Skip to content
Home » Deadlift vs Romanian Deadlift

Deadlift vs Romanian Deadlift

In my journey through the world of fitness and strength training, I’ve encountered countless exercises, each with its own merits and challenges.

However, few have sparked as much debate and curiosity as the classic deadlift and its close cousin, the Romanian deadlift.

Both are staples in strength and conditioning programs, celebrated for their effectiveness in building power, strength, and muscle.

Yet, despite their shared lineage, these lifts serve distinct purposes and offer different benefits.

In this piece, I’ll draw from my personal experience and observations to shed light on the nuances of each lift, aiming to demystify their roles in a well-rounded fitness regime.

Whether you’re a professional lifter or just starting out, understanding these differences is crucial in maximising your training outcomes and ensuring a balanced approach to strength development.

Let’s delve into the world of deadlifts and discover which might suit your goals best.

The Traditional Deadlift

Male doing a heavy deadlift.

What Is The Deadlift?

The deadlift, in my book, is the quintessential test of raw strength and power. It’s a beautifully simple yet profoundly challenging exercise that involves lifting a loaded barbell off the ground to a standing position and then lowering it back down.

At its core, the deadlift targets almost every major muscle group in your body, with a particular focus on the posterior chain—those mighty muscles running down the back of your body, including your hamstrings, glutes, and back muscles.

But we’ll cover that in more detail in a moment.

From my personal experience, the deadlift isn’t just about brute strength; it’s a symphony of coordination, technique, and power. Every lift feels like a battle against the weights, where not just your muscles, but your focus and determination are put to the test.

It’s thrilling, it’s challenging, and it’s deeply rewarding. It’s also one of my favourites and has been for many years.

Who Is The Deadlift For?

Now, you might wonder, “Is the deadlift for someone like me?”

In my years of lifting, coaching, and conversing with countless people in the gym, I’ve come to a conclusion that might surprise you: the deadlift is for almost everyone.

Beginners can benefit immensely from its comprehensive muscle engagement, learning to harness their body’s power and improve their functional strength.

Intermediate and advanced lifters, on the other hand, can use the deadlift to further build their strength, power, and muscle mass, fine-tuning their technique and pushing their limits.

However, it’s not just about the physical benefits.

The mental grit and perseverance needed to improve at the deadlift are invaluable lessons that apply well beyond the gym.

Whether you’re a young athlete, a fitness veteran, or someone looking to reclaim their health and strength, the deadlift has something to offer.

Of course, it comes with a caveat, proper technique is non-negotiable.

With its high reward comes a risk if performed incorrectly. Therefore, it’s essential for individuals with specific injuries or health concerns to consult with a fitness professional before incorporating deadlifts into their routine.

In essence, the deadlift is a universal tool in your fitness arsenal, adaptable and beneficial for a wide range of individuals. It’s about finding the right approach, technique, and variation to suit your unique goals and needs.

My personal opinion is you don’t need to be scared of the deadlift. While it looks like a pro only manoeuver, once you’ve locked down the basic form well, you’ll highly enjoy it.

What Muscles Does The Deadlift Use?

The deadlift, in my experience, is more than just an exercise; it’s a comprehensive engagement of muscle, mind, and mettle.

When you grip that bar, you’re not just lifting steel, you’re orchestrating a complex ballet of biomechanics that recruits a vast array of muscles across your body.

It’s this all-encompassing nature that makes the deadlift a cornerstone in my training regimen, and why I advocate for its inclusion in virtually any fitness program.

At the heart of the deadlift is the posterior chain, a term that gets thrown around a lot in gyms but is genuinely the powerhouse of your body.

This includes the glutes, hamstrings, and the entire back from the erectors to the traps. But the deadlift doesn’t stop there; it’s a full-body affair.

Your core muscles, including the abdominals and obliques, play a crucial role in stabilising your midsection, protecting your spine as you lift.

Your grip strength isn’t spared either. The act of holding onto the bar engages your forearms and the smaller muscles within your hands, building a grip that could crush coal into diamonds.

And let’s not overlook the quads, which assist in the initial phase of lifting the bar off the ground, and the adductors, which work to keep your legs stable and aligned.

Throughout my years of lifting, I’ve felt the deadlift’s impact on areas you wouldn’t immediately consider.

For instance, your traps and shoulders are engaged to keep the bar close to your body, ensuring a safe and effective lift. Even your chest and lats get in on the action, contributing to the overall stability and power generation needed for a successful lift.

In essence, when you’re deadlifting, you’re not just working out; you’re conducting a full-body symphony, with each muscle playing its part in harmony.

This universal engagement is what makes the deadlift not just an exercise, but an essential movement that mimics the natural, functional patterns we use in daily life.

Whether lifting a heavy box, playing a sport, or simply standing up straight, the strength and coordination developed through deadlifting are unparalleled.

It’s this holistic approach to strength that has made the deadlift a non-negotiable part of my training philosophy.

How To Perform The Deadlift (Step By Step)

Let me walk you through the steps that I’ve refined over the years, ensuring you can perform the deadlift correctly so you can reap the rewards of this outstanding compound exercise.

Lady showing the steps to a deadlift

Step 1: Setup

Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart, with your toes pointing slightly outward.

Position your feet so that they are either under the barbell or just behind it, ensuring that when you look down, the bar is over the centre of your feet.

This starting position is crucial for balance and power.

Step 2: Grip

Lean forward, bending at the hips (not the waist), and grip the barbell just outside your legs.

You can opt for a double overhand grip or a mixed grip (one hand over, one hand under), depending on your preference and strength.

Ensure your grip is firm and your arms are straight, establishing a strong connection between you and the weight.

Step 3: Correct Your Posture

Drop your hips down, not too low, but enough to engage your hamstrings and glutes.

Your chest should be up and out, shoulders slightly in front of the bar, and your back flat. This posture is key to protecting your spine and engaging the right muscles.

Step 4: Engage and Lift

Drive through your heels, straighten your legs, and lift the bar by extending your hips forward.

It’s essential to keep the bar close to your body to minimise strain on your lower back. The power comes from your legs and hips, not your back.

Step 5: The Lockout

As the bar passes your knees, thrust your hips forward and straighten your body into an upright position.

Squeeze your glutes at the top to achieve a full hip lockout. Your shoulders should be back, and your core tight, ensuring a stable and strong finish.

Step 6: Returning the Bar

Begin the descent by hinging at the hips, pushing them back while keeping the bar close to your body.

Once the bar is past your knees, bend your legs to lower the bar to the ground.

It’s imperative to maintain a flat back and tight core throughout this motion to avoid injury.

Step 7: Reset and Repeat

If you’re doing multiple repetitions, reset your position at the bottom, ensuring your setup is correct before lifting again.

Consistency in your setup and execution will not only make you stronger but also safer.

In my years of training and teaching, I’ve learned that the deadlift is as much about mental fortitude as it is about physical strength. Each step requires focus and determination.

Remember, it’s not about lifting the heaviest weight possible but about mastering the technique to lift safely and effectively. 

As with any exercise, starting with a lighter weight to perfect your form before gradually increasing the load is crucial. This will include starting with just the bar… remember, it’s 20kg in most cases so heavy enough for a beginner.

The deadlift is a journey, not a destination, and every lift is an opportunity to improve and grow stronger, both physically and mentally.

The Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

Man doing a Romanian deadlift

What Is The Romanian Deadlift?

The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is a variant of the classic deadlift that has carved out its own revered spot in my training regimen.

Unlike the conventional deadlift, the RDL focuses on the eccentric (lowering) phase of the lift, starting from a standing position and lowering the bar towards the ground.

It’s a fantastic exercise for targeting the posterior chain, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, with a particular emphasis on hamstring flexibility and strength.

The RDL is a testament to the principle that sometimes, a variation on a theme can bring its own unique set of benefits to the table.

Who Is The Romanian Deadlift For?

In my view, the RDL is for anyone looking to enhance posterior chain strength, improve posture, and boost athletic performance.

It’s especially beneficial for those who may be prone to lower back issues, as the RDL can help strengthen the muscles that support the spine without the same degree of spinal loading as a conventional deadlift.

From beginners to advanced lifters, incorporating the RDL can lead to significant gains in both strength and stability.

Whether you’re an athlete looking to improve your power in sport, or simply seeking to improve your overall fitness and posture, the RDL has a place in your routine.

However, there’s one proviso. If you’re a beginner I would personally recommend starting with traditional deadlifts and then moving to Romanian Deadlifts when you’ve become accustomed to the move.

What Muscles Does The Romanian Deadlift Use?

The beauty of the RDL lies in its targeted engagement of the posterior chain.

Primarily, it works the hamstrings, which are crucial for knee stability and strength. The glutes are heavily involved, contributing to hip extension and power.

The lower back muscles, or erector spinae, are engaged throughout the lift, providing support and stability to the spine.

Additionally, the RDL recruits the upper back and traps to maintain a neutral spine, and even the forearms and grip strength benefit from holding onto the bar.

In essence, while the focus may be on the back of the body, the RDL is a comprehensive exercise that enhances overall strength and muscular coordination.

How To Perform The Romanian Deadlift (Step By Step)

  1. Starting Position: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell in front of your thighs with an overhand grip. Keep your knees slightly bent. This is your starting position.
  2. Hinge Forward: Begin by pushing your hips back as you hinge forward at the waist, keeping the bar close to your legs. It’s crucial to maintain a slight bend in your knees throughout the movement.
  3. Lower the Bar: Lower the bar smoothly as you hinge, keeping your back straight and chest up. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Lower the bar until it’s about mid-shin level or until your flexibility allows, without rounding your back.
  4. Return to Start: Drive through your heels and hips to return to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement. Ensure your back remains neutral and your focus forward.
  5. Repeat: Perform the desired number of repetitions, maintaining control and form throughout.

The RDL, with its emphasis on the eccentric phase and posterior chain, has been a game-changer in my training. I found that I could easily increase the weights week by week in the beginning as I got stronger.

It’s not just about strength; it’s about control, flexibility, and preventing injury.

Whether you’re looking to build muscle, improve performance, or just enhance your overall fitness, the RDL is an exercise worth mastering.

I don’t have any scientific evidence to hand, but from my personal feeling my whole body felt more secure which in turn helped me with every other exercise in the gym.

What Equipment Do I Need For The Deadlift And Romanian Deadlift?

Couple doing deadlifts in a gym with a female nearest to the camera.

For an optimal deadlifting setup, high-quality equipment is non-negotiable.

My top pick for the barbell is the Primal Pro Series 8 Needle Teflon Coated 7ft bar, ideal for deadlifts due to its durable, low-maintenance Teflon coating and the capability to hold up to 1000kg.

It’s designed to enhance grip and ensure a smooth lift, making it perfect for lifters at any level.

In my opinion, the Primal Performance Series bumper plates are essential to accompany the barbell.

They’re designed to set the barbell at the correct height and protect your floor, absorbing shock with their solid rubber construction.

If you’ve got a small (or large) home gym set-up as I have you’ll appreciate not damaging your floors, something which usually being in a gym setting would mitigate against.

Their durability and stability make them an excellent choice for anyone serious about their deadlifting routine.

Together, this barbell and these bumper plates form the cornerstone of a high-quality deadlifting setup, ensuring safety, performance, and progression in your lifting journey.

Deadlift Vs Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

When weighing the benefits of the traditional deadlift against the Romanian Deadlift (RDL), I’ve come to appreciate both for their unique contributions to strength, conditioning, and body composition.

Your choice between the two should be influenced by your personal goals, any existing physical conditions, and what you enjoy most. Let me add a few thoughts to complement the insightful observations already made.

Traditional Deadlift: The Powerhouse

The traditional deadlift is a powerhouse of an exercise that offers a full-body challenge.

It’s unparalleled in its ability to recruit a vast array of muscle groups, from the posterior chain to the core, forearms, and traps.

For individuals seeking sheer strength and muscle mass, the deadlift is indispensable.

Its functionality extends beyond the gym, improving the ability to perform daily tasks and enhancing athletic performance.

The deadlift teaches the body to work as a single, efficient unit, laying a solid foundation for physical prowess.

RDL: The Precision Sculptor

On the other hand, the RDL serves as a precision sculptor, targeting the hamstrings and glutes with exceptional focus. It’s a fantastic option for those looking to refine and strengthen these areas specifically.

The RDL’s emphasis on the eccentric phase of the lift also aids in improving muscular control and enhancing the mind-muscle connection, which is vital for muscle growth and injury prevention.

Its reduced spinal load makes it a safer alternative for those with lower back concerns, allowing for strength and muscle development without undue strain.

Personal Perspectives

From my experience, the RDL has indeed been a game-changer for clients focused on glute and hamstring development.

Its ability to isolate these areas while minimising lower back stress makes it a staple in my programming, especially for clients with specific aesthetic or rehabilitative goals.

The satisfaction of achieving a ‘great pump’ cannot be overstated, with many reporting not just improved strength, but enhanced shape and tone in their lower body.

However, I echo the sentiment that for competitive powerlifters or those seeking comprehensive development, the traditional deadlift should remain a core element of training.

As I said earlier, I always recommend beginners start with traditional deadlifts to learn the motor function and if necessary move over to RDL when required.

I personally like to mix it up and do a variety of both, they both have their pros and for me it keeps things interesting being able to rotate in different types of exercise.

Regardless of which type harnessing the deadlift’s potential to build foundational strength that benefits every other lift and physical activity is a must.

My Verdict

Lower body of a male doing a deadlift

In conclusion, I find both the deadlift and RDL have their place in a balanced fitness regimen. The choice between them should be dictated by your individual goals, physical condition, and personal preference.

As I’ve said throughout the article if you’re completely new to deadlifts then I suggest you start with regular deadlifts.

It’s where most beginner’s cut their teeth and my personal opinion is you’ll learn the motor movements easier.

If you find the 20kg weight of the bar alone too heavy, start with stiff-legged dumbbell deadlifts.

They’re a little different and you can find plenty of videos on Youtube showing you how to do the, but they’re great at building some strength in the initial phases of your journey.

When appropriate, integrating both into your routine can offer the best of both worlds—overall strength and targeted sculpting.

As always, your technique is paramount, so prioritise form over weight to maximise benefits and minimise risk, regardless of which lift you’re performing.

Don’t forget, if you’re looking to perform the deadlift or Romanian deadlift, it helps to use the best equipment. It’s why I’m a huge advocate of the Primal Pro Olympic Barbell and the Primal Performance Olympic Weighted Plates.

Do you prefer one over the other? I would love to hear why in the comments section below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *