RDL vs Deadlift: Which One Is Right For You?


Deadlifts are the ultimate hardcore strength exercise. Bodybuilders swear by it, and fitness enthusiasts throw it in to switch up routines and tone up a wide range of muscles. The two most predominant deadlifts, the conventional and Romanian deadlifts, are renowned for their potential for bodybuilding and mobility enhancement.

While they may share many similarities, each deadlift variation is specifically designed for specific fitness goals, with varying body movements targeting different muscle groups. Understanding these similarities and differences is crucial in determining which one is best suited for a total body workout or your strength training program.

Wondering if bodybuilding exercises and the Romanian deadlift vs. the traditional deadlift will bring you closer to your fitness plans in the shortest time? We’ve created this in-depth guide to give you a firm grasp of this versatile exercise. This guide will show you what to expect from deadlifts and exactly how to actualize them, with a step-by-step guide on how to perform each deadlift type. For more clarity, we’ll also make a detailed Romanian deadlift vs. traditional deadlift comparison and offer tips on how best to perform the moves.

Is the Romanian Deadlift and the Deadlift the Same? 

The regular deadlift is simply any exercise that involves lifting weight from the floor. It sounds rudimentary, but it produces some of the most complex and comprehensive benefits of any type of lifting exercise.

The standard deadlift vs. Romanian deadlift differs primarily with the movements and targeted muscles. With traditional deadlifts, you start by lifting the weight off the floor to your hip level with your knees bent. The Romanian deadlift, named in honor of its originator, the sensational Romanian Olympic weightlifter Nicu Vlad, has a partial range of motion starting from an upright standing position where the individual grips the bar at the level of the hips and lowers it, with much less knee movement and a stronger hip pull.

Both the deadlift and Romanian variations are fool-proof functional exercises for improving overall total body strength, hip mobility, spine stability, and core strength. They’re also highly effective weight loss exercises since they fire up many different muscle groups and joints, burning more calories compared with most other exercises.

However, with the partial range of motion, the Romanian deadlift places greater emphasis on the hamstrings than the conventional deadlift. The two also differ in their biomechanics, determining how they affect multiple muscle groups.

Here’s a more detailed comparison:

Conventional Deadlift

Starting Position

The conventional deadlift starts with you picking up the weight directly from the floor in a squatting position. You give the barbell a firm grip with your hand spread across the space between your knees, and your knees bent significantly.

Standing Position

Pulls the bar up towards your hips, utilizing a similar leg drive as seen in a squat. The lift-off happens with your knees and hips stretched out and pushing against the ground. Proper form involves timing movements in your hip and knee as you raise the barbell, with your hips driven upward right after the barbell moves over it. Your shoulder and back are pulled into a straight, upright position as you hinge the weight on your thighs. This deadlift style is known for its concentric action, or the bar elevation phase.

Body Mechanics

With the conventional deadlift, your knees, hips, core, abs, and shoulder spring into action. The movement begins from your knee to your hips, core, and upper body.

Targeted Muscle Groups

The conventional deadlift works on your muscle groups called concentric muscles, which are activated during the lift phase. Concentric muscles for conventional deadlifts include quadriceps (popularly called quads), glutes, hamstring, lats, traps, abdominals & obliques, and erectors.

Due to the leg drive and flexed knee position, this deadlift will activate your anterior thigh muscles, quadriceps, and posterior musculatures, such as the gluteal muscles and hamstrings. Everything must ascend together to avoid stress and prevent injury. For example, if your knees extend first and your butt rises into the air without sufficient bar movement, increased pressure is put on your lower back to finish the lift, leading to a breakdown. 

Romanian Deadlift

Starting Position

The Romanian deadlift starts and ends at the standing position of the conventional deadlift. Unlike deadlifts, you don’t spread weight via knee movement, so most of the lower body drive emanates from hip movement.

For a rep, you straddle behind the barbell, standing upright with your back and knees almost straight, pick up the weight from the ground to your hip level, and then lower it back with minimal hip and knee movement.

Standing Position

In the lift phase, you stand with the barbell at hip level with flattened knees and a straight back. You then dip the weight towards your knees and back up again, mainly putting your abs, core, and butt to work, hinging at the hips, lengthening the posterior musculature of the gluteal muscles, and hamstrings. This lift is known and utilized for its eccentric lowering or bar descent phase.

Body Mechanics

Movement is mostly concentrated in the lower body, with the core, abs, and hips doing the heavy lifting. It engages the hamstrings and gluteal muscles more than the conventional deadlift as they go through maximal lengthening in the eccentric portion of the lift. Arm and shoulder movements also guarantee a tangible impact on upper body muscles.

Targeted Muscle Groups

The Romanian deadlift focuses on eccentric muscles activated during the lowering phase. Lifting weight is still a massive part of the Romanian deadlift, but most of the jolt is generated during the lowering stage because the weight is mostly suspended in the lower part of the body. Studies using electromyography (EEG) show the Romanian lift activates the posterior chain muscles, from the hamstrings to the trapezius and erector spinae.

Who Can Benefit from Conventional Deadlifts and the Romanian Deadlift?

Barbells and dumbbells are ubiquitous in gyms because lifting is a fundamental functional exercise. But as shown above, the deadlift and Romanian deadlift involve a different range of motion and targeted muscles, guaranteeing specific results such as an increase in total body strength and muscle hypertrophy.

Anyone looking to access these benefits can try out these deadlift types, from strength athletes to athletes in general, amateur athletes, and fitness enthusiasts.

Is the Romanian Deadlift Better than the Deadlift?

You’re probably wondering, ‘which is the best type of deadlift for me?’ You’ve read about all the potential impacts of each type on your body, but how do you know which one best suits your immediate needs?

Each type of deadlift variation is geared towards specific fitness goals and workout routines. For instance, if you want more muscle growth, the conventional deadlift covers upper body mass, while the Romanian deadlift builds on the lower body. For body strength, you might want to incorporate the conventional shift because the sweeping movement sends jolts across all over your body. The Romanian deadlift is excellent for lower-body strength, with immense potential for increasing strength and fluidity around your core and hips.

Here’s a closer look at what each deadlift type can bring to your routine:

Improving Overall Strength

The deadlift is a functional compound exercise that recruits several muscles in a well-coordinated fashion. Activating these muscles in coordinated movements is like turning on several engines simultaneously in your energy system to ramp up the overall strength output.

Because it activates a broader range of muscles, from the pectorals to gluteus maximus, quads, abs, and hamstring, the conventional deadlift has a superior impact on overall strength level compared with the Romanian deadlift, which focuses on your glutes, quads, butts, and hips.

Building Muscle Mass

The increase in muscular strength will be physically telling. Deadlifts work every fiber in your muscles with coordinated movements to drain them of excess fluids and build lean muscles. Deadlifts pave the way for faster muscle hypertrophy by whipping more fibers into leaner muscles.

Improved Posture

Deadlifts generally lead to greater muscle stability, resolving postural imbalances. You may be over-relying on specific muscle groups while neglecting others, and this usually results in postural defects like hunched shoulders, underdeveloped glutes, tight muscles, etc.

By leveling up mass, strength, and mobility across several muscle groups, deadlifts can help you eliminate postural defects, with all your muscle groups functioning at optimal capacity.

Burning More Body Fat

Your body burns fat and calories when building strength and muscle mass hypertrophy. During deadlifts, your body metabolism kicks into high gear, burning more fat and calories to generate more energy. Post-workout metabolism will also remain at higher levels as your body continues to repair muscle tissues.

Conventional Deadlift Pros and Cons


  • Easily scalable weight requirements – not much weight is required to hit fitness goals in most cases.

  • It has a sweeping effect on muscles groups across the body

  • Requires easy lifting techniques

  • Helps in conquering serious postural defects, including muscle pain and tight muscles


  • Not effective in building strength for professional sports.

Romanian Deadlift Pros and Cons


  • Great for improving strength and mobility in the lower body, from the core to the hips and hamstring

  • Targets several muscle groups in one fell swoop

  • Excellent for replacing excess weight with lean muscle mass


  • Requires heavier weights to achieve fitness objectives

  • Creates more pressure on the nervous system due to the heavier load

How Do You Do the Romanian Deadlift?

Now, let’s get down to brass tacks. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the Romanian deadlift.

  1. You can begin with the barbell resting on the floor or a power rack. If it’s on a power rack, place it at your thigh level. Stand over the bar with your arms and feet spread out by your shoulder width. Grab the bar with an overhand grip and lift it off the power rack pin or the ground to your hip level.

  2. Lower the bar slowly, pushing your hips back. The lifter’s knees slightly bend—they do not flex or extend through the motion. Hold up the bar at your knee level with your core braced and shoulder and back straightened out.

  3. Brace your hamstrings, push out your hips and raise the bar back up to your thighs. Keep your knees slightly bent as in the starting position.

  4. Repeat the reps as many times as needed.

Romanian Deadlift Variations

The Romanian deadlift described above involves a barbell and some specific movements. Other variations are possible with other types of weights and different motion ranges.

Let’s look at some of the most common Romanian deadlift variations and alternatives:

Stiff Leg Deadlift

As the name suggests, the stiff leg deadlift involves less movement in the lower body, and you’ll bend your knees much less, leaving most of the movement to the hip region. Throughout the eccentric phase, the emphasis is entirely on the hamstrings.

As such, it’s a more effective variation for building out your butt, strengthening your hamstrings, and improving hip mobility. But you’ll need to carry a much lighter weight given the severe movement restrictions.

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

With this variation, you use a dumbbell instead of a barbell, which significantly alters weight distribution across the body. While the barbell provides some wriggle room around your hips, the dumbbell locks your hamstrings in a tighter position, effectively demanding more of it. 

Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift

With rails guiding the weight, the Smith Machine supports greater control and stability during deadlifts, and this can be of great benefit to new users whose core strength and stability are not up to scratch. The Smith Machine Romanian deadlift also puts more pressure on the hamstrings – you don’t need stability (hence multiple muscle groups) to raise or lower the bar on the guide rails. As a result, much of the output originates from the hips getting pushed back and forth. This variation is also ideal for building muscle mass in the lower body.

The Landmine Romanian Deadlift

The landmine enables you to bring your weaker side up to speed. It’s performed by lifting a landmine directly in front of you or to your sides. It’s another excellent way to vary your routine, enabling you to cover muscle groups not adequately targeted in the other regimens, including your hip external rotators and glutes.

The Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

The single-leg Romanian deadlift takes the landmine Romanian deadlift a notch higher. You lift dumbbells with a single leg drive, pumping up more hip action on that side of the body. It’s a great way to work on weaker muscles and the entire body, from the posterior tibials to your triceps.

How Do You Do the Conventional Deadlift?

With the conventional deadlift, you begin with the weight on the ground. There are options for beginning with a raised weight, but it’s less popular. The range of motion also extends across all parts of the body.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the traditional deadlift.

  1. Grab the weight using an overhand grip or mixed grip, with your arms stretched out about your shoulder width.

  2. Roll the bar closer and squat slowly, dipping your hips and bending your knees. Bring your shin in contact with the bar, and keep your back straight throughout.

  3. Push your heels against the floor and lift the barbell, driving your hips forward. Be careful not to raise your hips faster than the barbell. Your shoulder and back should remain flat.

  4. Hinge at the thigh level with your hips and knees fully straightened and then lower the barbell back to the starting point.

  5. Repeat as many reps as needed.

Deadlift Variations

You don’t need to follow the exact steps above every time to do a conventional deadlift. Other deadlift variations and alternatives can help you spice up your workout routine. Don’t have a barbell? No worries.

Here are the most common variations and alternatives to the conventional barbell:

Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift requires more hip drive. You start with your legs planted further apart. This reduces the distance the weight travels from the ground to the hip level, but it also pulls the hip backward further, making the hamstrings work even more. Arms are closer together, requiring extra upper body drive. Studies show that the Sumo deadlift consumes 25%-40% more energy than conventional deadlifts.

Rack Pull Deadlift

The rack pull allows you to target more upper body muscles. The barbell is placed on a rack to raise the starting position. This also increases your weight load without significantly raising stability needs, with a significant uptick in shoulder and back motion.

The rack pull deadlift engages fewer lower body muscles and more from the upper body by reducing the lowering height. The pull primarily targets your back, abs, and chest.

Hex Bar Deadlift (or Trap Bar)

A hex bar or trap bar comes with a 6-sided bar that you can stand in between and pull the weight from the lateral handles. This varies the weight distribution in the lift phase, calling on a flatter back and a more comprehensive range of upper body muscles. This is great for building strength, stability, and upper body hypertrophy.

Deficit Deadlift

With the deficit deadlift, you lower your arms well beyond your feet to pick up the weight, increasing your lower body movement. You lift the barbell from the ground while standing on a block. It demands far more stability and hip drive, and you’ll have to pull a lower weight to make the lift less difficult.

Kettlebell Deadlift

If you have kettlebells lying around, you can use them for deadlifts. It’s an excellent primer for beginners, giving them a more convenient way to get accustomed to hip and leg drives.

Staggered Deadlift

This is the conventional deadlift version of the single-leg Romanian deadlift. You lift a pair of dumbbells with a partial stance. It’s great for building up weaker sides and ramping up overall strength and mobility.

Is the Romanian Deadlift Safer Than the Deadlift?

The safety limits of both the Romanian deadlift and conventional deadlift depend on your fitness goals. It’s always best to consult a fitness expert when planning your deadlift routine.

As we’ve shown, each type of deadlift affects different parts of the body. Try 8–12 reps of the Romanian deadlift with moderate weight or 6–8 reps of conventional deadlifts to build strength and stability. You can use the same number of reps with a heavier load for muscle hypertrophy.

Technique Tips and Mistakes to Avoid

Your technique can affect the result of your deadlifts. Improper techniques can lead to poor weight distribution and improper body movement, which can undermine the effectiveness of your regime. Here are tips on how best to perform your deadlifts, plus mistakes to avoid.

Romanian Deadlifts

Technique Tips

  1. Drive your hips down aggressively, dipping down low on the lift phase to apply more heat on your glutes and hamstring.

  2. Make sure your heels are well planted to provide optimal support for the leg drive.

  3. Squeeze your lats when hinging the barbell on your thighs to take pressure off your back and keep your lower back from arching over.

  4. Squeeze on your glutes to support your lowered hips and provide extra oomph for the lift phase.

Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Flattening out the knee on the high lockout position. Your knees should remain slightly bent to minimize the strain on your lower back.

  2. Bending your knees too much during the lowering range of motion. It’s essential to bend the knee slightly but don’t squat. Your lower body should remain as upright as possible with only slightly bent knees.

Conventional Deadlifts

Technique Tips

  1. Roll the barbell to the midline of your foot to align the weight properly with your center of mass.

  2. Keep the barbell as close to your body as possible to ease pressure on your mid and upper back.

  3. Engage your quads when pushing the floor with your knees to generate more power for the lift.

  4. Lower the weight to the starting position gently. Dropping it abruptly can blunt the impact on your core, lats, and shoulders.

Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Rounding your back due to significantly heavy weight. Try moderating the weight.

  2. Don’t raise your hips quicker than the barbell during the lift. Allow the quads and hamstring to soak up more pressure.

  3. Poor grips – work on your grips first before taking on the deadlift.

The deadlift and its variations can have a wide range of unique benefits on your physical health. The conventional and Romanian deadlifts are great for beginners and advanced bodybuilders. They help you whip up a wide range of muscle groups across the body, improving core strength and stability and lower body mobility. They’re also excellent muscle hypertrophy options, allowing you to pack more mass from your hips to abs, pectorals, and shoulders.

At Fit Club NY, we have a team of deadlift experts who can help you add weightlifting seamlessly into your routines. We’ll help you choose and implement the correct type of deadlift variation for your fitness needs.

Let’s help you craft your deadlift routine today! 

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