The debate about the Romanian deadlift vs. deadlift is a perennial interest in weightlifting circles. 

What are the differences between these similar exercises?

Does one cause more muscle activation and growth than the other?

When discussing deadlifts vs. Romanian deadlifts, which exercise lets you lift the most weight?

Get evidence-based answers to these questions and more in this article.

Deadlift vs. Romanian Deadlift: What’s the Difference?

There are five main differences between the deadlift and Romanian deadlift:

Starting Position

The starting positions of the conventional and Romanian deadlifts differ significantly. The deadlift begins with the bar on the floor, while the Romanian deadlift begins with you standing upright with the bar at hip height on a squat rack.

Initial Movement

The initial movement in a deadlift involves lifting the weight from the floor by straightening your knees, driving your hips forward, and standing upright. Conversely, you initiate the Romanian deadlift by pushing your hips backward and bending at the waist.

Muscles Worked

The deadlift trains your entire posterior chain (the muscles on the back of your body), including the lats, traps, spinal erectors, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. It also trains several other muscle groups across the rest of your body, like the quads, forearms, core, and shoulders.

Conversely, the Romanian deadlift specifically trains the posterior chain, especially the hamstrings, back, and glutes

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Benefits

The deadlift’s benefits are:

  1. It trains several major muscle groups across your entire body, making it exceptionally efficient (it does the work of several other exercises).
  2. It allows you to lift heavy weights and progress regularly, which is ideal for gaining size and strength.
  3. It may reduce lower-back pain.
  4. It boosts athletic performance.
  5. It mimics movements we do in everyday life, strengthening the muscles involved and making day-to-day tasks easier.

On the other hand, the Romanian deadlift’s benefits are:

  1. It lets you train your entire posterior chain without beating yourself up with too much conventional deadlifting. 
  2. It trains your hamstrings eccentrically and in a stretched position, which is highly effective for building muscle. 
  3. It’s one of the few exercises that allow you to train your hamstrings with heavy weights and progress regularly, which is generally better for muscle and strength gain

Form

Aside from the differing starting positions and initial movements, there are two key differences between deadlift and Romanian deadlift form:

  • Knee bend: The deadlift begins in a “half-squat” position with your knees bent to around 90 degrees. In contrast, your legs stay mostly straight in the Romanian deadlift, only bending at the knee to around 30 degrees or less. 
  • Range of motion: The range of motion is longer during deadlifts vs. romanian deadlifts. Specifically, in the Romanian deadlift, you lower the bar to just below your knees or about mid-shin before standing up again, whereas in the conventional deadlift, the bar begins and ends each rep on the floor.

Deadlift vs. Romanian Deadlift: Technique

How to Perform A Deadlift

deadlift vs romanian deadlift

  1. Position your feet so they’re a bit less than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed slightly out. Move a loaded barbell over your midfoot so it’s about an inch from your shins.
  2. Move down toward the bar by pushing your hips back and grip the bar just outside your shins.
  3. Take a deep breath of air into your belly, flatten your back by pushing your hips up slightly, and then drive your body upward and slightly back by pushing through your heels until you’re standing up straight.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.

How to Perform A Romanian Deadlift

Romanian Deadlift

  1. Stand up straight holding a loaded barbell with a shoulder-width, overhand grip (palms facing toward your body).
  2. Flatten your back and lower the weights toward the floor in a straight line while keeping your legs mostly straight, allowing your butt to move backward as you descend.
  3. Once you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, bend your knees slightly more, and continue lowering the weights until your lower back begins to round—just below the knees for most people and about mid-shin for those who are particularly flexible. 
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.

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Deadlift vs. Romanian Deadlift: Useful Cues

A weightlifting cue is a mental mantra you recite while performing an exercise to draw your attention to specific aspects of your form. Here are some useful cues that help you perform the deadlift and Romanian deadlift correctly. 

Deadlift Cues

  • Crush oranges in your armpits: Imagining squeezing oranges in your armpits helps you lift more weight by ensuring your shoulders are in the correct starting position, preventing your upper back from rounding, and making it easier to get into the proper position to pull.
  • Belly into the bar: Pushing your belly towards the bar flattens your back and ensures your hips are at the right height when you begin each rep, which saves energy and helps you lift more weight.
  • Push the floor away: Instead of thinking about lifting the weight, visualize pushing the floor away. Doing so helps you engage your quads and ensures your back angle doesn’t change as you begin lifting.

Romanian Deadlift Cues

  • Butt back: Pushing your butt backward prevents excess knee bend, which forces you to hinge at the hips rather than “squat” the weight up. 
  • Hips into the bar: Aggressively bringing your hips forward as the barbell moves above your knees helps you minimize the distance between the bar and your body, boosting lifting efficiency.
  • Drag the bar up your legs: Focusing on dragging the bar over your knees and up your thighs reduces the distance the bar has to travel and makes it easier to maintain a straight back.

Deadlift vs. Romanian Deadlift: Common Mistakes

Common Deadlift Mistakes

  • Rounding your lower back: Lower-back rounding typically occurs when you’re trying to lift too much weight, or you lack hamstring flexibility. To correct the former, reduce the weight and build strength slowly until you can perform the exercise with proper form. To fix the latter, follow the advice in our definitive guide to mobility exercises
  • Hips rise too early: The most common reason people’s hips rise too early when deadlifting is that they set up incorrectly with their knees overly bent and their hips too low. To fix this, focus on driving your hips back rather than down as you set up. Once you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, bring your shins forward until they lightly touch the bar. Then, as you lift the bar, drive your hips forward rather than up.
  • Overextending at lockout: Avoid overarching your lower back by finishing the lift when your hips are “locked out” (your torso and thighs form a straight, vertical line) and your chest is up.

Common Romanian Deadlift Mistakes

  • Lowering the weight too far: During each rep of the Romanian deadlift, lower the bar to just below your knees or about mid-shin before standing up. If you can go lower, it likely means you’re not pushing your hips back sufficiently during the descent.
  • Allowing the barbell to drift forward: Letting the barbell drift from your body heightens the chances of back rounding, which can lead to injury. The best ways to avoid this are to focus on dragging the bar up your body and contracting your upper back and lats throughout each rep.  
  • Allowing the knees to travel forward: Forward knee travel during the Romanian deadlift is a sign you’re trying to lift too much weight and altering your form to compensate. Reduce the weight on the bar and concentrate on moving your butt backward.

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Deadlift vs. Romanian Deadlift: Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ #1: Stiff legged deadlift vs. Romanian deadlift: What’s the difference?

The stiff-leg deadlift closely resembles the Romanian deadlift, the difference being the bar starts and finishes each rep on the floor and your legs remain straighter in the stiff leg deadlift vs. the Romanian deadlift.

Research shows that the stiff-leg deadlift is effective for glute, hamstrings, and lower-back development because it has a long range of motion.

However, most people can’t lift as much weight using the stiff-leg deadlift as they can with the Romanian deadlift. Many also find the stiff-leg version difficult to learn and uncomfortable, especially if they have poor flexibility or lower-back issues

This is why most people prefer the Romanian deadlift to the stiff-leg deadlift, and why it’s the variation I recommend in my programs for men and women, Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger.

FAQ #2: Good morning vs. Romanian deadlift: What’s the difference?

The good morning is a compound exercise that trains your entire posterior chain, primarily the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.

It’s similar to the Romanian deadlift insofar as it involves “hinging” at the hips, then standing back upright. The difference is that you perform the barbell good morning with a barbell across your traps and rear delts, whereas in the Romanian deadlift, you hold the barbell in your hands.

Both are excellent exercises, which is why I included them in my strength training program for intermediate and advanced weightlifters, Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger.

FAQ #3: How much weight should you lift for deadlifts vs. Romanian deadlifts?

You’ll be able to lift less with the Romanian deadlift vs. deadlift.

Most people can Romanian deadlift 40-to-50% of their deadlift one-rep max for 8-to-10 reps and deadlift 70-to-80% of their deadlift one-rep max for 8-to-10 reps.

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