Not all deadlifts are created equal. Romanian deadlifts, or RDLs, utilize your lower body instead of your back and spinal muscles, which are used for standard “stiff leg” deadlifts. Neither one is better than the other to increase strength, but they target different muscles in the body. The kinetics of the human body are so exact that even though these two deadlifts vary by such small differences, they impact very different parts of the body. To the untrained eye, both the standard stiff leg deadlift and the Romanian deadlift look very much alike, but they are not the same exercise.
The main difference between the standard stiff leg deadlift and the Romanian deadlift is how you bend and where you hold the weight bar. In a standard stiff leg deadlift, you hold the bar slightly away from your body, hinge at your hips, and engage your spinal muscles, using your back to keep your form. A Romanian deadlift involves holding the weight closer to your body, bending you knees more, and arching your back as you bend over, which takes the strain off your back and uses your glutes, hamstrings, and quads to hold your form.
To perform a proper Romanian deadlift follow these steps:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, squat down to pick up your weight bar with your hands just slightly wider than your shoulders, and bring it up to hip height, with your arms hanging straight down.
- Pinch your shoulder blades together, bend your knees, arch your back, and slowly bend down with the bar as far down as you can go without rounding your back. Touch the weights to the floor if you can.
- Quickly raise your body back up in an exploding motion, keeping your back arched and your arms straight holding the bar.
- As you bend down and come back up shift your body weight from the balls of your feet to your heels and back. Repeat this full movement six to fifteen times, completing three to six sets, resting in between sets. The trick to adding these movements to your exercise routine is doing a smaller number of reps and sets using a heavier weight, or if you are just starting out, a higher number of reps and sets with a lighter weight.
Deadlifts are a very easy way to sustain back injuries, so it is very important to maintain correct posture and use the proper technique. Here are some tips to making sure you avoid injury when completing deadlifts:
- Do not round your back – in between your vertebrae are spinal discs that expand and contract depending on how your spine is moving; when your back is rounded and you are lifting weights, you can damage these spinal discs leading to back pain and herniated discs, both of which are serious injuries
- Keep your lower back neutral and your arch small – standard stiff leg deadlifts require your back to be flat, but Romanian deadlifts use a slightly arched back; make sure you only arch slightly to avoid putting unnecessary strain on your spine
- Gravity is pulling you to bend your back when holding a weight bar as you are performing deadlifts – keep your core muscles tight and engage them to help you keep your balance and your back straight
- Do not rush to pick up heavy weights – if you are new to weightlifting and deadlifts you may think that you can lift a heavy weight because of the style of exercise, but this is not the case; start slow and work your way up to heavier weights