Romanian Deadlift or Conventional Deadlift?

26 May, 2020
Today, we'll look at the main differences between the conventional and Romanian deadlifts. Do you already know what they are?
 

The deadlift is a very common free weight exercise which athletes use in their strength training. There are different types of deadlift, and the most common is the conventional deadlift and the Romanian deadlift.

Because they’re quite similar in many ways, people can often become confused between the two. But in this article, we’ll look at the details of each one and separate the differences.

The conventional deadlift

The conventional deadlift is an exercise where you lift a loaded barbell off the ground. You start by standing in front of the bar so that your shins are almost touching it.

The feet should be shoulder-width apart and facing outward slightly. Your grip can be prone or mixed, and your arms should be wider than your knees. Before you start to lift, you need to make sure that your core is activated and that your shoulders are pulled back. This will give you greater shoulder stability and keep the spine in a neutral position.

A woman in a gym deadlifting a bar.

Once you’ve gripped hold of the bar, flex your knees until your hips are just slightly above them. Your knees should be almost at a right angle. Then, you lift the bar by standing up, keeping the bar in contact with your legs. The best way is to imagine pushing the floor down with your feet.

 

The Romanian deadlift

For the Romanian deadlift, you start standing with the bar placed on a rack. Unlike the conventional deadlift, your knees will be slightly bent, approximately 15 degrees, so the dominant joint in this exercise is the hip.

The three stages of a Romanian deadlift.

This exercise is widely used to work the posterior chain of the lower body. It’s important to remember that the point of this exercise is not to reach the ground, since you won’t be able to, and trying will likely result in an injury to your lower back.

Muscles involved in each exercise

Upper body

With respect to the upper body, there are no great differences between the two variants because the placement of the arms is similar.

The keep the spine straight in both exercises, you need good scapular retraction using your trapezius and rhomboids, and your core (abs, erector spinae) needs to be activated for stability. The forearm flexors are also essential muscles for your grip.

Lower body

Despite the fact that the deadlift is such a long-established exercise, there’s actually very little scientific literature on it. In fact, there’s only one study, carried out in 2018 and published in the Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness, which compares the lower body muscles of the two types of deadlifts.

 

In this study, researchers analyzed the gluteus maximus, biceps femoris, and the rector femoris using electromyography. The results confirmed that, during the conventional deadlift, the rectus femoris and gluteus maximus play a much greater role than in the Romanian deadlift.

These results are explained by the fact that there’s greater flexing of the hips and knees during a conventional deadlift.

Interestingly, despite the fact that the Romanian deadlift works the hamstrings more than the conventional deadlift, the study found no significant differences in the activation of the biceps femoris, which belongs to the hamstrings muscle group).

However, it’s important to note that during this study, the participants had to touch the ground with the bar, which exceeds the 15 degrees of knee flexion recommended during the Romanian deadlift, reaching 30 degrees instead.

A woman performing a dumbell deadlift.

This could result in a change in the biomechanics and, therefore, have an impact on the electromyography results.

Conventional deadlift or Romanian deadlift?

Looking at the main differences between the two exercises, we can conclude that the conventional deadlift activates more muscles than the Romanian deadlift since the entire lower body is involved, including the hamstrings.

 

However, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore the Romanian deadlift. It can be a great exercise for working the hamstrings in isolation. It all depends on what your goals are.

  • Bird, S., & Barrington-Higgs, B. (2010). Exploring the deadlift. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 32(2), 46-51.
  • Lee, S., Schultz, J., Timgren, J., Staelgraeve, K., Miller, M., & Liu, Y. (2018). An electromyographic and kinetic comparison of conventional and Romanian deadlifts. Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness, 16(3), 87-93.