Romanian Deadlift Vs Stiff Leg Deadlift: Straight Leg & RDLs

The deadlift is one of the three major lifts for a good reason. It’s one of the best “bang for your buck” exercises, working your entire body. However, when it comes to deadlift variations, it can be challenging to know which is the best for you to do in the gym.  

In this article, I'll be comparing the Romanian deadlift vs the stiff leg deadlift, showing the best option for you.

When comparing the stiff leg deadlift vs Romanian, there are several factors to consider. The most important factors are:

For Lower Body Strength 

If you’re looking to develop your lower body strength using the deadlift, it can be difficult to decide between the stiff leg deadlift vs Romanian. But, from my experience, I’ve found I can lift more weight using the stiff leg deadlift, but this may be different for each person.

If I were you, I’d identify which muscle is my weakest during the deadlift... back, glutes, hamstrings? And then adjust my deadlift to train my weak point. E.g. Stiff leg deadlifts to increase the load on my lower back or RDLs to increase glute and hamstring loading.

Read Also - Romanian Deadlifts Vs Deadlifts

For Muscle Growth 

While both the Romanian deadlift and the stiff leg deadlift are excellent exercises for developing muscles all over your body, they do primarily focus on your posterior chain muscles.

When comparing the Romanian deadlift vs stiff leg for muscle growth, there are several factors to consider. 

If you’re looking to develop your lower back, you should opt to use the stiff leg deadlift as it has a larger lower back activation than the Romanian deadlift. This is due to the increased range of motion and the legs remaining relatively straight throughout the exercise.

However, if you’re looking to develop your glutes and hamstrings, I believe the Romanian deadlift comes out on top. During the Romanian deadlift, the reduced range of motion and longer eccentric phase increases the amount of muscular stimulation throughout the movement. Check out our guide to the best dumbbell glute exercises to supplement your glute workout!

Studies have shown that increases in muscle mass are more prevalent during the eccentric loading phase of a movement. So when you compare the RDL vs stiff leg deadlift for muscle growth, the Romanian deadlift wins it for me.  

However, I always believe in including variations in your training. There would be no harm in you adding both types of deadlift to your workout programs; ensure there’s plenty of recovery time between the sessions to optimize muscle growth. 

For Sports Performance 

The deadlift is a fantastic movement to add to your training regime when it comes to sports performance. The hip hinge movement is critical for athletes to develop strength, speed, and power, increasing athletic performance.  

Sports such as football, Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing, Baseball, Hockey, Running, Olympic lifting, and many others rely heavily on the hamstrings and glutes, which are the main drivers during both deadlift variations.  

But, when comparing the stiff-legged vs Romanian deadlift, which is the best for sports performance? The answer is more complex than you might think and will depend on your sport.  

The stiff leg deadlift focuses on the concentric lifting phase, making it a fantastic explosive exercise to help develop a powerful set of glutes and hamstrings. The concentric nature of the stiff leg deadlift also helps reduce DOMS, which means your recovery rate is far quicker, making it better for game day.  

During the stiff leg deadlift, you have increased lower back activation and will work your hamstring’s flexibility. However, if you’re performing a sport such as Olympic weightlifting, the reduced range of motion of the RDL follows a similar loading pattern to that of the exercises you’d perform in your sport, e.g., the hang clean.  

You’ll generally have increased emphasis on the hips, glutes, and hamstrings compared to the stiff leg deadlift. But, as RDLs are an eccentric focused movement, the recovery of your muscles will take longer than they would for the stiff leg deadlift.

I recommend using lifting straps when deadlifting. You can learn how to use lifting straps in our detailed guide to help you reach your next PR.

Romanian Deadlift Vs Stiff Leg Deadlift: Straight Leg & RDLs

For Beginners 

For beginners, the difference between the stiff-legged and Romanian deadlift is huge, especially when it comes to performing the movement correctly.  

Unless you’re an outlier, the likelihood is you’ll need to learn the hip hinge movement from scratch. The easiest option for you between the stiff leg deadlift vs Romanian is the Romanian deadlift. The Romanian deadlift has a smaller range of motion and starts at hip height which generally feels more natural for beginners who aren’t used to hinging their hips.

After training hundreds of clients throughout my career, it’s clear to see the RDL is far easier for beginners to pick up. Only when you’ve perfected the RDL should you consider moving onto the traditional and stiff leg deadlift variations, as they’re generally harder movements.

The Position 

  • The Starting Position 
    For the stiff leg deadlift, the barbell starts on the floor as it would with a regular deadlift. The main difference is your legs are pretty much straight (it’s a shock, I know). Whereas the Romanian deadlift usually starts at hip height, this can be achieved by picking the barbell off the rack and stepping backwards a few steps. The RDL is a more familiar position for beginners and is, therefore, easier to teach and learn.
  • The Movement 
    During the stiff leg deadlift, the barbell travels along a similar path as it would during a regular deadlift. At the bottom of the exercise, the barbell shouldn’t touch your shins and will remain an inch or so away during the movement. However, during the Romanian deadlift, the barbell has a much shorter range of motion traveling from your hips to mid-shin. The barbell touches your legs throughout the entire movement.
  • The Position 
    For the stiff leg deadlift, at the beginning of the movement, your hips will be high with your shins almost vertical. You won’t need much leg drive as the knee barely flexes. While the Romanian deadlift doesn’t require you to bend your knees too much, it does help activate the hamstrings slightly. Your body should be straight with your core braced while pushing your hips back, hinging from the hips.

Ease of Learning 

As I mentioned before, when it comes to learning the hip hinge movement, the RDL is always my go-to deadlift variation. The Romanian deadlift has a reduced range of motion and requires less hip and hamstring mobility, making it ideal if you’re looking to learn the movement from scratch.

While it can be argued that the stiff leg deadlift is a great way to learn how to engage your hips during the hinging movement, I’ve found many people find it challenging to maintain a neutral spine and sacrifice good form to lift the barbell from the floor.  

This is far from ideal as using the correct form is the number one priority when it comes to deadlifting, regardless of whether it’s a stiff leg deadlift or Romanian deadlift. This brings me to my next point. 

Some beginners may want to start deadlifting light weight using a trap bar. Check out our guide on trap bar deadlift benefits to see how this exercise can help you increase your overall strength and form.

Safety/Injury  

When looking at the RDL vs straight-leg deadlift, using the correct form is the most important thing to avoid injuring yourself. Maintaining a neutral spine during either deadlift variation ensures you’re not placing your back under unnecessary loading patterns, leading to injury.

Here are some tips on how to safely deadlift: 

  • Draw your shoulder blade back and down (placing them in your back pockets) to create scapula tension.  
  • Take a deep breath and brace your core before you lift the weight.  
  • Ensure your arms are locked out before lifting (no jerking the bar or bending the elbows). 
  • Squeeze your glutes are the top of the movement.  
  • Maintain a straight spine throughout the exercise.  
  • Don’t forget to breathe. (I always say breath out during the “lifting part” of the deadlift). 

Romanian Deadlift - Technique Explained

The Romanian deadlift is an extremely popular deadlift variation that many gym-goers perform each week during their workout routines. One of the main reasons is due to the large amount of stimulus the exercise gives your glutes and hamstrings, increasing muscle hypertrophy.

Romanian Deadlift

The movement starts at the hips and finishes at your mid-shin level. The barbell should never touch the floor throughout the exercise.

The name of the exercise comes from the Olympic weight lifter Nicu Vlad who used to use this deadlift variation as a warm-up for his glutes and hamstrings before he started his competitions. He was seen performing this movement, and seeing as he is from Romania, the name “Romanian Deadlift” stuck.

During the Romanian deadlift, the exercise focuses on the eccentric part of the movement, placing the glutes and hamstrings through a controlled stretch. The eccentric portion of the movement stretches the muscle fibers, helping increase the size of your muscles.

The RDL is an excellent exercise for beginners as it's easier to teach and is the perfect exercise to learn the hip hinge movement. It also places less stress on the lower back, making it ideal for anyone sensitive in that area. 

All you need is a barbell and Olympic weight plates to perform this exercise. A squat rack to rest the barbell between sets would be ideal but not 100% necessary.

See the pros and cons of Romanian deadlifts below!

Benefits 

  • Increased focus on the glutes and hamstrings
  • Easier for beginners to learn 
  • Less stress on the lower back
  • Eccentric focus increases muscle development

Drawbacks 

  • Shorter range of motion 
  • Eccentric focus creates more DOMS

Stiff (Straight) Leg Deadlift - Technique Explained 

The stiff leg deadlift is a popular deadlift variation that many gym-goers perform in a bid to add more volume to their deadlift sessions while increasing the work the glutes and hamstrings perform.

The exercise is virtually identical to the traditional deadlift, but your legs are almost entirely straight during the movement.

All you need is a barbell and Olympic weighted plates to perform this exercise.  

The barbell starts on the floor and is lifted to hip height in an explosive manner making the stiff leg deadlift a concentric focused exercise.

stiff leg deadlift

The eccentric phase is basically a controlled drop, which places less stress on your muscles. When it comes to the stiff leg deadlift, it mainly works your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back; however, the movement can be considered a whole-body exercise.

During the stiff leg deadlift, the muscles are worked through an increased range of motion, making it a brilliant exercise to develop your posterior chain strength and muscle mass. While this deadlift variation is brilliant, I’ve found it can be difficult for beginners to learn. If you’re new to the exercise, take time to perfect your form before adding more weight to the barbell.

If you’ve ever suffered from lower back pain, the stiff leg deadlift uses a lot of your lower back, so caution is recommended. However, many doctors and physiotherapists prescribe this exercise to strengthen patients’ lower backs 

See the pros and cons of stiff leg deadlifting below!

Benefits 

  • Increased hip and hamstring flexibility
  • Closest to a regular deadlift 
  • Larger range of motion 
  • Increased lower back activation 

Drawbacks 

  • Harder to learn
  • Focuses on concentric loading 

Frequently Asked Deadlifting Questions 

Which of these exercises is best for beginner lifters? 

If you’re a beginner looking to start using either the stiff leg deadlift or the Romanian deadlift, you should begin with the RDL.

In general, Romanian deadlifts are easier for you to learn and don't require as much weight. It's one of the first exercises I teach my clients, as it’s a brilliant introduction to the hip hinge movement. Only when you’ve mastered the Romanian deadlift should you attempt another variation.

Do you bend your knees for stiff leg deadlift? 

During the stiff leg deadlift, it’s important you have a slight bend in your knees during the movement. A slight bend helps remove the stress from your knee joint, helping you prevent injuries from occurring, and it increases your hamstring activation.

It’s worth mentioning the bend in your knees should be no more than what you’d do for the Romanian deadlift. If you freeze-frame your RDL and stiff leg deadlift, they will look remarkably similar in regards to your knee positioning. 

Do stiff leg deadlifts work the upper back? 

The deadlift is a full-body movement that activates every area of the body. Whether it’s your lower body or upper body, you can guarantee that lifting a heavy barbell from the floor will require every muscle fiber you have. 

During the movement, your upper back is needed to help stabilize your spine, keeping it in a neutral position. 

How much weight should I use for both deadlifts? 

The stiff leg deadlift is pretty similar to the regular deadlift regarding weight capacity. During the stiff leg deadlift, I generally program my clients to lift heavy for fewer reps than for a traditional deadlift; it’s rather fatiguing. 

However, I always tell my clients to use slightly less weight and to up the reps slightly for the Romanian deadlift. Due to the eccentric focused movement pattern, you won’t be able to lift as much during the Romanian deadlift. 

But, it’s up to you to test them and see how your strength is. 

What can I do to prevent injury when deadlifting? 

Use the correct form... it’s as simple as that. I can’t state it enough that form is KING during any type of deadlift, whether it’s conventional, Romanian deadlift, stiff leg deadlift, or any other variation 

Maintaining a neutral spine throughout the deadlift will ensure your spine is in a safe position, and this massively reduces your risk of injury during the deadlift movement.  

Another way to avoid injury is not overloading the barbell with more weight than you can handle. There’s a time and place for 1RM lifting, but avoid trying it every session.  


Conclusion

Struggling to figure out which is best, the Romanian deadlift vs. stiff leg deadlift? If you have, the article above shows you which deadlift is the best for you and when you should do it to yield the best results.  

Have a read and add the stiff leg deadlift or the Romanian deadlift to your workout routine; you’ll notice the difference right away.