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A conventional deadlift is an excellent strength-training exercise that can be performed in a wide variety of ways. Two such variations are the RDL (Romanian Deadlift) and SLDL (Stiff Legged Deadlift).
The posterior chain, which comprises muscles of the lower back, gluteus maximus, hamstrings and erector spinae, are activated with both variations, but in different ways, and with different emphasis.
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So, understanding the key differences between the RDL and SLDL is crucial if you want to choose the better option to help you reach your fitness goals and prevent injuries.
In this article, we’ll look at the RDL vs Stiff Leg Deadlift (SDL), discussing their benefits and how to perform them correctly.
RDL vs Stiff Leg Deadlift Effectiveness
Whilst both are excellent for working the posterior muscles and good for hamstring development, neither one would be considered more effective than the other.
Rather it would depend on what you want to achieve and your ability as to which one you may choose.
Both exercises are technical and require strict form to prevent injury
The main difference between the two variations is that with a Romanian deadlift there is much less spinal flexion meaning that the likelihood of a herniated disc is significantly reduced, even if you’re lifting heavy weights.
A Romanian deadlift entails a much shorter range of motion when compared to the stiff leg deadlift. This is because, with the RDL there is no need to lower the weight all the way to the ground.
The RDL has a very similar movement to the good morning exercise with the major difference being where the weight is positioned.
During a good morning, the weight load is located the same as a squat, across your back and shoulders. Whereas an RDL requires you to be holding the weight out in front of you.
Whilst both exercises work the entire posterior chain, romanian deadlift work will put greater emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings.
What is a Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
The Romanian Deadlift is a strength based exercise that activates the hip extensor muscles, that being the glutes and hamstrings.
When compared to a traditional deadlift it puts much less strain on the lower back muscles.
This makes it a good option for those with low back pain.
When performing a Romanian deadlift, you hinge at the hips and keep your legs straight (with a slight knee bend) instead of bending at the knees, as you would when performing a standard deadlift.
It is typically performed with a barbell or a pair of dumbbells and involves lifting the weight off the ground from a bent-over position while keeping the knees straight.
In weightlifting workout routines, the RDL is frequently employed and is one of the three main lifts, along with bench press and squatting.
How to Perform the RDL
To perform the Romanian deadlift (RDL), you will need a barbell or a pair of dumbbells.
- Start by standing shoulder width apart in front of the barbell or dumbbells with your legs nearly straight. Use an overhand grip when taking hold of the weight.
- You’ll want to deadlift the weight up as the starting position is standing upright whilst holding the weight.
- Once in position, have a slight bend in the knee, push the glutes back slightly and retract your shoulder blades (push your shoulders down and back). Both head and chest should be up. This will be your starting position.
- Start to the push your glutes back and you will begin to bend at the hips. Keep the weight close to your body throughout.
- Lower the weight until it reaches around mid-shin height. Don’t go lower than this as it could result in your back going into flexion and this may result in injury. Also be sure to keep the shoulders back.
You should feel a stretch down the hamstrings.
As with any type of deadlift, perfect form is vital to ensure that you activate the correct muscles and prevent injury. Begin with a lower weight and increase it as you become more proficient and your strength increases.
It’s also a good idea to seek guidance from a certified personal trainer or fitness professional if you are new to the exercise or have any concerns about your form.
Benefits of RDL Workouts
Incorporating the RDL as part of a regular strength training program has many advantages.
The RDL’s ability to boost posterior chain strength and function is a major perk. Running, jumping, and lifting heavy objects all benefit from stronger glutes and hamstrings, as do posture and protection from lower back injuries.
RDLs can also boost hip mobility and stability, which can boost athletic performance and lessen the likelihood of injury. It’s a popular deadlift variation for powerlifters as offers excellent carry over to other compound movements such as the squat.
The RDL is great because it can be modified to meet the needs of people of all fitness levels by using a variety of weights and tools (such as barbells, dumbbells, or kettlebells).
You can also incorporate it into powerlifting, bodybuilding, and functional fitness routines.
What is the Stiff Leg Deadlift
If you’re familiar with the RDL, the stiff-leg deadlift won’t feel too foreign.
The stiff-leg deadlift, also referred to as the straight leg deadlift, is a weight-training exercises that works the muscles of the posterior chain, including the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
It’s a type of compound exercise in which you start on the floor and lift a weight while keeping your legs completely straight.
How to Perform the Stiff Leg Deadlift
- For the stiff-leg deadlift, you should position your body similarly to the regular or Romanian deadlift: feet hip-width apart, laces tucked under the bar.
- Keep your knees straight as you bend forward at the hips to take hold of the barbell. While a small knee bend is acceptable, the focus should be on showcasing strong hip flexion and hamstring flexibility to help you reach the bar.
- Use an overhand grip when holding the bar. Because hip flexion will be more noticeable than in a standard deadlift, it is essential to pay extra attention to maintaining a stiff torso throughout the movement.
- Brace your core and pull the weight up until you reach the top of the movement.
- Bend forward with less emphasis on pushing back the glutes and keeping the legs straight. Slowly lower the weight, keeping it close to your body.
- Go as low as you can on this exercise, without straining the lower back. How low you can go will depend on your flexibility.
- Once you feel a deep stretch to the hamstrings, drive through your heels and squeeze your glutes to bring the weight back up to the starting position.
Benefits of Stiff Leg Deadlift (SLDL)
The stiff leg deadlift is a great way to boost the power and efficiency of your posterior chain muscles, which is why it is so popular.
For activities like running, jumping, and lifting, the posterior chain muscles are indispensable because of their function in extending the hip and supporting the spine.
By performing the stiff leg deadlift, you can boost your performance in these endeavours and lower your risk of injury.
Another benefit of the stiff leg deadlift is its ability to improve balance and stability.
The exercise requires the user to maintain a stable base while lifting the weight, which can help to improve balance and coordination. This can be especially beneficial for athletes who rely on these skills in their sport.
Similarities between Stiff Leg Deadlift and Romanian Deadlift
Here are some similarities between the RDL vs Stiff leg deadlift:
Both exercises target the muscles in the posterior chain: The RDL and the stiff-leg deadlift are effective exercises for strengthening the muscles that make up the posterior chain. These include the glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors.
They involve hinging at the hips: Both the RDL and the stiff-leg deadlift involve hinging at the hips as the primary movement rather than bending at the knee joint as in a squat.
Both exercises can be performed with a barbell or dumbbells:
Both the RDL and the stiff-leg deadlift can be performed with a barbell or a pair of dumbbells, making them versatile exercises that can be done with equipment readily available at most gyms or even at home.
These deadlift exercises can be used to improve functional strength: The RDL and the stiff-leg deadlift can both be used to improve functional strength, which is the ability to perform everyday movements with ease and efficiency.
Both exercises demand proper form: Proper form is essential for both the RDL and the stiff-leg deadlift to avoid injury and get the most out of the exercise. It is important to focus on maintaining a neutral spine, avoiding rounding the back, and keeping the knees slightly bent and the feet firmly planted on the ground.
Differences Between RDL and Stiff Leg Deadlift
Even though the stiff-leg and RDL deadlifts are both deadlifts, they are different in several important ways. One key distinction is whether the weight needs to make contact with the ground at the bottom of the exercise.
One of the main differences between the Romanian deadlift (RDL) and the stiff-leg deadlift is the range of motion. The range of motion refers to the distance the weight is lifted during the exercise.
In the RDL, the range of motion is typically less than in the stiff-leg deadlift. This is because the weight only goes to around shin height as opposed to the ground.
In contrast, the stiff-leg deadlift has a greater range of motion.
Whilst the starting position involves the weight being on the ground, during the eccentric phase of the movement (barbell being lowered), it’s necessary for the weight to touch the floor between reps in the stiff-leg deadlift, which means for a greater range of motion.
The limited range of motion and movement pattern with the Romanian deadlift is better to target the glutes and hamstrings whereas the increased range of motion and reduction in knee flexion with the stiff leg deadlift is better for increasing lower back stretch as well as the hamstrings.
You should be able to perform either of the two deadlift variations at 50 to 70 percent of your maximum back squat.
The RDL may make it easier for you to lift a heavier load than a stiff-leg deadlift unless you have exceptionally long arms or flexible hamstrings and hips.
The reason for this is that, just like when performing a regular deadlift, you should keep your knees open and moderately to slightly flexed while performing the RDL.
You may be able to lift a heavier load than when your legs are completely tight because your hamstrings won’t be under as much stress.
This, combined with the smaller range of motion, makes it slightly easier to complete and likely you can pull more weight.
Strength in the glutes, hips, lower back, and hamstrings can be improved greatly with the help of the stiff leg and the RDL.
There is a wide range of bending motions required for each lift, and in the Romanian Deadlift, the bar never rests on the ground.
Both are great options for improving strength and muscle mass to the posterior chain but which one you decide to choose will depend on your ability.