Deadlift vs Romanian Deadlift: What are the Differences and Benefits?

Each deadlift technique works a slightly different area of your body, isolating muscle groups and putting a varying strain upon them. The general movement involved is a pulling motion, lifting the weighted barbell off of the ground. 

Deadlift v Romanian Deadlift: form, benefits, differences

Romanian deadlift (RDL) Vs Deadlift (Conventional): Quick Take

1. Starting positions are opposite.

2. Knee action (knee bending) is different

3. Muscles used vary with quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

4. How far down you go with the bar is different between the RDL vs deadlift

Generally speaking, deadlifts of all forms will increase the strength in your core, increasing your overall stability and posture.

They can help people suffering from joint issues as they increase the mobility within your joints. 

What is a deadlift?

A deadlift is a weightlifting exercise that primarily targets your lower back. You should begin with lighter weights that you can lift with ease. This will allow you to focus on your form and technique until you perfect it.

Performing heavier lifts with an incorrect form leaves you very susceptible to sustaining injuries. 

According to Dan John, a specialist in the field of strength and conditioning, weightlifters should be capable of deadlifting anywhere from 1 to 1 ½ times their own body weight. 

 Beginner male weightlifters often can deadlift 133% of their weight, whereas this is only 101% for women. At an intermediate level, this is boosted to around 150% for males and 118% for women.

Advanced male weightlifters can handle deadlifts of around 210% and this is 160% for women. At an elite level, males can often lift 260% of their body weight and female weightlifters around 200% on average. This will increase even further as you get to a professional level. 

What is a Romanian deadlift?

Romanian deadlifts appear to use a similar range of motion to traditional deadlifts. They are also referred to as RDLs. They primarily target your hamstrings.

As with traditional deadlifts, it is wise to begin performing Romanian deadlifts using a lighter weight. This allows you to perfect your form before you graduate on to more heavy weights. 

The origins of the name vary depending on who you ask. The most common idea is that it was first seen during the 1990 Olympics. A Romanian lifter, Nicu Vlad, was seen doing this lift by other competitors. His coach was a Romanian man named Dragomir Cioroslan and they suggested that this lift become known as the Romanian deadlift. 

Deadlift form

Place the weights on your barbell and secure them in place with clips. Lie the barbell flat on the floor in front of you.

Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointed outwards slightly. The barbell should be over the midline of your foot. This will help to keep you balanced and in control of the motion as the weight load is positioned over your center of mass.

Bend at the knees and lower your hips in a squatting motion until you can reach the barbell on the ground. Grab the barbell at a position slightly wider than your thighs. 

Ensure your knees do not go further forwards than the tip of your toes as you bend, and you should keep your back in a neutral position. Keep your knees slightly bent through the entire motion. This will stop you from straining your knees and will help to increase the tension felt in your hamstrings.

Push through your heels as you keep your knees soft, driving the bar up at the same rate as your hips. You should push your chest forward and keep it open as you lift. This will stop you from rounding your upper back. 

As you stand up, you should keep your shoulders and lower back straight and in line. Push your hips forwards and clench your gluteal muscles as you do so. 

You should be keeping the barbell close to your body and tensing your core as you do so. This will help to prevent you from injuring your back due to reverse hyperextension. Don’t pull it up along your thighs, instead allow it to hang naturally in front of your body. 

When you reach the apex of your deadlift, you should clench your buttocks and hold this position for a few seconds. You should feel this as you do so.

Gently and slowly lower the barbell back down to the ground. Ensure you remain in control of the lift and do not allow it to just drop. This is one rep.

Keep your lower back straight as you lower the bar to prevent injuries. We suggest doing 3 sets of 10-12 reps, with a minute of rest in the middle of each set.

Avoiding injury during a deadlift

We recommend wearing a weightlifting belt, particularly if you are lifting heavy weights. This will add some support to your lower back and reduce the risk of injury.

You can also use wrist braces to assist when lifting heavier weights. Another option is to use lifting straps to make your grip more secure. 

You should ensure you keep your arm and back straight as you lift. 

We suggest using an alternating or overhand grip on the barbell. An alternating grip means that one hand is above the barbell with the palm facing down, and the other hand is underneath the barbell with the palm facing up. An overhand grip means that both hands are on top of the barbell with the palms facing the ground.

If you feel any discomfort, pain, or strain as you are performing the lift, it is wise to stop. You should always listen to your body and take cues from it as to when enough is enough. 

You should ensure your movements are controlled and slow. Jerky and irregular movements are one of the key causes of injuries.

Romanian deadlift form

You should begin standing upright with a neutral back posture. You should hold the barbell, with weights already racked on, against the middle of your thighs. 

You should bend your knees a little while keeping your shoulders back and down. 

Bend forwards at the hips. You should keep your back straight and your knees soft. Do not lock your knees into an overextended position as this leaves you open to injuries. 

Gently and in a controlled manner, lower the barbell towards the ground. You should begin to feel a slight pull in your hamstrings at the back of your thighs. When you reach the lowest point of your lift, hold the position for a few seconds. 

Drive your heels into the ground and push your butt forwards. Keep your back in a neutral position and your shoulder blades stable as you pull the barbell back up. 

We do not advise watching yourself perform this lift in the mirror. The extension required of your neck can cause the muscles to strain. You must keep your neck in line with the positioning of the spine.

Avoiding injuries during a Romanian deadlift

Do not lock your knees when you reach the upper limit of your range of motion. This will prevent you from overstraining your lower back. 

Do not squat to drop the barbell. This will bend your knees too much and can cause you to fail a lift or injure yourself.

You should not expect the barbell to reach the ground. Generally, the barbell should not dip far past your knees, however, this depends on the range of motion you are capable of doing.

It is wise to use a double overhand grip on the barbell. An alternating grip is also good, depending on the weight supported by the bar. 

We recommend tucking in your chin as you lift. We suggest pretending you are holding something in place using your chin as this will ensure it remains in the correct position. This will help to keep your spine in the right position and prevent injury. 

Deadlift benefits

Deadlifts are known as compound exercises. This means that they work more than one muscle group at once. Deadlifts target your forearms, lats, quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, and all areas of your back. 

Including a compound exercise such as this in your workout routine makes it a highly efficient use of time. It targets the most muscles in the least amount of time. Deadlifts will strengthen your hips, back, and thighs in particular.

In 2015 there was a review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. This said that the inclusion of deadlifts in your workout routine will activate your lumbar paraspinal muscles. These go along the spinal vertebrae, particularly in your lower back. It forces you to use the muscles in your legs to complete the lift instead of your lower back. This makes it less likely for you to injure your spine. 

Performing deadlifts regularly will help you to become more attuned to your body. This in turn will help to improve your balance, coordination, and general spatial awareness.

There is evidence to suggest that deadlifts can help to increase the density of your bone minerals. They can also reduce the risk of injuries and potentially even help with post-surgical rehabilitation. 

Deadlift variations


This is where the bar is raised off the ground so you move it a lesser distance. This means the weights can be heavier and develop the top of your lift.


This is a deadlift done standing on a block to increase the distance to the ground. This makes it harder to lift the bar and increases strength. 


This is the same as a traditional deadlift but done with a wider grip, so your traps and back work harder. 


This is the same movement as a deadlift, however, your feet are spaced much further apart. This means your hips, hamstrings, and quads work harder, improving mobility. 

Romanian deadlift benefits

One of the reasons people prefer to perform Romanian deadlifts over traditional deadlifts is that it puts less strain on your knees.

This is because there is less force pushed through the anterior of your knee (the front section). If you are susceptible to knee pain, knee arthritis, or meniscus problems, this is a good deadlift modification to try out.

It can be difficult to get the correct form to do a Romanian deadlift correctly. This is because you need to be able to rotate your pelvis while keeping your femur bone (and your thigh) still.

If you find this difficult to grasp, we recommend asking a personal trainer or a physical therapist to show you the correct form. This will prevent you from injuring yourself by doing the movement incorrectly. 

Romanian deadlifts are also a compound movement. They target the hamstrings, glutes, and erector spinae muscles. This makes it a great exercise that targets multiple areas of the body in one swift motion. 

The form of the Romanian deadlift teaches you how to bend at the hips without putting unnecessary strain on your lower back. This makes it a great exercise choice for people who suffer from lower spinal pain.

It can also help to reduce the likelihood of further issues and injuries being sustained. 

Romanian deadlifts can increase muscle growth in your glutes and hamstrings due to the targeted exercise. It can also improve the strength of your hip extensions. 

The movement reinforced by your Romanian deadlifts is very useful. The motion and strength used can be applied to many other sporting movements, such as weightlifting at an Olympic standard. 

Regularly performing Romanian deadlifts will help you to gain control over your hamstring movements and build strength. This can lead to a reduction in injuries over time. 

Romanian deadlift variations

Dumbbell Romanian deadlift

This is the same movement as a standard Romanian deadlift using a barbell. This is a good way to perform a Romanian deadlift in a home gym as you can use lighter dumbbells.

You should hold your dumbbells in a double overhand grip, resting against the front of your thighs. To help you perform this exercise effectively, check out our complete guide on how to do Romanian deadlifts with dumbbells here. 

Good morning

This movement uses your bodyweight to copy the motion of the Romanian deadlift. It is a good exercise to perform to get you used to the hip extension and lift. It is also a good way to warm up your muscles before performing a Romanian deadlift. 

To do this, stand with your feet hip-width apart and put your hands on your hips. 

Tense your core and keep your back flat as you bend forwards at the waist. 

Tense your glutes as you lift your chest back upright. This completes a rep. 

Single leg RDL

This exercise is brilliant for increasing the stability of your hips, knees, and ankles. It is also great at working on your balance. 

It is good for all athletes, in particular runners. These deadlifts can be done using just your body weight, or you can add extra weights to increase the difficulty.

You should tense your abdominal muscles and engage your lats by pulling your shoulder blades back. At the same time, you should relax your arms and traps. 

Hold a pair of heavy dumbbells in front of your body. Lean slightly forward and lift one foot off of the floor. 

Keep your spine in a neutral position and lower the weight. This should make you feel some tension in your hamstrings. When you feel this, tense your glutes and straighten your leg out, pushing the hips forwards. 

Stiff leg deadlift 

This is essentially the same motion as a traditional Romanian deadlift. The only real difference is that your legs are straight and your knees locked for the entirety of the motion.

This forces your glutes to work harder, increasing the effectiveness of the exercise. 

What are the key differences between them?

Romanian deadlifts target your hamstrings and glutes much more than regular deadlifts. This means that they are a better option for people who want to increase their hamstring strength in particular. Traditional deadlifts primarily target your quad muscles.

Romanian deadlifts put less strain on your lower back muscles and are better suited to people who have a weak or injured lower back.

As a general rule, you should be able to lift a higher weight for traditional deadlifts as opposed to Romanian deadlifts. Traditional deadlifts begin at the bottom and use the middle of your back and your quad muscles to complete the lift. With Romanian deadlifts, you will start from a standing position and use the hamstrings and glutes to complete it. 

Traditional deadlifts use a concentric range of motion (i.e. moving in an upwards direction). The Romanian deadlifts are the opposite, having an eccentric (or downwards) range of motion. These are the initial movements required from each type of deadlift. 

Traditional deadlifts utilize your knees to push the barbell off of the ground. Romanian deadlifts use your hips to pull the barbell. 

When performing a Romanian deadlift, your back should be straight, meaning that your shoulders are a decent way in front of the barbell. With traditional deadlifts, your shoulders should only be slightly in front of the barbell. 

The hinging motion of your hips is more pronounced during a Romanian deadlift than in a traditional deadlift. 


This article gave you a great explanation of the Romanian deadlift vs the deadlift. We covered Romanian deadlift benefits and muscles worked.  We also covered Romanian deadlift form which was different from the deadlift.  You can see the differences between these two deadlifts, and you can fit them in to your routine to fit your goals. The benefits of deadlifts in general can be worth all the effort as they are a great compound exercise.

Kevin Harris