Romanian Deadlift Vs Deadlift (RDL & Regular Compared)

The 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: regular 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.  

When it comes to the Romanian deadlift vs regular deadlift, you might be wondering what's the difference and which one is the best for your training goals. Here are some of the main aspects you need to know about the difference between deadlift and Romanian deadlift.

Strength  

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 your hips fire 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 regular deadlift, unlike the Romanian deadlift variation.  

Throughout the regular 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.

However, during the Romanian deadlift, the position is changed, and you start from standing up, 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.  

But, 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 regular deadlift.

Overall, if you’re looking to develop strength, you’d best use the regular deadlift. 

Romanian Deadlift Vs Regular Deadlift

Hypertrophy 

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 the regular deadlift, 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.

However, 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 regular deadlift.

Now, I’m not saying the regular deadlift doesn’t promote hypertrophy; it’s quite the opposite. The traditional deadlift is a brilliant muscle developer... but the Romanian deadlift is more optimal and allows you to target your glutes and hamstrings more 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 regular deadlift.

Overall: If you’re looking for muscular hypertrophy, the Romanian deadlifts are an excellent option for increasing hamstring and glute growth.

Long-Term Progression 

After comparing the long-term progression of the Romanian deadlift vs regular deadlift, 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.

However, 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.  

Variety 

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 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 variations.  

Read Also - Trap Bar Deadlift Benefits

hex trap bar deadlifts

Safety 

When comparing the traditional deadlift vs Romanian 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.  

However, 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. 

Muscles Worked  

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.  

The traditional deadlift 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 regular 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 regular 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 the regular deadlift, 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: 

  • Don’t move your knee joint during the movement; it’s a hip dominant exercise.  
  • Don’t allow your shoulders to round; this is a bad habit and will cause further issues. Push your shoulder blades back and down.  
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. 
  • Maintain a straight spine throughout the movement.  
  • Focus on pushing your hips forward and backwards during the exercise. 

Regular Deadlift: 

  • Don’t squat the weight up; your hips should be slightly above your knee level at the start of the movement.  
  • Try not to shrug the barbell up; the shoulders should remain back and down during the deadlift.  
  • Imagine yourself pushing the ground away from the barbell rather than lifting the barbell from the ground. 
  • Maintain a straight spine throughout the movement.  
  • Don’t jerk the barbell off the floor; ensure your arms and body are primed, ready to move the bar (no lose/bendy arms). 

Romanian Deadlift (RDL Overview + Benefits Explained)

The Romanian deadlift is a fantastic compound movement that works most of your body. It got its name from Romanian weight lifter Nicu Vlad.  

Nicu Vlad was seen performing the movement during a warm-up for a weightlifting competition, and as he was Romanian, the exercise’s name stuck. It became a common practice that many weight lifters use today to develop their posterior chain muscles. As the exercise is a hip hinge movement, it primarily uses your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles.  

It mainly focuses on the eccentric part of the deadlift movement, stretching the hamstrings and glutes, which gives them a superior workout than what the regular deadlift provides.

A study has shown working your muscles through eccentric loading increases muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth). This makes the Romanian deadlift the ideal exercise for developing size in your glutes and hamstrings, as most of the RDL movement is eccentric.

As the Romanian deadlift helps to strengthen your posterior chain, it helps lower your risk of back injury. I always say a stronger posterior chain is a stronger back in general. In March 2021, a study found posterior chain resistance training to be an effective treatment for back pain.

To perform the Romanian deadlift, you don’t need a lot of equipment. Most commonly, you’ll see the exercise being performed using an Olympic barbell and Olympic weighted plates. While this is an excellent method to perform the Romanian deadlift, I prefer using dumbbells for several reasons.  

The dumbbell Romanian deadlift is ideal for home gym training as you don’t need much space to perform the exercise (no long barbell required), and using dumbbells helps me develop my grip strength.  

Other equipment you can use for Romanian deadlifts are kettlebells, resistance bands, and any other form of weight you can hold in your hands; it’s a versatile exercise.

Related Article - Romanian Deadlift Alternatives

What We Like 

  • Increased hamstring and glute activation. 
  • Uses a lighter load. 
  • Focuses on eccentric loading, which increases muscle building potential. 
  • Easier for people with lower mobility. 

Things We Don’t 

  • Can’t lift as much weight. 
  • Doesn’t develop explosive power as effectively as a regular deadlift. 
Romanian Deadlift

Conventional Deadlift (Overview + Benefits Explained)

The traditional 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.

This exercise is a great compound movement that strengthens your posterior chain muscles, helps you prevent injury, and increases muscle mass development across your entire body. I’ve often added this to my clients programs when they've wanted to develop muscle mass.

During the deadlift, your body burns a considerable amount of calories, mainly due to the extensive range of muscles recruited during the movement. Burning calories helps aid fat loss, so it's always an excellent exercise that gives you the most bang for your buck if you’re looking to lose weight.  

An often unheard-of benefit of deadlifting is its effect on your confidence. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing something and knowing you can lift it. Now I’m not saying you’ll feel like Superman (or Wonder Woman)... but you’ll feel like Superman (or Wonder Woman). The rush of endorphins you’ll get after deadlifting is one of the most satisfying feelings you’ll have after working out.  

While the deadlift is a fantastic exercise to add to your workout, it’s not suitable for everyone. If you have mobility issues, you might find it difficult lifting the barbell from floor level, in which case a deadlift variant might be better suited.  

To perform the deadlift, you don’t need much equipment at all. Traditionally it’s performed using an Olympic barbell and Olympic weighted plates. I’d avoid using weight plates smaller than Olympic sized, as it’ll place your body in an awkward deadlifting position which will hinder how your body moves during the deadlift.  

Further Reading - Olympic Vs Standard Barbells

What We Like 

  • You can lift heavier weight. 
  • Strengthens your entire body.  
  • Develops explosive power, useful for sports.  
  • Burns a lot of calories. 

Things We Don’t 

  • Doesn’t activate the glutes and hamstrings as much.  
  • It can be challenging to perform for people with low mobility. 
woman lifting barbell

Romanian Deadlift Versus Deadlifting FAQs 

Should I feel the Romanian deadlift in my lower back? 

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. 

What is a good RDL to deadlift weight ratio? 

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.  

Do regular deadlifts make your legs bigger? 

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.  

Why dont I feel it in my legs when I deadlift? 

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 


Conclusion

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 the Romanian deadlift against the regular deadlift 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.