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Romanian Deadlifts vs. Stiff-Leg Deadlifts | What are the Differences?

trainer preparing to do stiff leg deadlift

Deadlift variations are the powerhouses of strength-building workouts. Among them, the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) and the Stiff-Leg Deadlift (SLDL) often steal the spotlight, even though they might seem like twins at first glance. But as we dig deeper, we'll find that these two exercises have their own distinct techniques, target different muscles, and have specific roles in your training strategy. Let’s compare RDLs vs. stiff-leg deadlifts so that you know which exercise is best for you next time you go to the gym. Let’s get started! 

Stiff Leg Deadlift vs. Romanian Deadlifts: Main Differences

Similar to how wecompared deadlifts to Romanian deadlifts, we’ll be looking at the main differences between stiff leg deadlifts and RDLs. We’ll look at muscles worked, technique, knee flexion, competitive use, range of motion, and strength development. Let’s get started! 

Muscles Worked

The RDL has flexion angles that are similar to the deadlift. This shift places a heightened focus on the hips, glutes, and hamstrings as a collective unit. Conversely, with a narrower range of knee flexion, the stiff-leg deadlift focuses on ramping up lower back strength and hamstring flexibility as well as explosive power. 


The key difference between stiff leg deadlifts and the Romanian deadlift lies in how much your spine bends. With the Romanian deadlift (RDL), there's notably less bending going on. This means the chance of a herniated disc is drastically lowered, even with heavier weights. The RDL covers a shorter distance compared to the stiff-leg deadlift, so you don’t have to bring that weight all the way down to the ground. Despite the two’s fundamental similarity in form, the angles you're working from vary along with the muscles that take the spotlight in each lift.

Knee Bend (Flexion)

The difference in knee flexion is small but significant. In the Romanian deadlift, your knees stay bent, resembling the angle used in snatch,hang cleans, or deadlift pulls. This provides more range of motion and eases off on lower back strength and hamstring flexibility. On the other hand, the stiff-leg deadlift begins with nearly straight knees and only a slight bend, putting more focus on your hamstrings and lower back, which works well for hypertrophy or posture training.

Competition Use

For weightlifters and those in the competitive circuit–those who do deadlifts, snatches, and cleans–nailing that knee bend (flexion)  sweet spot during the initial pull from the ground is key. As you navigate through the motion of a snatch or clean, it's a dance of tension and timing – the art of getting under that barbell just right. This usually kicks in after the bar clears your knees, when you're heading into the drive or power phase of the Olympic lift, or locking in the pull.

The Romanian deadlift demands that you kick off from a bent-knee stance. This setup helps you dial in the timing and tension crucial for those Olympic lifts. On the flip side, the stiff-leg deadlift starts from a fully extended position, with just a smidge of knee bend coming into play as flexibility and hamstring tension build-up. That's why the stiff-leg deadlift doesn't mimic the formal Olympic lifts or even the regular deadlift quite as closely.

Range of Motion

Another key difference is how far the barbell travels. The Romanian deadlift version aims to stop the bar at shin level, ensuring those plates stay slightly above the ground during each rep. On the flip side, the Stiff-Leg Deadlift goes all the way down to the platform between reps. This means that Romanian deadlifts cover a shorter range compared to the stiff-leg alternative. However, that doesn’t mean that Romanian deadlifts are the lesser option just because they cover less ground. The twist here is that during Romanian deadlifts, the bar keeps constant contact with the ground throughout the entire set. This translates to a more prolonged tension as you're working the move. When it comes to Romanian deadlifts, the trick is to maintain steady control of the bar from start to finish, without any breaks on the ground.

Here are some other differences we looked at between deadlifts and other exercises:

Similarities Between Stiff Leg Deadlift and RDLs

Even though they might seem quite different in terms of how they move and what happens between reps, the Romanian deadlift and stiff-leg deadlift can actually be set up in a similar way in your training routine, and they're both pretty good at teaching you some of the same skills.


Unless you're chasing after a specific goal, it's not very likely that either of these lifts will take center stage as your main deadlifting approach. More often than not, these lifts find their spot as valuable supplementary moves, typically integrated on days when you're not going all-out heavy on your deadlift pulls.

Now, if you're in the game for muscle growth (hypertrophy), you'll want to work with a load that brings you close to muscle fatigue within the 8-12 rep range for each lift. On the other hand, if you're trying to build endurance, opt for lighter weights and lean towards the higher end of the rep count. Think 12-15 reps.

Given that neither of these lifts is likely to be your primary deadlifting style, the need to train them at maximum intensity will be quite rare. It's all about that strategic balance in your training game.

Gear Used

Since both lifts are similar movements to the deadlift, the lifting gear you use is the same. You can usedeadlift straps orwear a lifting belt to help maximize your grip strength and load. If you find your wrists are having trouble keeping up with the weight, then you canuse wrist wraps to stabilize the weight. The possibilities are endless and since both exercises can utilize the same equipment, don’t be afraid to experiment. 

Hip Hinge Movement Training

No matter how your knees are positioned, the common thread here is the hip hinge – it's the driving force behind both the RDL and stiff-leg deadlift. This means that both of these deadlift variations play a role in honing your hip hinge movement pattern. 

So, let's break it down: if you're all about practicing that hip hinge action and you're aiming to pack in lower body pulling work into your routine, either of these lifts can fit the bill. It's like hitting two birds with one stone, giving your technique and volume a good boost.

How to do a Stiff Leg Deadlift

Thestiff leg deadlift is an effective barbell back exercise that you need to add to your workout split ASAP. Here’s how to do a stiff leg deadlift: 

  1. Begin as you would for a conventional or Romanian deadlift. Place your feet at hip-width, aligning your shoelaces under the bar.
  2. Now, hinge at your hips while aiming to keep your knees as straight as possible. There's room for a bit of softness – don't go for locked knees. The focus here is on boosting hamstring flexibility and nailing that solid hip hinge, making it easier to reach the bar.
  3. Grasp the bar just like you do for your regular deadlifts or RDLs. Here's the key: your upper body needs to stay rock-steady. Since your hinge is more pronounced here, make sure your torso is locked in place. Tighten up your core, activate those lats, and glide the bar along your shins as you rise.
  4. As you stand up, engage your glutes and lower back muscles to ensure a strong lockout at the top.
  5. Reverse the action by gradually lowering the bar to the floor. Throughout this descent, keep your legs firm, avoiding the urge to bend your knees too much.
  6. Once the bar finds its spot on the ground, gather your tension and get ready for the next go.

Stiff Leg Deadlift Common Mistakes

  • Rounding the Back: This puts some serious strain on your lower back and can even lead to injury in the erector spinae muscles. To avoid this, make sure you've got a tight core and those shoulders are back before you begin the lift. There are a few cues you can use to lock in that proper form, but a couple of key ones are keeping your chest up and your gaze directed forward rather than downward.
  • Bending the Knees Too Much: If you bend your knees too much, you’ll transition into a standard deadlift. The straight-leg version demands a bit more mobility, so if you're finding it a challenge, consider elevating the bar using blocks or weights until you've nailed down the technique.
  • Letting the Bar Drift Away From You: It's crucial to keep the bar close to your body. Allowing the bar to drift away from you forces you to put in extra effort to pull it. This amps up fatigue and triggers less efficient muscle activation, setting the stage for potential strains or injuries. Instead, make sure the bar is in direct contact with your shins as you lift it up. This approach trims down the range of motion and gives the weight the most efficient path to follow. 

Stiff Leg Deadlift Variations

  • Kettlebell Stiff-Leg Deadlift: This version can make the lift a bit more doable. Compared to a dumbbell, an appropriately heavy kettlebell’s bell shape might help it touch the ground more easily This means a slightly shorter range of motion, keeping the essence of the lift while being friendlier for those with less flexible hamstrings.
  • Single-Leg Stiff-Leg Deadlift:  Take the stiff-leg deadlift and do it one leg at a time. This way, you work the same muscle groups but train each leg independently of the other.

How to do a Romanian Deadlift

Let's walk through the steps for nailing the Romanian deadlift (RDL). You'll need either a barbell or a set of dumbbells for this one.

  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, right in front of the barbell or dumbbells. Your legs should be almost straight at this point. When you grip the weight, go for an overhand grip.
  2. Now, it's time to lift the weight. As you start, you'll be in a standing position, holding the weight.
  3. With the weight in your hands, bend your knees slightly and push your glutes back a tad. As a bonus move, retract your shoulder blades – think of pushing your shoulders down and back. Your head and chest should be up, owning that confident posture. This is where you begin.
  4. Start by pushing your glutes back a bit more. This motion causes you to bend at the hips. Keep the weight close to your body throughout the move.
  5. As you continue, lower the weight until it's around mid-shin height. Keep in mind not to go lower than this point. If you do, your back might round, and that's a no-go for avoiding injuries. Remember, shoulders stay back.
  6. If you're nailing it, you'll feel a nice stretch down your hamstrings. That's a sign you're on track.

A tip to remember: Start with a lighter weight, and as you get the hang of it and your strength builds, you can amp up the load. Using too much weight at the beginning is one of the most common ways to sustain injuries in powerlifting. 

Additional Tip:Doing thedeadlift barefoot can help you have a better connection with the floor, allowing you to distribute the force instead of putting it all on your quads. Try this concept with the Romanian deadlift as well. 

Romanian Deadlift Common Mistakes

Despite Romanian deadlifts having a shorter range of motion, there are still several moving parts needed to do a rep correctly. Avoid these common mistakes when doing RDLs:

  • Keeping the Bar Away from You: The more the bar moves away from your body, the heavier it feels. This can throw off your balance and the muscles you engage. So, the trick is to keep the bar as close to you as possible. The closer it is, the more advantage you have when you lift it.
  • Overloading Your Knees: Going overboard with the knee bend can turn your RDL into something that looks more like a conventional deadlift – not the goal here. The idea is to target different muscle groups. Keep an eye on your knees. They should have a slight bend throughout the move. But remember, the real work should come from your legs, not just your knees. Make sure to strike that balance between a little bend and a proper lift.
  • Rounding the Back Too Much: Ever noticed your back curving more than it should during your RDL? There are a couple of reasons for this. It might be because the barbell is too far from you, or your technique needs a tune-up, putting extra strain on your lower back and upping your risk of injury. To stay on the safe side, focus on maintaining a flat back and using your leg power. If your back is really rounding, it's a sign that the weight might be a bit too heavy.

Why You Should Do Romanian Deadlifts

Including the Romanian deadlift (RDL) as a consistent part of your regular strength training routine comes with a host of benefits. One standout advantage is the RDL's prowess in amplifying your posterior chain strength and function. Whether it's running, jumping, or lifting large items, having stronger glutes and hamstrings can improve your posture and shield your lower back from any injuries. Notably, powerlifters often favor RDLs, thanks to their impressive crossover effects on other big moves like squats. What adds to the appeal of the RDL is its adaptability. This exercise can be tailored to suit individuals of all fitness levels by simply playing around with different weights and equipment options such as barbells, dumbbells, or kettlebells. It's a versatile move that can easily accommodate a wide range of needs.

Why You Should Do Stiff Leg Deadlifts

The stiff leg deadlift is like a secret weapon for giving your posterior chain muscles a serious boost in power and efficiency. That's why powerlifters, bodybuilders, and Olympic lifters alike all incorporate stiff leg deadlifts into their splits. 

When you're into running, jumping, or lifting, those posterior chain muscles are what fuel your movement. They're the parts of your body extending your hip and holding your spine steady. By adding the stiff leg deadlift to your routine, you're extensively focusing on the posterior chain while keeping any potential injury risks at bay.

When to Do Stiff Leg Deadlifts vs. RDLs

So, when should you do stiff leg deadlifts vs. Romanian deadlifts? The answer is that it depends. There are some instances where stiff leg deadlifts are better and there are times when RDLs are your best option. Below, we’ve highlighted some situations you can consider when choosing between the two lifts. 

Sports Performance

Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) position your knees in a way that's similar to conventional deadlifts. Interestingly, this setup also mirrors the initial pulls you'll encounter in movements like snatches and cleans. This similarity means that RDLs offer a direct crossover to the kind of performance needed by powerlifters and weightlifters.

If your sport requires flexible hamstrings, which can be the case in powerlifting and weightlifting, the stiff-leg deadlift would be a great choice. Similarly, if you're on a mission to forge a resilient lower back for events in the Strongman arena, the stiff-leg deadlift is an essential exercise to add. 

Muscle Development

If you want to work on your lower body muscles, the choice of deadlift accessory zeroes in on the areas you're aiming to bulk up. Are your hamstrings and glutes your focus? Then consider amping up the presence of Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs) in your routine.

Stiff-leg deadlifts engage your hamstrings as well but the weight you'll be handling might not be as hefty. So, if you're aiming for major muscle growth in that region, they might not be the best choice. However, if building up muscle mass in your lower back is your goal, stiff-leg deadlifts could be the exercise you’re looking for. Either way, both RDLs and stiff leg deadlifts are excellent for giving you themuscle pump you want. 

Strength Development

Given that you can often handle heavier loads with the Romanian deadlift, it’s common sense that the exercise is more efficient when maxing out on strength. However, as mentioned above, stiff-legged deadlifts target your lower back more consistently. If your deadlift is limited by your lower back, doing stiff-leg deadlifts could be what you need to keep your deadlift from plateuing. 

However, if you’re a beginner, it may be best to stick to Romanian deadlifts, as they help solidify your standard deadlift form. Nailing the stiff-leg deadlift requires a level of hamstring flexibility and technical prowess that might not be in your toolkit just yet. 

So, Which Lift Should You Do?

The stiff-leg deadlift and the RDL are both solid choices for building up strength in your glutes, hamstrings, hips, and lower back.  Both lifts offer a fantastic opportunity to boost strength and muscle mass in your posterior chain. However, which one you go with “hinges” on your individual ability and preference. Each lift demands a different range of bending, with the Romanian deadlift keeping the bar off the ground entirely. This distinct range of motion means that each lift focuses on beefing up specific aspects of your deadlift and overall strength journey. Taking note of these contrasts can play a pivotal role in honing your training regimen and getting you a step closer to conquering your lifting goals.


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