Romanian Deadlifts vs. Stiff-Leg Deadlifts

Which Hinge Is Which

The Difference Between Deadlifts

The Romanian deadlift (RDL) and stiff-leg deadlift (SLDL) are similar exercises and often confused. I didn't even know how to distinguish one from the other for a long time.

Like many, I'd heard of them but figured they were basically just variations of a conventional deadlift with less knee bend to place more stress on the hamstrings (which is partly true). But it's a bit more than that, so here's what you need to know:

Want to compare the two? Here are some quick-and-dirty bullet points for each deadlift.

  • More commonly done for hypertrophy
  • Uses a slight knee bend
  • The rep actually starts at the hip (holding the bar above the knee)
  • An RDL can begin from the rack
  • The RDL can also be done from a deficit to increase the range of motion (placing a greater stretch on the hamstrings)
  • For RDLs, try not to touch the barbell to the floor at the bottom of the rep. And try not to fully extend at the top of the rep. Keep constant tension on the hamstrings for the entirety of the set.
  • Focus on feeling a big stretch in the hams every rep to maximize muscular damage. Don't be surprised if you're left with a nasty case of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) for a few days afterward.
  • More commonly done for strength
  • Uses slight knee bend
  • The rep starts from the floor and more closely resembles a conventional deadlift
  • Start each rep from a dead-stop on the floor and lock out each rep at the top
  • When performing the SLDL, eliminate any leg drive and think about pulling only with your hamstrings, glutes, and low back (always keep the chest up and back flat)
  • Pull through the stretch and keep your knees tracking out
  • The SLDL helps strengthen your lockout for the conventional deadlift
Tanner Shuck is a former Division 1A football player and accomplished CrossFit athlete. His specializes in competitive fitness, with emphasis on training absolute and relative strength. Tanner is an online coach and personal trainer based out of Dubai, UAE. Follow on Instagram