A strength trainer explains the key differences between traditional and Romanian deadlifts, and how to master both.
Traditional deadlifts are widely considered to be the ultimate posterior strength builder and are one of the most popular compound exercises. Starting with the weight on the floor, conventional deadlifts target your whole body, working everything from your back and trapezius, to your core, to your glutes, quads and hamstrings.
Romanian deadlifts (RDLs), however, are slightly different. To perform one, you’ve got to start off by holding the weight for the move to target the glute and hamstring. They’re all about producing a serious lower body burn.
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What is the difference between traditional and Romanian deadlifts?
“To put it simply, the conventional deadlift involves lifting a weight up off the floor using your legs and putting it down again. Whereas the RDL starts from a standing position with the weight hanging below your waist against your thighs and ends just below the knee around shin level.”
“Although they are both hip hinge movements the RDL requires only a slight bend in the knees, engaging more of the posterior chain muscles such as the hamstrings and glutes. The deadlift on the other hand starts much lower down as you lift the weight from the floor so you have to initiate the movement by activating your quads and back first before your hamstrings and glutes.”
But is one type of deadlift really better than the other?
Of course, it all depends on your goals, strengths, and any physical limitations, as well as which type feels most comfortable to you.
Some trainers advise prioritising and mastering Romanian deadlifts first to build up their hip, hamstring, and lower back mechanics. Without this strength, beginners may pull with their traps and upper body rather than in a hip-hinge movement, which can lead to injury.
How to ensure good form when deadlifting
Skipper stresses that no matter the variation you are completing, good, safe form is key to performing deadlifts.
“To protect your back, always maintain a straight back and neutral neck with your shoulders down, away from your ears. Keep the barbell close to your legs throughout the movement as if you were shaving your legs with it,” she advises.
“As you finish each rep, stand straight at the top of your deadlift and avoid overextending your lower back.”
Other deadlift variations
But the options for deadlifts don’t end there. Stiff-legged deadlifts work your core strength and calves more than conventional ones and are easily completed with dumbbells, making them perfect for home workouts.
“Some of my favourite variations include the landmine single leg RDL, the staggered RDL and the sumo deadlift,” shares Skipper.
For more strength training tips and variations, check out Strong Women Training Club’s archive of workout videos.