The stiff-leg deadlift and Romanian deadlift (RDL) are both popular deadlift variations. Both exercises are generally performed to improve strength in the deadlift and to build the posterior muscles.
Throughout your lifting career, it’s normal to consider the differences between the stiff-leg deadlift versus the Romanian deadlift, then program and use them accordingly.
Below, I’m going to cover the differences between the stiff-leg deadlift versus the Romanian deadlift and when to use each for your goals.
The stiff-leg deadlift is a great variation for lifters that want to improve their posterior muscle strength and work on building strength off the floor with their deadlift. The Romanian deadlift is great for building and strengthening the posterior muscles and hip hinge.
The stiff-leg deadlift can be great for building and creating carryover to your deadlift strength when “breaking the floor”. Breaking the floor entails the range of motion and time when the barbell first lifted off of the floor.
The Romanian deadlift is great for strengthening and improving hip hinge mechanics, in addition to strengthening and hypertrophying muscles like the glutes and hamstrings.
When in doubt, remember that the stiff-leg deadlift will be biased towards building concentric (lifting the barbell) strength, while the Romanian deadlift will bias eccentric (lowering the barbell) strength.
Stiff-Leg Deadlift Vs Romanian Deadlift Differences
The differences between the stiff-leg deadlift and the Romanian deadlift revolve around when you’ll perform, why you’ll want to perform them, and the muscles they work.
Below are four major differences to consider when programming and using both of these deadlift variations for accomplishing your goals.
Difference 1: How Each Exercise Starts
The stiff-leg deadlift is a deadlift variation that starts from the floor with the barbell slightly off of the shins. That means this movement will focus largely on the concentric or lifting portion of the deadlift giving it a concentric bias.
In practice, your stiff-leg deadlift reps will start from the floor a little further away from the body than a traditional deadlift, and the successful lifting and bringing down of the barbell will count as one rep toward your set.
The Romanian deadlift is a variation that works from the top down, and in practice, this means that your RDL reps will start with an eccentric muscle action, AKA the lowering of the barbell.
In practice, your Romanian deadlift reps will start with yourself lowering the barbell, then as you lift and bring the barbell back to its starting position that will count as one rep.
The stiff-leg deadlift works from the ground up, the RDL works from the top down.
Difference 2: Setup and Hip Position
The stiff-leg deadlift starts with the hips higher and in a fixed position. There will be some hip movement throughout your stiff-leg deadlift sets, but in general, the hips will be relatively static for the range of motion you’re working through.
In layman’s terms, with the hips higher in a stiff-leg deadlift, they’ll start in a set position and then work through extension as lift and lockout the barbell. This setup and lockout range of motion will be smaller than the RDL’s range of motion.
The Romanian deadlift starts with the hips locked out, then as you lower the barbell down and hinge, they’ll translate further back than where the hips start and sit in the stiff-leg deadlift.
Essentially, the hips will move through a greater range of motion with RDLs than with stiff-leg deadlifts and the amount of stretch on the posterior muscles will generally be greater with RDLs.
Difference 3: Muscles Worked
When it comes to the muscles worked with the stiff-leg deadlift and Romanian deadlift there will be some carryover between what muscles each exercise trains.
For example, the stiff-leg deadlift and Romanian deadlift will both train the hamstrings, glutes, erectors, and back muscles to a large degree as these are all muscles needed to pick a barbell up from the floor and lock it out via hip extension.
However, the amount that each of these muscles is worked will vary due to the ranges of motion you’re working through and how each exercise is executed.
Stiff-Leg Deadlift Muscles Worked
- Gastrocnemius (calves)
*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement
Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked
- Gastrocnemius (calves)
*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement
Difference 4: Why You’ll Use Each
When it comes to using the stiff-leg deadlift and Romanian deadlift in your workout programs, their use should be contextual based on your individual goals.
I know that sounds vague, but in reality, you’ll want to explore how you respond to each exercise because everyone will be a little different, then keep track of how your body responds to each.
For example, some lifters respond really well to heavy RDLs and experience a ton of positive carryover to their deadlift using them while other lifters don’t experience this. Below are some ways I like to use and program stiff-leg deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts.
When to Use Stiff-Leg Deadlifts
- Building hip extension strength: If you want to bias what the glutes and erectors are doing during deadlifts, stiff-leg deadlifts can be a great tool for accomplishing this.
- Building deadlift strength off of the floor: If you want to improve your carryover to their deadlift, stiff-leg deadlifts can be a great accessory for doing so.
- Improving your deadlift consciousness: The ability to maintain certain positions with the hips during deadlifts is a skill and the stiff-leg deadlift can be great for helping you improve on this skill from a higher hip position point of view.
When to Use Romanian Deadlifts
- Building hip extension strength: If you want to bias what the glutes and hamstrings are doing during your deadlifts and hip hinge-focused exercises, RDLs can be an awesome tool.
- Improve your hip hinge strength and mechanics: The hip hinge is needed in countless exercises and RDLs can be a great tool for building your hinge strength and form.
- Increase your posterior muscles yielding strength: The RDL is training the hamstrings and glutes in the context of resisting gravity. This can be useful for carryover to sports and situations where these muscles have to help you yield and control movement.
Coaching Note: These are not the only occasions and times when you’ll want to explore programming stiff-leg deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts so please don’t limit your use of these exercises to the above rationale.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q:Are RDLS and stiff leg deadlifts the same?
Q:Is stiff legged deadlift better than Romanian deadlift?
Q:Is SLDL harder than RDL?
The stiff-leg deadlift versus the Romanian deadlift is a popular topic for lifters and athletes wanting to use these exercises to improve their strength and muscle hypertrophy.
Both of these exercises are awesome in their own right and when each should be used will be dependent on your training goals and needs. You’ll likely find over your lifting career that you respond differently to each of these exercises.
If you have additional questions about stiff-leg deadlifts versus Romanian deadlifts, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).