There are a number of variations of the deadlift exercise, including stiff legged, sumo, Romanian and standard. Each exercise is slightly different and will stress your body in different ways. The common feature of all forms of deadlift is the training effect they place on the muscles at the back of your body -- the so-called posterior chain. The posterior chain muscles are essential in both sports performance and also injury prevention. Both the Romanian deadlift and standard deadlift can be useful and in many ways are interchangeable.
To perform the Romanian deadlift, stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a barbell in front of your thighs, using an overhand shoulder-width grip. Bend your knees slightly and then keep them rigid throughout your set. Push your butt back, hinge forward from your hips and lower the bar down the front of your legs as far as your flexibility allows. Push your hips forward and stand back up.
In contrast, the standard deadlift begins with the barbell resting on the floor. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your toes under the bar. Bend down and grasp the bar with a shoulder-width overhand grip. Lift your chest, arch your lower back and position your hips lower than your shoulders. From this position, extend your hips and knees to pull the bar off the floor and stand up. Pause in the upright position for a second before pushing your hips back, bending your knees and putting the weight back down on the floor.
Romanian deadlifts target the power zone of hamstrings, glutes and lower back. This area of the body is vital in most sports that require lifting, jumping or sprinting. Standard deadlifts use these same muscles but also involve the muscles on the front of your thighs -- the quadriceps. Both forms of deadlift also develop your upper back and gripping strength. The similarity between these two exercises means that you should not perform them both in the same workout unless you especially want to overload your posterior chain muscles.
The Romanian deadlift is an exercise used to improve strength whereas the standard deadlift is both an exercise and part of the sport of powerlifting. In powerlifting, competitors have three attempts to lift the heaviest weight they can. Judges preside over the competition to ensure that all lifts are completed according to strict rules. Heavyweight deadlifters can lift 900 lbs. or more and the current world record is in excess of 1000 lbs. In competition, deadlifters often wear special suits, knee wraps and belts, which allow them to lift heavier weights. These accessories are not normally associated with Romanian deadlifts.
Both the Romanian and standard deadlift place a lot of stress on your lower back. To perform either of these exercises safely, it is vital that you maintain a tightly arched lower back and never allow your spine to round. A rounded back is a weak back because all of the weight is supported by the passive structures of your spine -- specifically your spinal ligaments and intervertebral discs. A stable and strong lower back arch shifts all of the load onto your muscles and minimizes your risk of injury.