Struggling to decide between these two classic deadlift variations? Read on!
When it comes to building total body pulling strength and power, the conventional deadlift is certainly one of the first exercises that comes to mind for most people.
It engages the hips, the hamstrings, the quadriceps, the back, and a whole bunch of other smaller muscle groups. It's also going to be your strongest free weight movement, and is considered a true test of human strength.
However, the deadlift does have one drawback that makes it a mediocre choice for some people.
It's not that good at building muscle mass.
Instead, its less popular and well-known counterparts of the Romanian deadlift (RDL) and the stiff-legged deadlift (SLDL) are far better options for those wanting to build more muscle mass whilst still reaping the benefits of deadlifting.
We'll get into that in a second.
They're both effectively the best hip hinging options you've got if you're wanting to build total body functionality, as well as strength and muscle mass.
But just between these two exercises, which one is the better option?
Does one get you better results than the other?
In this article I'll explore the similarities and differences between these two exercises, and help you decide which one is the best choice for you!
Let's get started.
Romanian Deadlift vs. Stiff-Legged Deadlift
Like I mentioned earlier, both the Romanian deadlift and the stiff-legged deadlift are both great alternatives to the conventional deadlift that elicit far greater muscle growth.
But before we get into that, let's quickly go over how these exercises are performed so that we're all on the same page.
How to Perform the Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian deadlift can almost be thought of as a regular deadlift, but starting from the top end of the motion, and reversing the range of motion.
Stand with your feed just within shoulder width, and bend down by maintaining the slightest bend in your knees, then pushing your hips to the back of the room (not by bending the knees more).
Then, once you can't get any lower, bend at the knees to get the rest of the way down until you reach the bar.
Place your hands shoulder width apart on the bar with a double overhand (pronated grip).
Pull the weight up by pushing off of your legs and maintaining a neutral spine and pushing your hips forward at the top.
From the standing position, bend your knees slightly and push your hips back to slowly lower the bar until it is at your mid-shin level.
Explode back up by driving your hips forward (still maintaining a neutral spine).
Repeat for reps.
Check out the video below by Rogue Fitness to see what this looks like!
How to Perform the Stiff-Legged Deadlift
The stiff-legged deadlift is not too different either.
Essentially, it can be thought of as a conventional deadlift from the ground, only with your legs bent as little as possible.
Bear in mind this exercise does require quite a lot of flexibility in the hamstrings, and DO NOT try to keep on going if it starts to hurt, and you can't perform the exercise properly.
Start with the bar on the ground, and feet just under shoulder width apart.
With the slightest bend in your knees, hinge down to grab onto the bar by pushing your hips back (not bending your knees more).
Keeping your back as straight as possible, go as far down as you can until you feel a good stretch in your hamstrings.
Then, bend at the knees to get the rest of the way down until you can reach the bar (but don't bend them any more than you need to).
Maintaining your spine to be as neutral as possible, pull the bar up by pushing the hips forwards.
Go up until you are fully locked out, and you're in a standing position with the bar in your hands.
Lower the weight back down slowly to the ground.
Repeat for reps.
Check out the demo video below by StrengthLog!
Why Not Do the Conventional Deadlift to Build Muscle?
This is due to the fact that the conventional deadlift is primarily done only with the concentric part of the motion (pulling the weight up), while the eccentric (bringing the weight back down) is neglected by most people.
This is important as the eccentric part of an exercise, or the portion where your muscles lengthen under the weight is the part that triggers the most muscle growth.
This has been shown and proven in countless scientific training studies such as this one by M Roig, which stated that: "Eccentric training performed at high intensities was shown to be more effective in promoting increases in muscle mass measured as muscle girth."
Since literally nobody emphasizes the eccentric portion of a conventional deadlift, it's a pretty mediocre choice for hypertrophy.
And even if you did try to control it on the way down, it would simply be far too taxing on your body for the stimulus that you'd get out of it.
In other words, you get far too tired (which will go on to have effects on the rest of your workout) without actually getting all that much out of it.
All the other exercises in your workout such as your leg press, squats, barbell rows and pull ups would all suffer, when you could've easily avoided it by switching the deadlift out.
You'd be much better off picking one of the other two variations that allow you to hit your target muscles better, and also wouldn't tax your body as much.
Now I know the RDL and the SLDL can get you tired pretty quickly too, but it's highly unlikely that the effect will be the same as that of a set of heavy conventional deadlifts.
What Are the Muscles Worked?
Both the Romanian and stiff-legged deadlift target primarily the same muscle groups. This also applies to the conventional deadlift, except for a couple of differences.
These would mainly include the:
However, each of these exercises biases different muscle groups to different degrees.
For example, the conventional deadlift is going to target the quadriceps quite well for most people due to the amount of knee flexion, whereas a stiff-legged deadlift is barely going to hit your quadriceps at all due to an emphasis on NOT allowing the knees to bend.
Between the Romanian deadlift and the stiff-legged deadlift, there are some key differences in muscles worked as well.
Both exercises will primarily hit the glutes, hamstrings and erectors.
However, the Romanian deadlift is going to target the glutes a little more due to the higher amount of knee bending. This allows the hips to bend more, causing the glutes to experience a larger range of motion and be in a mechanically better position to move the load.
The stiff-legged deadlift, on the other hand, biases the hamstrings and lower back (erectors) a little more due to the lower amount of knee flexion.
Since you keep your legs a little bit more straight, your hips can't bend as much and your glutes won't be in such a good position to move the load.
Instead, you're going to get a better stretch in your hamstrings and erectors (as the bar is going all the way down to the ground), and bias those muscles more instead.
Remember that both exercises are going to target the same muscle groups, but one is just going to bias one or two more than the other. This is why we use the word 'bias', and not 'isolate'.
Which Exercise Can You Lift Heavier On?
There's a pretty good chance that you're going to be able to load the Romanian deadlift heavier, due to the shorter range of motion.
For one or two reps this might not make a massive difference, but it will quickly add up over a set of 8 to 12 reps.
However, this shouldn't influence your decision all that much if you're wanting to build muscle and stimulate hypertrophy.
So Is the Romanian Deadlift or Stiff-Legged Deadlift Better?
Well, it depends.
If you're wanting to place a bit of an emphasis on your hamstrings, then it might make sense for you to perform the stiff-legged deadlift over the RDL.
Or if you're wanting to hit the glutes a little more and get them fired up, then the RDL might be a slightly better choice.
Obviously, if you're unable to perform the stiff-legged deadlift properly due to your hamstrings not being flexible enough or something like that, then it should be common sense not to try and perform it.
You can work towards being bale to perform it one day, but don't push for it straight away. You'll injure yourself.
On top of this, you should also take a look at which one you enjoy performing more.
It's not really worth it to perform the RDL over the SLDL if you really don't enjoy it. After all, they are pretty similar exercises.
It's that simple.
So play around with everything, see what you like, see what works for you and don't be afraid to experiment with new things!
Overall, both exercises are great choices if you're wanting to incorporate a hip hinging exercise into your workout program that places an emphasis on hypertrophy, not just pure strength.
The stiff-legged deadlift is going to bias the hamstrings and erectors a little more, whereas the Romanian deadlift is going to bias the glutes more.
Again, if you're unsure of which one you should be performing, experiment with everything and see what you like!
It can never hurt to try something new.
After all, that's how we grow right?
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Do you like the Romanian deadlift or the stiff-legged deadlift better?
Let me know down in the comments section below!