Most people know what deadlifts are ... and there's a good chance you've heard of them before too.
What you might not know is that there are actually multiple variations of deadlifts as well. Now, maybe that isn't a surprise to you because you came to learn the difference between conventional deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts before reading this blog. But, for those who do not already know, there are quite a few differences.
They differ from each other in their starting position, range of motion, technique, and even the muscles targeted. After all, they are two completely different exercises.
Keep reading and we'll dive into the full details behind these differences. We'll even talk about which one is better.
What is a Deadlift?
Conventional deadlifts are what most likely comes to mind when you think of a deadlift. After all, it is the classic deadlift! Now, don't get this confused with a sumo deadlift, that is much different. A sumo deadlift is a slight variation of a standard deadlift (feet further apart, hands gripped inside of knees, etc.). However, for the sake of keeping things simple in this blog, we'll only be talking about conventional deadlifts today (feet closer together, hands gripped outside of knees).
It’s called the conventional deadlift because the bar is at a dead stop on the ground before you lift it. To put it simply, you’re picking up a bar from the ground, standing up, and then putting it back down.
Conventional deadlifts are one of the best exercises you can do for your entire body. They basically target your full posterior chain (backside of your body).
What is a Romanian Deadlift?
Romanian deadlifts are a super popular variation of the deadlift. With a Romanian deadlift, you actually start with the weight at your hips. Next, you bring it to your shins, then slowly bring the weight back up.
As opposed to a deadlift, you won't be traveling as far with the weight. This also means you will actually place more of an emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings.
Even though these exercises are very similar, they are quite different in a lot of ways. Let's talk about the key differences more in-depth...
Conventional Deadlifts Vs. Romanian Deadlifts: The Differences
Now that you have an idea for what each exercise is about, let's divide the differences into a few categories. We'll talk about how they are different when it comes to their:
• Starting position
• Range of motion
• Muscles targeted
First, let's talk about the starting position.
Conventional Deadlifts Vs. Romanian Deadlifts: Starting Position
One of the biggest differences between these two exercises is how you set up for them! Believe it or not, they are actually opposite in this sense. Let me explain...
For a conventional deadlift, the exercise starts with the weight on the ground. That's because you have to pull the weight off the ground and to your hips to complete a rep. With Romanian deadlifts though, the opposite is true!
Romanian deadlifts actually require you to start your rep with the weight at your hips. Instead of pulling the weight from the ground, you actually lower the weight toward the ground first.
This on its own is a big difference, and something a lot of people get confused about. See, with Romanian deadlifts, you're actually creating tension by lowering the weight and stretching your hamstrings and glutes.
On the other hand, in a conventional deadlift, you're normally using a heavier weight that you have to pull from the ground. That's why the starting position for each of these exercises is different.
Next, let's talk about the range of motion, and how this plays a part...
Conventional Deadlifts Vs. Romanian Deadlifts: Range of Motion
You may be thinking ... "What the heck is range of motion?" Well, it's actually exactly what it sounds like. The range of motion is used to describe how far the weight travels in any exercise. When it comes to conventional deadlifts vs Romanian deadlifts, the range of motion is similar, but still different.
Conventional deadlifts have a greater range of motion, which means the weight has to travel a greater distance. The main reason for this is because the weight starts on the ground. In a deadlift, you have to pull the weight all the way from the floor to the midline of your body.
As I'm sure you can guess, Romanian deadlifts have a shorter range of motion. However, the difference is actually not that much. With a Romanian deadlift, the weight travels between the midline of your body and roughly shin-height. In a Romanian deadlift, the weight doesn't ever touch the ground until the set is over!
So, what else is different?
Conventional Deadlifts Vs. Romanian Deadlifts: Technique
Obviously, the technique between both of these exercises is different. After all, they are two different exercises, are they not? For you to get a good idea of the differences, let's run through how to do each exercise in-depth real quick.
That way, you'll be able to see the differences for yourself.
Conventional Deadlifts: How To
Starting with the bar on the ground, walk up to the bar until your feet are under the bar at hip-width. Squat down and grab the bar with an overhand grip at shoulder width so that your arms are outside your knees.
Pull up on the bar just enough to pull your body down into a squat without lifting the bar just yet. For the average build, you should have a fairly significant bend in your knees until your thighs are just above or parallel with the ground.
**Pull your shoulders back and keep your core engaged before you attempt to lift it. Also, make sure your back remains straight throughout the movement for safety.
Press your feet into the floor as you stand up with the bar. Throughout this movement, do your best to extend your hips and knees at a similar rate.
Once you are standing up nice and tall, squeeze your glutes hard for a second. Then, slowly lower back to the starting position.
Let go of all tension on the bar when it is on the ground, and repeat for reps.
Romanian Deadlifts: How To
Like I mentioned earlier, Romanian deadlifts start in a standing position with the weight.
You should be standing at hip width with an overhand grip on the bar. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart as well.
From here, keep your back straight as you push your hips back as far as you can. Make sure you don’t actively bend your knees, but unlock them so they can passively bend throughout the movement.
As you hinge forward at your hips, the weight will begin to lower. Make sure you hold the weight very close to your body as it moves. Once you get below your knees, you should feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings.
When you reach that point, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to stand up with the weight.
Repeat this for reps.
Conventional Deadlifts Vs. Romanian Deadlifts: Muscles Targeted
Now, one of the biggest differences between conventional deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts is the muscles that you use.
Believe it or not, you actually use a lot of the same muscles. So, saying you use "different" muscles would be misleading. The truth is, you actually just emphasize certain muscles differently.
For example, in the Romanian deadlift, you place a lot more emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings. The shorter range of motion actually takes a lot of your leg drive out of the movement. This makes it much more about strengthening your glutes and hamstrings.
At the same time, you will get some work for your core, lats, and forearms.
With conventional deadlifts, while you do get a lot of glute and hamstring work, there are a ton of other muscles involved in the movement as well.
In a conventional deadlift, you also work your entire core, quads, lats, traps, and forearms.
So while there are a lot of similarities to the muscles used, there are some slight nuances which make conventional deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts different from each other.
Conventional Deadlifts Vs. Romanian Deadlifts: Which One is Better?
When it comes to which exercise is better ... this is really a loaded question. One of them isn’t "better" than the other, because it’s subjective.
The lifter wanting to target their entire thigh and maximize strength gains would likely focus on the conventional deadlift. It adds in much more development for your quads than the Romanian deadlift. At the same time, deadlifts usually use heavier weight too.
The athlete wanting to focus on reducing the risk of tearing their ACL would likely focus on Romanian deadlifts. That's because strong hamstrings can really help in knee stabilization for people with ACL tears .
Here’s the thing though ... whether you fall in the first category, or the second, you can still do both of them! There’s nothing wrong with that.
While they may target a lot of the same muscles, it's normal to do multiple exercises for the same muscle group. Have you ever heard of the training split known as Push-Pull-Legs?
In that type of workout split you might do 3-5 exercises that target similar muscles. As long as you allow for proper recovery, that’s normal and perfectly fine to do.
So my point is this: When it comes to conventional deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts, one isn’t "better" than the other. They are just a little different, and you don’t have to pick just one of them to throw into your training program.
The conventional deadlift is the king of compound exercises due to the amount of muscles used, and the impact it can have on your results. The Romanian deadlift is still up there though because it too is very effective.
If you are healthy enough to do them, I highly recommend throwing them into your training program. I would make the deadlift the main compound lift that day though.
The Romanian deadlift would be more of an accessory lift. This is mainly because you use less weight, and that puts less stress on your body.
If you want to focus on building muscle, great. Both of these can help a ton!
If your main focus is losing body fat, awesome! These exercises burn a ton of calories because they use so many different muscles.
Trying to gain strength? Deadlifts, and the many variations, increase whole body strength more than pretty much any other exercise type.
You really can’t go wrong with deadlifts, but picking the right exercises to go along with them matters a lot too. Not to mention how important proper nutrition is in building muscle, and in fat loss as well.
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 Kim HJ, Lee JH, Ahn SE, Park MJ, Lee DH. Influence of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tear on Thigh Muscle Strength and Hamstring-to-Quadriceps Ratio: A Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. 2016 Jan 8;11(1):e0146234. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0146234. PMID: 26745808; PMCID: PMC4706431.