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Deadlift Vs Romanian Deadlift (RDL) | Which Is Better for Your Goals?

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 are generally used to build and train the posterior muscles.

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.

Key Takeaways

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Every lifter should learn the proper mechanics of BOTH the deadlift and Romanian deadlift. These are both exercises that I call foundational staples in most programs and they can have a ton of real-world carryover.

Deadlift Vs Romanian Deadlift

Differences to Keep In Mind

Difference 1: Deadlift Vs RDL Performance

The first difference between the deadlift and Romanian deadlift is what they look like when they’re being performed. Unlike the stiff-leg deadlift vs Romanian deadlift which have a similar performance, the deadlift and RDL are much more different.

Deadlift Movement Pattern

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.

Romanian Deadlift Movement Pattern

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.

how wide should my deadlift stance be

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, a movement pattern you should familiarize yourself with.

why use romanian deadlifts

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).

Romanian Deadlifts

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.

Romanian Deadlift Vs Deadlift Muscles Worked and Trained

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.

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.

Deadlift Vs RDL Muscles Worked

Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked

Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked and Trained

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Adductors
  • Erectors
  • Traps
  • Lats
  • Forearms
  • Gastrocnemius (calves)

*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement

Deadlift Muscles Worked

Deadlift Muscles Worked and Trained

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Core
  • Forearms
  • Traps
  • Lats
  • Erectors

*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.

Takeaway Thoughts

The Romanian deadlift versus the deadlift is a popular topic to cover regarding 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).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is RDL better than deadlift?

Better is dependent on your training goals. If you're focused on specifically targeting the hamstrings and glutes, then the RDL can be better than the deadlift, but that again, is centered around what you're trying to accomplish.

Which is harder RDL or deadlift?

When it comes to pure effort exertion, the deadlift can often feel harder than the RDL because you can load them heavier and you'll be working more muscles when completing heavy deadlift sets.

Should I do RDL before or after deadlift?

You can technically perform RDLs before or after deadlifts. Exercise order depends on your training goals. For example, if your primary goal is building pulling strength, then perform RDLs after deadlifts.

Can you replace RDL with deadlift?

You can replace RDLs with deadlifts to an extent. The caveat with replacing the RDL with deadlifts is that you won't be able to isolate muscles the same with the deadlift versus the RDL.

Should you do RDLs and deadlifts in the same workout?

You can definitely perform RDLs and deadlifts in the same workout. Lifters will regularly perform RDLs following their deadlift sets to get additional posterior muscle work. You can also program them separately without issues.
Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

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