Stiff Leg Deadlift vs RDL

There is a lot of confusion about the differences between the Romanian deadlift and the stiff leg deadlift. They both work mostly the same muscles and very similar body position but there are a few key differences.

We are going to do a side-by-side comparison to help demonstrate the key differences and help you know when to use each exercise depending on your training goals.


Differences Between Stiff Leg Deadlift and Romanian Deadlift

Stiff Leg Deadlift and Romanian Deadlift

Let's take a look at the differences between stiff leg deadlifts and RDL's, particularly in terms of the range of motion, strength development, knee flexion, the muscles worked, and a few other things too.


The Technique

The RDL and Stiff Leg deadlift look almost identical if you were to take a snapshot in the lowest part of the movements.

However, there are a few key differences between the RDL and stiff leg deadlifts.

Firstly, the stiff leg deadlift starts from the ground whereas the RDL starts with you holding the bar in the air.

Secondly, you don't let the weights touch the floor with the RDL. Whereas with the stiff leg deadlift, you start and finish with the bar on the floor. So the RDL has a slightly shorter range of motion than a stiff leg deadlift.


The Muscles Worked

The Muscles Worked

As both movements have your body in almost the same body position they mostly target the same muscles, primarily the hamstrings, glutes and lower back.

However, the loading of the RDL is slightly different as you control the weight on the eccentric (lowering) part of the movement. Whereas with a stiff leg deadlift is more of a controlled drop.

So RDLs will generally put more of a stretch on your hamstrings and more constant tension in your lower back and glutes.


Knee Flexion

Knee Flexion

There tends to be some confusion around the difference in your knee flexion when comparing the stiff leg deadlift and RDL.

Both movements require a slight bend in your knee with your shins close to vertical throughout the movement. Your knees should also stay just behind your arms as you hold the barbell which will help make sure that you are performing the exercise correctly.

We have seen a few coaches tell clients that the knees should be straight for stiff leg deadlifts but this is incorrect.

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The Range of Motion

The Range of Motion

So, a term that we've mentioned several times now is range of motion. With these two types of deadlifts, how far the barbell travels from the top to the bottom position is quite different.

First, we have the Romanian deadlift, where the point is to stop the bar at around the middle of your shin, so that the plates don't hit the ground during the exercise.

However, with a stiff leg deadlift, the plates touch the ground between each rep. Due to this, the Romanian deadlift has a shorter range of motion when compared to stiff leg deadlifts.

However, some people might make the mistake of thinking that because there is a lesser range of motion with Romanian deadlifts, they aren't as effective for training.

During a Romanian deadlift, because you never actually put the bar down, it puts you under more tension. You don't get any breaks by putting the bar on the ground, and therefore, most people would say that it's slightly harder and you will generally lift slightly less weight with an RDL.


Similarities Between RDLs and Stiff Leg Deadlifts

Although there are some pretty substantial differences between Romanian deadlifts and stiff leg deadlifts, there are also some similarities worth noting.

They're all set up in the same way, and they're ideal for teaching you some of the same basic skills too.

The Gear

The Gear

Because both of these movements are very similar and closely related to the regular deadlift, all of these exercises require the same gear. Of course, what you're going to need is a barbell and some weight plates.

You might also want to wear a weightlifting belt to protect your back and help you lift more, as well as deadlift straps to help increase your grip strength.

You might also find that your wrists can't keep up with all of that weight, in which case using some wrist wraps is an idea.

Seeing as there are so many different pieces of equipment that can be used for these exercises, we recommend experimenting a little bit to find what works best for you.


Training the Hips

Training the Hips

Interesting to note is that no matter how much you bend your knees during these exercises, there is one big common similarity, which is your hip hinge. With both the stiff leg deadlift and the Romanian deadlift, the hip hinge is your driving force.

Both the Romanian deadlift and the stiff leg deadlift play a crucial role in developing the movement pattern of your hip hinge.

It's therefore a great exercise for maintaining a solid range of motion and great flexibility in your hips.

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The Programming

The other similarity shared between these two types of deadlifts is that they're generally not your main moves.

Usually, most people use deadlifts as their main moves and then use either stiff leg deadlifts or Romanian deadlifts as supplementary exercises. These might be ideal on days when you aren't going 100% on regular deadlifts.

With both of these exercises, if your main goal is hypertrophy or muscle growth, go with a load and range that brings your muscles close to fatigue within 12 reps.

However, if endurance is what you're going for, lean towards slightly less weight but more reps, up to 15 reps.

Keep in mind that because these aren't your main lifts, you don't need to go all out on them. It's more about balancing your exercises, practicing form, and supplementing on the days when you can't go all out.

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How to do Romanian Deadlifts

How to do Romanian Deadlifts

With either a set of dumbbells or a regular barbell, you can do Romanian deadlifts virtually anywhere, so let's figure out how to do them right now.

  1. Stand in front of the barbell or dumbbells with your feet at roughly shoulder width. At this point, your legs should be virtually straight with your toes pointing forward.
  2. Bend down and grip the weight using an overhand grip, which means that your knuckles are facing upwards.
  3. Remember that the Romanian deadlift has you starting in a standing position, so lift the weight up until you are in a standing position.
  4. While holding the barbell in your hands, bend your knees just a little bit, push your rear back, retract your shoulder blades, and puff your chest up and out. This is your starting position.
  5. Start the Romanian deadlift by pushing your glutes back, bend at the hips and knees, and lower the weight until it is roughly at the middle of your shins. Don't go any lower than this. You should feel a good stretch in your hamstrings.
  6. Aim to do anywhere between 8 and 15 repetitions, and up to four sets.

To get the barbell to the standing starting position for RDLs you can either perform a conventional deadlift to lift the bar or lift the bar from a rack and take a step back.


Why Do Romanian Deadlifts

If you add Romanian deadlifts to your strength training routine, it's going to provide you with a range of benefits.

One of the biggest benefits of the RDL is that it helps to improve your overall posterior chain function and strength. This will help you lift large items, jump, run, and much more. It's great for your everyday life.

Because of the crossover effects that Romanian deadlifts have, such as for squats, many powerlifters often use Romanian deadlifts as a part of their training routine.

What's also special about the RDL is that it's very adaptable. You can use different pieces of equipment, different weight levels, and more. It's a versatile type of exercise that can be adjusted to meet various needs.


Mistakes to Avoid with RDLs

As with any deadlift, you want to avoid making mistakes to help prevent injury and get the most from the exercise.

  • Don't keep the bar away from you when you are doing Romanian deadlifts. If the bar moves away from your body, not only will it feel heavier, but it will also change the muscles that you engage. Always keep the bar close to your body.
  • Keep your back straight. If you feel that there is a lot of strain being put on your lower back and feel it starting to round, lower the weight. Remember, the motion in the Romanian deadlift should come from your hips and knees, not from arching your back.
  • The other mistake to avoid here is overloading your knees. Your knees should have a slight bend during the exercise, but most of the work should come from your legs, particularly from your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. If you bend your knees too much, the exercise is going to resemble a regular deadlift more than anything else, and that's not what you want.


How to do Stiff Leg Deadlifts

How to do Stiff Leg Deadlifts

Let's now talk about how to do a stiff leg deadlift.

  1. Just like you would with a regular or Romanian deadlift, keep your feet at slightly wider than shoulder width, making sure that your shoelaces are right under the barbell.
  2. Bend down at the hips while keeping your knees slightly bent. Remember, the goal here is to increase your hamstring flexibility and to get a good hip range.
  3. Grab the barbell and hold onto it tightly. Make sure to lock your torso into place and to keep your back straight during this movement. Tightening up your core and your lats will also help maintain proper form during the exercise. Your knees should be just behind your knees.
  4. As you lift the weight up, keep your knees just behind your arms, and as you stand up, use your lower back muscles and glutes to lock out and engage at the top.
  5. You can then slowly drop the bar back down to the ground in a controlled motion while keeping your legs firm and your back straight.
  6. The bar should end up touching the ground between each Rep. Aim to do up to 12 reps and three sets.


Why Do Stiff Leg Deadlifts?

If what you are looking for is a huge increase in both efficiency and power for all of your posterior chain muscles, then the stiff leg deadlift is your best weapon.

That's why Olympic lifters, powerlifters, and bodybuilders all use the stiff-leg deadlift. It's a great exercise for increasing your lifting, jumping, and running power.

Your posterior chain holds your spine in place, it keeps your core strong, and it's necessary for extending at the hip.


Mistakes to Avoid with Stiff Leg Deadlifts

Just like with Romanian deadlifts, there are also some mistakes that you want to avoid committing when doing stiff leg deadlifts.

  • Don't round your back when doing stiff leg deadlifts. This can lead to serious injuries in your lower back and your erector spinae muscles. Make sure to keep your shoulders back, your core tight, and your back straight.
  • The bar needs to be kept close to your body, or else you'll start activating different muscles, and you might also injure yourself. The bar should be in contact with your shins as you lift it up and down.
  • Make sure to prevent the bending of the knees too much. If you bend your knees too much, you'll start doing a regular deadlift instead of a stiff leg deadlift.

Final Thoughts

Stiff Leg Deadlift vs RDL

If you're looking to exercise your posterior chain, increase your functional strength, improve your balance and mobility, and more, then doing these deadlift variations is essential.

Although they might not replace the regular deadlift, both the RDL and the stiff leg deadlift make for fantastic supplementary exercises.

Author's Photo

William Parrett

Will, co-founder of Home Gym Supply, launched the company in 2019 after 15-years in the fitness industry. His expertise stems not only from his professional background but also from his athletic pursuits. A former competitor in the World Beauty Fitness & Fashion (WBFF) and a competitive rugby player, Will has always been dedicated to health and fitness.