The deadlift versus Romanian deadlift (RDL) is a popular topic of discussion for beginner and intermediate lifters. Both of these exercises are popular deadlift variations that can benefit all types of lifters.
As a coach, the main questions I get asked about deadlifts versus Romanian deadlifts are what their main differences are, when to use each, and what muscles they work.
In this article, I’ll cover everything that you need to know when considering using deadlifts versus Romanian deadlifts for your workout programs.
The deadlift starts from the floor and is generally used to train the body as a whole while focusing on one’s top-end and relative strength. The Romanian deadlift’s reps begin from a locked-out position and is generally used to build and train the posterior muscles.
I like to think of the deadlift and Romanian deadlift as skills. When you train these movements, don’t neglect the skill component that comes along with each of these deadlift variations.
If your main goal is building your hamstrings and glutes, then the Romanian deadlift can be a slightly better option. The RDL will more directly focus and isolate the posterior muscles.
If you plan to compete in powerlifting one day or simply want to lift the most weight possible, then opting for the deadlift and getting really good at them will be a better call per your long-term goals.
Author’s Note: I have a deadlift vs Romanian deadlift video attached below that also covers what’s discussed in this article. If you’re more of a visual learner, definitely check it out!
Deadlift Vs Romanian Deadlift Differences
When deciding between and learning about the deadlift versus the Romanian deadlift I think there are three major differences to keep in mind and consider.
Some of these differences entail how these movements are performed and the other differences revolve around the differences in the muscles they work and when you’ll want to use each.
Difference 1: Deadlift Vs RDL Performance
The first difference between the deadlift versus Romanian deadlift is what they look like when they’re being performed. Unlike the stiff-leg deadlift vs Romanian deadlift which do have a pretty similar performance, the deadlift and RDL are much more different.
The deadlift is performed from the ground up, so you’ll be picking up a barbell from the ground and lifting it to lockout. This will make the deadlift a little more full body and you’ll utilize the quads a little more when breaking the floor with deadlifts.
The Romanian deadlift is what we could call a top-down exercise in this comparison context as in you’ll start an RDL from a traditionally locked-out deadlift position. For example, a Romanian deadlift rep starts when you hinge and begin to lower the barbell to the floor.
In summary, a deadlift rep starts with a concentric (lifting/shortening) movement pattern and the Romanian deadlift rep starts with an eccentric (lowering/lengthening) movement pattern.
Difference 2: Why and When You’ll Perform Deadlifts and RDLs
The second difference to note between the deadlift versus Romanian deadlift is when you’ll perform each in a training program. Please note, there are countless reasons why you’ll perform each exercise so please don’t take my “whys” as the only reasons.
For starters, if your goals revolve around building full body strength, improving your ability to pick things up from the floor, or one day competing in powerlifting, then you’ll want to program and use the barbell deadlift more often.
In my coaching opinion, I also think the deadlift can be a great exercise to just learn even if you don’t have plans to go super heavy with them or compete in powerlifting. It’s one of those exercises that’s a good idea to have a good understanding of.
The Romanian deadlift will isolate the posterior musculature a little more than the deadlift and can be a great option if your goals revolve around building the hamstrings, glutes, and erectors from both a hypertrophy and strength perspective, and improving your hinge capabilities.
Similar to the deadlift, the hip hinge — which is needed for strong RDLs — is a movement pattern that I think everyone should learn and have a really good grasp of. I put the hip hinge into the same category as a basic squat, it’s a movement pattern you should familiarize yourself with.
To add to its ability to better isolate the posterior muscles, the Romanian deadlift will also be a little less fatiguing than the deadlift. Since you’re not typically loading them as heavy and using as many muscles, you can often perform RDLs at a higher volume and frequency.
In sum, if you’re wondering why and when you’ll want to use the deadlift versus the Romanian deadlift, check out the below,
Perform deadlifts in your program if your goals are,
- Building total body strength.
- Working on top-end lifting and pulling strength.
- Improving your skill and ability to pick things up from the floor.
- Planning to compete in powerlifting one day.
- Looking super cool as you lift heavy weights (joking, but serious).
Perform Romanian deadlifts in your program if your goals are,
- Building your posterior muscle’s strength and capabilities.
- Working to increase the size of muscles like your glutes and hamstrings.
- Improving your hip hinge capabilities and capacity.
- Trying to limit overall fatigue while building pulling strength and posterior muscles.
- You want to look good in front of your gym crush.
If you’re just starting to program for yourself, then I’d suggest playing with when you prefer to use and perform deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts. For example, I’ll regularly perform Romanian deadlifts after my deadlift sets or make them my primary exercise.
Say my goal is getting a little extra hip hinge and hypertrophy work, I’ll use RDLs post deadlifts at a higher volume with a tempo often programmed, and if my goal is blasting my hamstring and glutes, then I’ll make them the focal point of my training day.
The big thing and takeaway to note with this deadlift versus Romanian deadlift difference is that your training goals and needs will be individual and it’s normal to plug and play with exercises to see what you respond best to.
And to play devil’s advocate with my own coaching bias, if you have no desire to deadlift, you don’t necessarily need to perform them to build quality pulling strength and bigger posterior muscles and the Romanian deadlift can work just fine for that for general lifters.
Difference 3: Deadlift Vs Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked
The third major difference to note between the deadlift and the Romanian deadlift is the muscles these exercises will work. I briefly discussed this above in the “why and when” difference, but let’s focus on the muscles worked with these exercises.
Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked
- Gastrocnemius (calves)
*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement
Deadlift Muscles Worked
*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement
When in doubt, remember that the Romanian deadlift will work more directly focusing on muscles on the backside of the body, while the deadlift will train the body a little more fully as muscles like the quads will need to be more active when initiating your deadlift reps.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q:Is RDL better than deadlift?
Q:Which is harder RDL or deadlift?
Q:Should I do RDL before or after deadlift?
Q:Can you replace RDL with deadlift?
Q:Should you do RDLs and deadlifts in the same workout?
The Romanian deadlift versus the deadlift is a popular topic to cover when it comes to which is better for your specific training goals. Both of these exercises can be great for goals like muscular hypertrophy and strength.
The deadlift can be a little better for lifters wanting to build full-body strength while the Romanian deadlift can be awesome for lifters that want to focus on the posterior muscles.
If you have additional questions about the deadlift versus the Romanian deadlift or need help with your form, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).