Deadlift vs Romanian Deadlift: Which Variation is Best For When?

by Nader Qudimat
Updated June 11, 2023
Muscle & Strength
Experience Level
Beginner to Advanced
Best for muscle and strength building
Multiple variations available
Can be used for any goal
Highly demanding
Can easily lead to overtraining

Bottom Line

When it comes to deadlifts, they are considered to be the king of exercises. 

The reason for this is because it can build strength and muscle very efficiently. 

There are two deadlift variations that are commonly used, conventional deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts. 

Both of them have their places in programs, and cater to specific goals. 

Here we'll compare both and you'll understand which one should be used and when. 

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The deadlift is the ultimate raw power exercise.

Lifting a dead weight from the floor with absolutely no momentum can quickly sort out the men from the boys.

But not all deadlifts are equal.

There are a number of different ways to do the deadlift.

Two of the most popular are the Standard Deadlift and the Romanian Deadlift.

In this article, we put those two exercises side by side to find out which exercise should be used to suit which training goal.

By the end of the article, you’ll be in no doubt about how to get the maximum benefit from your deadlifting efforts.

Conventional Deadlift & Romanian Deadlift: Key Differences

The main difference between the Conventional Deadlift and the Romanian deadlift is that the conventional deadlift originates from the floor while the Romanian deadlift starts from a standing position. 

As a result of the different starting positions, the focus of movements differs.

The deadlift is a concentric movement, moving up to a standing position.

The Romanian Deadlift is ad eccentric movement, moving down to a low position. 

As a result of the different directions of movement, the two exercises are taught differently; in fact in opposite ways.

The deadlift is taught as a pushing exercise off the floor through your knees, whereas the Romanian Deadlift is taught as a pulling movement through the hips.

Another key difference between the two exercises involves the positioning of the shoulders.

When you do the Deadlift, your shoulders will naturally be positioned slightly forward of the bar.

With the Romanian Deadlift, the shoulders will be a lot further forward of the bar.

While both the Deadlift and the Romanian Deadlift involve hinging at the hips, it is more pronounced in the Romanian Deadlift.

Both exercises target the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.

However, the Romanian Deadlift hits the hamstrings and glutes more, while the Deadlift does a better job of working the quads.

Check out the video below on the differences between the two:

How To Do Conventional Deadlift

The deadlift looks deceptively simple; you simply stand up with a heavyweight in your hands.

However, the lift has several technical aspects that need to be conquered to get good at this exercise.

  1. Stand in front of the bar so that your midfoot is under the bar and your feet are shoulder-width apart.
  2. Go down to grab the bar by bending the knees but maintaining a neutral spine. Keep your head directly ahead. Grab the bar with a reverse grip on the knurling just a little wider than shoulder-width.
  3. Push through your heels as you pull with your hips, not your arms. Your hips should be higher than the knees at the start of the pull.
  4. Bring the hips, shoulders, and chest up together as the bar comes off the floor. You want the bar to travel directly up and in close to your body.
  5. As the bar comes up to mid thigh level, squeeze your glutes tightly to prevent pulling with your lower back. At the same time, pull your shoulders back. Extend your back (do not round it).
  6. Continue pulling until you are standing erect. 
  7. Lower the bar in a mirror image of how you raised it.

Training Tips

  • Do not deadlift in front of a mirror. Even the slightest adjustment in form may cause serious injury.
  • Maintain full extension in your elbows throughout the range of motion.
  • Push through your heels. Your shins should be touching the bar in the start position.
  • In the start position, your shoulder blades should be over the bar, with your shoulders in front of it.

Most Common Mistakes

  1. Rolling the shoulders back in the top position and extending the hips too far forward. This will put too much stress on your spine.
  2. Pulling with the arms at the start of the lift. This puts dangerous stress overload on the biceps. Your arms need to be locked out during the entire lift.
  3. Not using a full range of motion. You will often see people repping out without actually lowering the bar to the floor between reps. Be sure to ground the bar between each rep.
  4. Hips staying too low. The start position of the deadlift should not resemble the bottom position of a squat. Rather, your hips should be sitting a little higher than your knees in the start position. Rather than sitting on the couch, your position should resemble a bow.
  5. Round the lower back. In this position, the lower back is very vulnerable. It usually happens because the bar is too far forward from your body. Prevent the problems by making sure that the bar sits directly over your mid feet. 
  6. Over reliance on a lifting belt and straps. These things have their place, but using them on every lift will prevent you from strengthening your grip and core. Save the lifting equipment for your heaviest sets. 
  7. Bad shoe choice. You want a flat shoe that doesn’t have hardly any padding. The more stable low and secure your feet are, the better.

Muscles Used In The Conventional Deadlifts

Primary Workers …

  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Erector Spinae

Secondary Workers …

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Trapezius
  • Adductors
  • Calves
  • Forearm Flexors

How to Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian Deadlift should be performed inside a power rack. This will allow you to safely begin the exercise from the thigh barbell position without first having to lift it from the floor. 

  1. Set the pins of a power rack so they are set at mid thigh level. Load the bar at that level.
  2. Unrack the bar. Start in a standing position with the bar held on the knurling in an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width, and arms extended. Your knees should be slightly bent and your neck in a neutral position. The bar should be resting at arm’s length against your thighs.
  3. Continue the movement by pushing your hips back, flexing at the hips. Keep your back flat, your chest up and your head neutral as the bar slides down your legs until it is a mid-shin level.
  4. Return to the start position, pulling the bar up the legs and slightly rotating the hips forward until you are vertical.

Most Common Mistakes

  • Rounding the back or shoulders. To avoid this do not let the bar move out in front of your body.
  • Straightening the knees in the top position: you want to maintain a slight knee bend.
  • Too much knee bend to move the weight down; keep the knee bend to a minimum

Romanian Deadlift as an Adjunct Movement

The Romanian Deadlift can be considered a partial deadlift as you do not lower the bar completely to the floor at the end of the rep.

Instead, it finishes at the mid-shin level. It can, therefore, be used by powerlifters to help to develop greater strength during the middle portion of the Standard Deadlift. 

The Romanian Deadlift allows you to maximally train the lumbar region of the erector spinae to develop power through the mid range pull. 

The Romanian Deadlift can also be considered to be what is called a regression exercise.

A regression exercise is one that has been modified to make it suitable for people with an inherent weakness.

If you have an ongoing lower back issue, the Standard Deadlift should be avoided.

Swapping it out with the Romanian Deadlift will avoid the first 3rd of the movement, which places maximum stress on the lower back.

The Romanian Deadlift will also build confidence for the Standard Deadlift.

You will be able to lift more weight on the Romanian Deadlift.

As such, it can help you to bust through a training plateau on the Standard Deadlift. 

Romanian Deadlift: Target Muscles

Primary Workers …

  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Erector Spinae

Secondary Workers …

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Trapezius
  • Adductors
  • Forearm Flexors

When to Do The Conventional Deadlift

The standard, or conventional deadlift is probably the next thing you can do to increase your raw lifting power.

It will also build lean muscle mass through the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, deltoids, quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.

So, the standard deadlift should be done when you are wanting to develop bigger and stronger muscles.

They should also be done to improve functional lifting strength that requires the entire body to work as a unit.

Powerlifters and weightlifters should also include the deadlift as a core foundational exercise. 

If you are a bodybuilder, you may have wondered whether you should consider the deadlift to be a back or a leg exercise.

As we’ve already noted, the exercise works both the back and leg muscles.

In fact, it hits nearly all of the posterior chain muscles that run up the back of your body.

It doesn’t make any difference whether you do the deadlift as a back or a leg exercise.

The key is to do it consistently and well. However, if you are doing squats on leg day, you may be better off shifting the deadlift to back day.

That way you won’t be doing two extremely taxing compound exercises in the same workout.

When to Do the Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian Deadlift does a better job of working the hamstrings and the glutes than the Standard Deadlift.

It is, therefore, a better choice of exercise if you want to prioritize working those muscle groups over the quadriceps.

People who are prone to lower back injury will be better off doing the Romanian deadlift than the Standard Deadlift.

When it comes to when the Romanian Deadlift should be scheduled into a split routine workout program, it makes more sense to schedule it into your leg day rather than your back day workout.

That is because it preferentially targets the backs of the legs over the back muscles.

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift: Which Exercise is Best?

Both the Standard Deadlift and the Romanian Deadlift are excellent compound exercises.

It is impossible to state that one is definitely better than the other, because they each have a different purpose. 

If you are using the deadlift to develop power, strength, and hypertrophy then you should go with the Standard Deadlift.

But, if you want to concentrate on strength and hypertrophy in the gluteus maximus and hamstrings, then you should switch to the Romanian Deadlift.

The Romanian Deadlift is a better option for people who have lower back problems.

The Romanian Deadlift is beneficial as a supplemental movement to help you to overcome sticking points when doing the Standard Deadlift.

It will also help you to improve your squat performance.

As you can see, both of these deadlifts have a place in a program. 

For the best results, we would recommend using both. 

This program, the PHAT program, is a great example that uses both in the same week. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between the Standard Deadlift and the Romanian Deadlift?

The Standard Deadlift starts with the bar on the floor and finishes in a standing position.

In contrast, the Romanian Deadlift begins in a standing position and finishes with the bar at shin level.

The first focuses on concentric movement while the second is mainly an eccentric one.

What are Romanian Deadlifts good for?

Romanian Deadlifts are good for developing strength and muscle size in the posterior chain muscles, especially the hamstrings, glutes, and erector spinae.

They are a good deadlift option for people with lower back pain.

It is also an effective adjunct exercise to overcoming a training plateau in the Standard Deadlift. 

Why is the Romanian Deadlift called the Romanian Deadlift?

The Romanian Deadlift is named in honor of a heavyweight weightlifter from Romania named Nicu Vlad.

He competed for his country at the 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996 Olympic Games.

Prior to the 1984 Games, he was seen doing the stiff backed deadlift variation by some USA competitors.

The Americans took the exercise back to the United States and named it the Romanian Deadlift.

Wrap Up

Both the Deadlift and the Romanian Deadlift are very good compound exercises that will develop strength, power, and muscle.

Neither is better than the other, with each one having a certain training purpose.

Perform the conventional Deadlift to develop brute power and to develop and strengthen the entire posterior chain muscles.

The Romanian Deadlift more specifically works the hamstrings and glutes.

It’s also a good option for those who have low back problems and people wanting to break through a deadlift training plateau.

by Nader Qudimat

Forged by iron and cold steel, I'm Nader, a mid-30s natural bodybuilder. Once a 100lb skinny guy, I've transformed into a 200lb muscular athlete with over 15 years of lifting experience. Today, I leverage my transformation and extensive experience to guide countless individuals on their fitness journeys.

Click here to check out my 12 year transformation: Natural 12 Year Transformation

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