Deadlifts are one of the best strength and mass building exercises that you can perform.
When performing the deadlift you are working more muscles than any other exercise, including the squat.
Deadlifts have many different variations and forms. In this article we are going to focus on the difference between the Romanian Deadlift and standard deadlifts.
There are lots of valid arguments as to which exercise is better in a Romanian Deadlift vs regular deadlift battle.
Keep reading to learn the differences.
Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift
The Romanian Deadlift is one of the most commonly used among the various deadlift techniques.
In fact a lot of people that think they are performing a deadlift are sometimes actually doing a Romanian Deadlift.
Both the conventional and Romanian Deadlifts are great strength and muscle building exercises.
Even though they are both deadlifts variations the setup, execution and muscles activated are different.
Here’s a quick video that highlights the differences in form and setup between the two.
As the name suggests the deadlift is a strength training exercise that involves lifting dead weight.
The regular deadlift is one of the best total body exercises you can do as it works just about every fiber in your body.
The deadlift requires you to lift a weight off the ground and lower it back down again. Although it may sound simple there is a lot going on in the movement and incorrect form can cause injuries.
One of the most common causes for injury while deadlifting is rounding the back. Your lower back must stay neutral during the whole movement. Rounding your lower back during heavy deadlifts puts uneven pressure on your spine. Always lift with a neutral lower back, allowing for the natural inward curve of your lower spine.
Don’t try and rush to lift heavier weights. the quickest way to improve your deadlift is through correct form. By pulling more efficiently you can use more muscles and deadlift heavier. So start out practicing correct form and build your way up.
The best way to approach the exercise is to think as if you were leg pressing the floor as opposed to using your upper body to lift something. This will help you mentally focus on using your legs rather than your back (which can cause rounding) for the exercise.
The “dead” in deadlift stands for dead weight so each rep must start on the floor, from a dead stop. Deadlifts are different to other exercises like the bench press or squat where the weight starts at the top. The deadlift movement starts from the bottom and and you pull the weight up then return it to the floor for one rep.
Here are Stronglifts 5 steps to proper deadlift form:
- Walk to the bar. Stand with your mid-foot under the bar. Your shins shouldn’t touch it yet. Put your heels hip-width apart, narrower than on Squats. Point your toes out 15°.
- Grab the bar. Bend over without bending your legs. Grip the bar narrow, about shoulder-width apart like on the Overhead Press. Your arms must be vertical when looking from the front.
- Bend your knees. Drop into position by bending your knees until your shins touch the bar. Do NOT let the bar move away from your mid-foot. If it moves, start from scratch with step one.
- Lift your chest. Straighten your back by raising you chest. Do not change your position – keep the bar over your mid-foot, your shins against the bar, and your hips where they are.
- Pull. Take a big breath, hold it and stand up with the weight. Keep the bar in contact with your legs while you pull. Don’t shrug or lean back at the top.
Lower the bar by moving your hips back while keeping your legs almost straight. Once the bar is past your knees, bend your legs more. The bar will land over your mid-foot, ready for your next rep.
Rest a second between reps while staying in the setup position. Take a deep breath, get tight and pull again. Every rep must start from a dead stop on the floor. Don’t bounce the weight off the floor or you can end up lifting with bad form.
Here’s a great video explaining how to correctly perform a deadlift.
Romanian Deadlift Guide
The Romanian Deadlift is a great exercise for building the muscles on the backside of your body, muscles critical for athletic performance.
The ISSA call the Romanian Deadlift:
“One of the most effective, most overlooked, and on the rare occasion it is performed, most poorly executed exercises”
Taking that on board it is essential that we learn the correct form for the Romanian Deadlift before we can get the benefits.
The Romanian Deadlift isn’t a true deadlift and in fact it’s origins aren’t Romanian. Some American lifters saw a weight lifter from Romania performing this exercise back in the 50’s and hence dubbed it the “Romanian Deadlift.”
The Romanian Deadlift works more of your hamstrings, glutes and lower back than the traditional deadlift. This is because the Romanian Deadlift is performed with straighter legs than a regular deadlift and relies more heavily on the muscles on the backside of your body.
Romanian Deadlift Muscles
The Romanian Deadlift is one of the best exercises for for building the muscles on the backside of your body (the posterior chain).
This variation of deadlift takes your knees out of the equation, so the emphasis is all on your hamstrings and glutes. Whereas the conventional deadlift has much more quad involvement.
The posterior chain is the most influential muscle group in the body. In fact Coach Glassman says:
“Powerful hip extension alone is necessary and nearly sufficient for elite athletic performance. That is, our experience has been that no one without the capacity for powerful hip extension enjoys great athletic prowess, and nearly everyone we’ve met with that capacity was a great athlete.”
But what does hip extension have to do with the posterior chain?
The reality is the muscles that make up the posterior chain are directly responsible for producing hip extension.
- Multifidus (spine support)
- Erector Spinae (back and spinal extension)
- Gluteal Muscles (hip extensors, femoral rotation)
- Hamstring Muscles (hip extension, knee flexion)
- Gastrocnemius or Calf (plantar flexes ankle, knee flexion)
- External Obliques (back and spine support, in tandem with anterior core)
These muscles have a massive impact on your ability to jump, push, pull and run.
Most leg exercises are quad dominant.
Think about it.
Squats, deadlifts, leg presses and the like are all quad dominant exercises. While you do get some activation of the hip extensor muscle groups (hamstrings and glutes) the quads are taking the majority of the load.
Many people have over developed the muscles in their anterior chain (which include quads and abs) as these are the “beach muscles.”
The anterior and posterior chains are intimately linked so if you create an imbalance their can be a range of issues that result.
So to make sure that you have a strong posterior chain deadlifts, and especially Romanian Deadlifts are essential.
Romanian Deadlift Form
Unlike the regular deadlift the Romanian Deadlift is a top down movement. Meaning that one rep starts when you have the weight at the top (in a standing position.) You then lower it and return to the top for one rep.
There are two ways that you can get the weight to the starting position.
- Perform a regular deadlift to get the weight up then begin reps
- Set up racks (just below knee height) so that you don’t have to bend fully down to pick the weight up.
Here are the steps to perform the movement:
- Approach the bar on the rack. Squat down slightly while maintaining a small, natural curve in the lower back.
- Grasp the bar at shoulder width, or slightly wider if you prefer and then stand up with the weight. Take a few steps back and set yourself for the exercise. If you are doing this from the floor you would perform a normal deadlift to get it up.
- Set yourself for the exercise. Make sure your feet are shoulder width apart, your chest is up, your lower back has a slight, natural curve in it, and your knees are slightly bent (don’t lock out).
- Begin rep. Start tightening your core muscles to secure your spine. Then begin to lower the weight down your legs by bending at the hips. Make sure not to bend the lower back. The bar should remain in slight contact with your body throughout the whole movement.
- Descend. As you descend your butt should move back slightly and you should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Your flexibility will determine how far down your legs the weight can go before your lower back begins to round. Most people get around knee height.
- Hip hinge. When you reach your hamstrings limit of range of motion then squeeze with your glutes and hamstrings to drive the weight back up (called a hip hinge).
Your lower back shouldn’t lose its natural curve at anytime during the exercise. You shouldn’t go all the way to the ground with the weight as you would with a regular deadlift.
The Romanian Deadlift is a safer place to start over conventional deadlifts especially if you have had lower back problems in the past.
Here’s a video explaining the correct way to perform a Romanian Deadlift
For most people, Romanian Deadlifts are a great place to start out to build up the hip, hamstring and lower back strength. At the same time you are building the muscle memory to perform a correct hip hinge.
A common mistake is deadlifting before being able to to perform a flat backed hip hinged pulling movement. Remember developing correct form will allow you to lift heavier in the long run so take the extra time to build up your form and strength in the posterior chain before progressing up.
The common benefit of both forms of deadlift is the training effect that they have on your posterior chain. The posterior chain is essential for performance and injury prevention.
Romanian deadlifts target more heavily on the hamstrings and lower back and is performed with less weight than a traditional deadlift. Whereas a traditional deadlift works the lats, spinal erectors, traps, inner back, hamstrings, quads, calves, chest, arms – virtually all muscle groups and as a result you can go heavier on this movement.
If you are looking to put on size and strength throughout your legs and whole body the best overall mass builder is conventional deadlifts. There Romanian Deadlift is more of a targeted hamstring and glute exercise.
Both Romanian Deadlift vs Standard Deadlift are great exercises and you should consider working them both into your routine depending on what your fitness goals are and your experience level.