Romanian vs. Standard Deadlift

Frequently done, but rarely performed correctly, the deadlift exercise can be an awesome addition to your lower body workout at the gym. Because there are several variations in technique, however, many people are left to wonder, what's the difference between a deadlift and a Romanian deadlift?

Deadlifts are a great full body exercise. (Image: Pekic/E+/GettyImages)

Upon taking a closer look, you'll find that a few simple modifications separate the two techniques and can alter the exercise's purpose and the muscles being worked.

Tip

When looking at the Romanian deadlift vs. deadlift form, the key difference is in the starting position of the exercise and the movement made by your lower body.

What Is a Standard Deadlift?

The deadlift exercise is one of the most fundamental lower body exercises around. Using a bar and some plate weights, it emphasizes a pulling movement and increases lower body strength, as the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee points out.

This lift can also help you build power in preparation for explosive movements. Because of this, athletes in sports that require jumping or cutting (such as football, basketball or volleyball) may find the standard deadlift valuable in honing and improving their performance.

Don't be fooled into thinking this exercise is only suitable for elite athletes. No matter your fitness level, deadlifting is a good way to protect your body from the physical demands that bending, lifting or carrying can place on it during day-to-day life.

Always use correct lifting form making sure to keep a neutral lumbar spine with a slight outward curvature. Otherwise, this movement can place a lot of strain on the muscles in your low back and legs, leading to injuries.

Deadlift:

  1. Begin the deadlift with the bar on the floor ahead of you and your feet shoulder-width apart and turned slightly outward.
  2. Squat at the knees and bend at the hips to grab the bar. Keep your back slightly arched and be sure that your knees don't go beyond the end of your toes as you bend them!
  3. Without allowing your shoulders or low back to round, stand up as you thrust your hips forward and squeeze at your buttocks. Keep the bar close to your waist as you do this and clench your stomach muscles.
  4. Squeeze your buttocks at the top of the lift and hold the position for a second or two before reversing the movement and slowly lowering the bar back down again. Again, do not allow your low back to round and be sure to stay in control of the bar's descent to the floor to avoid injuring your back.

Tip

Begin with lighter weights that allow you to focus and hone in on your form. As this becomes easy, slowly increase the weight to gradually build your power and strength.

Standard Deadlift Benefits

The deadlift is a compound, multi-joint exercise, which is why it's so common among gym rats and everyday Joes alike. According to the American Council on Exercise, this lifting technique is an effective way to target the posterior chain muscles, including your hamstring muscles (the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris) and your gluteus maximus.

It also involves a partial squat at the knees and activates your quads. This makes it slightly different from the Romanian version.

Furthermore, according to a February 2015 review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, including deadlifts in your strength workouts is an effective way to activate the lumbar paraspinal muscles that line the vertebrae bones in your low back. It also helps hard-wire proper lifting techniques by emphasizing use of your legs instead of relying on your low back. This may help you avoid injuries to your lumbar spine.

What’s a Romanian Deadlift?

While it may not be apparent at first, there are differences when you look at the Romanian deadlift vs. deadlift. This version of the leg strengthening exercise emphasizes the muscles that help extend your hips and straighten your knees.

Unlike the standard deadlift, however, one of the Romanian deadlift benefits is that it does not place a significant amount of force through the front (anterior) part of your knee joint, making it less likely to cause pain in this area.

This exercise may not be for everyone, though. The movement needed for a Romanian deadlift, which involves your pelvis rotating around the stationary thigh (femur) bone, can take some practice to do with proper form.

If you are struggling to maintain proper mechanics, you may want to start by working with a personal trainer or physical therapist to ensure you don't injure yourself while attempting this version of the lift.

Romanian Deadlift:

  1. Start by standing in an erect position, keeping a neutral back and holding the weight bar against your thighs. Your knees should be slightly bent and shoulder blades should be in a down and back position. Begin with a lighter weight and only progress when you are able to comfortably complete the exercise with proper form.
  2. Without allowing your low back or shoulders to round and without locking out your knees, hinge forward at your hips as you control the weight bar as it lowers down to the floor.
  3. When you feel the tension increasing in the hamstring muscles in the back of your thighs, pause for a second or two before returning to the starting position by pushing your heels into the floor and thrusting your butt forward. At the top of the motion, your back should stay neutral and your shoulder blades should remain in the set position.

Tip

Avoid watching yourself in the mirror while you do this exercise as it can strain your neck muscles. Instead, your head should stay neutral and in line with your spine.

Romanian Deadlift Benefits

Much like the standard deadlift, performing the Romanian version provides you with many distinct advantages. According to the American Council on Exercise, one of the many Romanian deadlift benefits is that it targets the muscles in the back of your legs, including the buttocks (gluteus maximus) and the hamstrings. The erector spinae muscles in your lower back get a great workout too, making it similar to the standard deadlift.

The Romanian deadlift also helps individuals learn to hinge or bend at their hips without straining their lumbar spine. This makes suitable for people who have experienced low back pain in the past and who are looking to prevent its reccurrence.

Because of the low amount of knee strain involved, however, individuals with knee arthritis or meniscus issues who are comparing the Romanian deadlift vs. deadlift may prefer the Romanian version.

How Many Reps and Sets?

Because of the differences between the standard deadlift and the Romanian deadlift, it's not a bad idea to include both techniques in your workouts. Other common leg exercises, like squats and lunges, can also be added to your leg training routine.

If you're working on muscular strength, try performing between two to six sets of four to eight repetitions of each exercise with about two to five minutes of rest time between sets.

If your goal is to increase muscle size (aka hypertrophy), you can modify your workout and do three to six sets of between six and 12 repetitions. In this case, a shorter 30- to 90-second rest interval can be used.

In either case, this can be done between two and three times per week, taking at least a day to recover between leg workouts. As always, be sure to stop any exercise that causes pain.

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