of the best exercises for placing large amounts of load across the body.
But, which is better for hypertrophy? – Let’s take a closer look.
During conventional deadlifts, you can lift large amounts of weight, overloading your body and stimulating your muscles to grow. Lifting as much during the Romanian deadlift is difficult.
During the Romanian deadlift, there is greater muscle activation of the glutes and hamstrings, increasing your chances of muscular hypertrophy. So as the exercise stimulates your glutes and hamstrings more, I'd say it's more effective at developing these areas than the standard deadlift.
Now, I’m not saying the conventional deadlift doesn’t promote hypertrophy; it’s quite the opposite. Traditional deadlifts are a brilliant muscle developer, but Romanian deadlifts are more optimal and allows you to target your glutes and hamstrings very effectively.
As I mentioned earlier in the article, studies have shown that eccentric movements like the Romanian deadlift promote more muscle growth than concentric movements like the standard deadlift.
Overall: If you’re looking for muscular hypertrophy, the Romanian deadlifts are an excellent option for increasing hamstring and glute growth.
After comparing the long-term progression of conventional and Romanian deadlifts, both exercises are excellent. Providing you follow the principle of progressive overload, you’ll be able to progress your deadlift over a long period of time regardless of what type you’ve chosen to use.
If you’re a complete beginner looking to learn the hip hinge movement to help build their posterior chain, you should consider starting out with a basic exercise such as the glute bridge or other glute movements. Review our guide on the best dumbbell glute exercises for beginners.
This will get your glutes firing and primes you for the hip hinge movement; you can progress to a weighted hip thrust and even the RDL (as it’s easier than the standard deadlift).
Once you’ve mastered the RDL, you’ll be ready to tackle the traditional deadlift.
There are numerous versions of the deadlift, such as the Hex bar deadlift, stiff leg deadlift, single-leg deadlift, kettlebell deadlift, banded deadlift, and many others. It’s one of the most versatile exercises with a variant suitable for everyone.
Yet, with the Romanian deadlift, there aren’t many deadlift variations other than the RDL. Sure, you can use different equipment like dumbbells, etc., but the traditional deadlift is your best option if you're looking for an exercise with variation.
Read Also - Trap Bar Deadlift Benefits
When comparing conventional deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts for safety, it almost always comes down to the form you're using. Failing to use the correct form often leads to injuries, so always ensure every rep you perform is to a high standard.
From experience, the Romanian deadlift is a safer option for gym-goers to use. One of the main reasons is that you’re not able to load the barbell with as much weight, reducing the load on your joints such as your knees, hips, and spine.
Using a lighter load reduces your risk of injury and helps you perfect your form before moving on to heavier loads. Romanian deadlifts are also suitable for you if you suffer from back pain.
In general, the Romanian deadlift is easier to teach, allowing beginners to attempt deadlifting with a smaller learning curve. I’ll cover more about this in a moment.
Is Romanian deadlift for legs or back? Both the Romanian deadlift and the traditional deadlift work your entire body ranging from your legs to your upper back. However, when it comes to RDL vs deadlift for muscles worked, there is a difference.
Traditional deadlifts requires knee and hip extensions, so it uses your hamstrings and glutes to push your hips through while using your quadriceps to help straighten your legs as you lift the barbell from the floor.
To help maintain a neutral spine, your core muscles work extremely hard to stabilize your body through the entire movement. As a result, there isn't a part of your body not engaged during the deadlift, making it a great full-body exercise to add to your workout.
But on the other hand, the Romanian deadlift shifts the emphasis of the movement to your hamstrings and glutes and doesn’t require any work from your quadriceps as your knee joint stays in a fixed position.
The increased stress placed on the hip hinge significantly increases the work your glutes and hamstrings need to do. As with the standard deadlift, the core and spinal muscles have to work incredibly hard during the RDL to keep your spine in a neutral position.
Overall: Neither exercise is superior for muscles worked. Although if you're looking to choose between Romanian vs standard deadlift, you should choose the one that best suits your goal.
For example, if you want larger glutes and hamstrings, the RDL is your best option. But, if you want to increase overall strength, you’re best using the traditional deadlift.
Ease Of Learning
When comparing conventional deadlift vs Romanian deadlift, the RDLs are far easier to learn.
Romanian deadlifts are one of the first movements I teach to clients to help demonstrate the hip hinge movement. It’s not as complicated as conventional deadlifts, and many gym-goers find starting in a standing position easier than pulling a barbell off the floor.
Gym-goers make several mistakes during both types of deadlift; here are some pointers to help you avoid the pitfalls.
Romanian Deadlift (Overview + Benefits Explained)
The Romanian deadlift got its name from Romanian weight lifter Nicu Vlad. He was seen performing the movement during a warm-up for a weightlifting competition, and as he was Romanian, the exercise’s name stuck.
A study has shown working your muscles through eccentric loading increases muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth) .
How To Perform
- With a loaded barbell on the floor or platform, stand with your feet under your hips and toes pointed forwards.
- Push your hips back and bend your knees to grab the bar, keeping your back neutral and bring the bar up to a standing position.
- With a slight bend in your knees, brace your core and keep your back neutral.
- Initiate the downward movement by pushing you hips back with control.
- Keep the bar close to your body as you hinge and lower it to around mid-shin, depending on your hamstring mobility.
- Using your hamstrings and glutes, pull your hips through to the starting position.
- Repeat for desired number of reps
- Romanian deadlift can be done using a variety of equipment such as kettlebells, resistance bands, dumbbells and any other form of weight you can hold in your hands.
- Helps develop grip strength.
- It helps lower your risk of back injury. A systematic review published in Sports Medicine found posterior chain resistance training to be an effective treatment for back pain .
Romanian deadlifts mainly focus on the eccentric part of the deadlift movement, stretching the hamstrings and glutes, which gives them a superior hamstring workout than what the conventional deadlift provides.
The Romanian deadlift targets:
- Lower back
common mistakes when doing romanian deadlift
Romanian deadlifts are not an exercise you want to do with poor form. This is a hinge movement and you're placing your lower back under load, so it's really important you do it correctly to avoid injury or strain on your back.
To ensure you are in a safe position, you don't want to go so low that your back starts to round forward. The range of motion you can achieve is depending on hamstring flexibility.
Always keep your core muscles engaged throughout the exercise. I often see people start to fatigue and lose the tightness in their core, which can make them susceptible to taking too much strain in the lower back.
Another common mistake I see is people bending their knees too much during the exercise. The knees should be slightly bent the entire time, don't bend them as you lower the weight. This can be very tempting to do but it take the vital work away from the hamstrings
Related Article - Romanian Deadlift Alternatives
Conventional Deadlift (Overview + Benefits Explained)
The conventional deadlift is the variation you’ll see most gym-goers doing each week. It’s classed as one of the BIG 3 (squats, deadlift, bench press), performed during weightlifting competitions worldwide, and is often a benchmark for how strong you are.
While conventional deadlifts are a fantastic exercise to add to your workout, it’s not suitable for everyone. If you have mobility issues or back issues then conventional deadlift variations such as Romanian deadlifts might suit you better.
How To Perform
- With a loaded barbell on the floor, stand with your feet hip-width apart and toes slightly pointed outwards. Make sure the bar is in contact with your shins.
- Hinge your hips and keep your spine neutral.
- Bend your knees to grab the bar and pull your hips into position, ensuring your shoulder are slightly in front of the bar.
- With your core engaged and back tight, initiate the movement by pushing the floor away.
- Extend the hips to the bar and stand tall.
- Push the hips back and with control lower the bar back to the floor.
- Reset your back and core before going into the next rep.
- Repeat for desired reps.
- Strengthens the entire posterior chain.
- Increases muscle mass development across your entire body.
- Boosts confidence and provides a sense of achievement.
- Burns a lot of calories, mainly due to the extensive range of muscles recruited during the movement.
Conventional deadlift uses multiple muscle groups during the lift. The main working muscles during the deadlift are:
Common mistakes when doing the deadlift
A barbell deadlift is an important lift to get right. Due to the fact your in a hinge position under load, you want proper deadlift form at all times.
One mistake you want to avoid is the spine moving under load. Before you start the lift, set you back into a neutral position and brace properly to keep your spine straight and stable.
Another common mistake I see is not creating enough tension before the bar leaves the ground. If not enough tension is created first, the bar will come off the floor with a yank instead of a steady and smooth break from the floor.
Finally, positioning the hips either too low or too high is a common mistake seen with the barbell deadlift. Too high and you'll be too far forwards on the balls of your feet. Too far down and the positioning will mean you take more work into the quads instead of the hamstrings. Make sure the hip height allows for your shoulder to be just over the bar before you start. You should feel the hamstrings engage and pressure through your mid-foot.
Further Reading - Olympic Vs Standard Barbells
which deadlift should you do?
The type of deadlift you should do depends on your goals.
If you want to get really good at a barbell deadlift, this should be your main focus. You can use Romanian deadlifts as an supplementary exercise to help achieve maximal strength goals.
If your goal is muscular hypertrophy, both can be great to use, but you probably won't be focusing so much on heavy deadlifting. You'll want to utilize a combination of the two or even more on Romanian Deadlifts, depending on which muscle group you need to focus on.
If you want to grow your glutes and strengthen your lower back, the deadlift has the edge. But if you want to specifically focus on hamstring growth, Romanian deadlifts are the way to go.
Romanian Deadlift Versus Deadlifting FAQs
As the Romanian deadlift is a hip hinge movement, you will feel your hamstrings and lower back working throughout the exercise. Providing you’re using good form, this is perfectly normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
But, be sure to know the difference between your lower back working as it should and actual pain. If it’s painful, stop immediately and seek professional advice.
The average person will find RDLs more challenging because the movement focuses more on your hamstrings and glutes while being performed at a much slower and controlled tempo than the regular deadlift.
Most people should expect to be able to RDL around 30-40% of their one-rep max deadlift.
Deadlifts are a brilliant compound movement for developing overall muscle mass. However, they won’t necessarily make your legs bigger.
There will undoubtedly be strength and muscle increases in the legs if you’re new to training. But to ultimately target your legs, RDLs are a better option as the variation increases the tension on the hamstrings and glutes, resulting in muscle growth.
If you’re not feeling your legs during a deadlift, it could be due to several issues. However, the most common is that your lower back is doing too much work. This can be fixed by adjusting your deadlift form so your hips are slightly lower and your torso is more upright at the bottom of the movement.
It’s worth remembering that everybody’s deadlift form is slightly different due to body proportions, so it’s difficult to diagnose the issue in an article. Try adjusting your position and see how it affects your deadlifting leg activation.
The deadlift has long been hailed as the king of all exercises, with the squat as its queen. But what is the best type of deadlift for you?
The article above pits Romanian deadlifts against conventional deadlifts to show you which option best suits your current goals. Have a read and decide for yourself which deadlift is the best option for your workout program.
Last Updated on September 17, 2023