Stiff Leg Deadlift vs Romanian Deadlift (For Strong Glutes And Hamstrings)

Stiff Leg Deadlift vs Romanian Deadlift, who is the champion and should be included in your program?  What’s the difference between each movement? And how should each one be performed?  Find all the answers in this article. 

I want to talk about the Stiff leg deadlift and Romanian deadlift.  What’s the difference, is there a difference, which one’s better and when do I program them into my routine and into my clients routine.

Sometimes I will program a stiff leg deadlift into one of my client’s programs and they’ll send me a video and also looks great but I have to reply with, “that’s actually a Romanian deadlift” another time I will program a Romanian Deadlift into my client’s program.  They’ll show me a video and again, it looks great, but what they have actually done is a stiff leg deadlift.

So it’s now time to cover the slight differences between each one.

Male athlete wearing a vest and lifting belt, standing tall at the top of a romanian deadlift


The Birth Of These Two Movements

The stiff leg deadlift as it is also known is pretty self-explanatory.  It’s a deadlift, yup you guessed it, performed with stiff legs.

Now, where did the Romanian deadlift come from?  Well, the Romanian deadlift was actually invented hundreds of years ago by a young boy called Roman.  He loved to pick up rocks but every time he would drop them back on the floor, his mum would come outside and shout “ROMAN STOP DROPPING THOSE ROCKS”.

So Roman decided to start his rock pickups from the top and never actually putting the rock on the ground.  From this, the Romanian deadlift was born.  Fascinating hey.


Two Fantastic Movements, Two Subtle Difference

The main difference between these two movements is the starting position.  The stiff leg deadlift starts and ends on the floor just like a standard deadlift.  The weight is picked up from the floor and from a dead start.

The Romanian deadlift start from the very top of the movement.  The weight will never touch the floor until the set is done.  I personally like to start with the bar raised upon a set of hooks on a squat rack around about knee level.  This means you only have to lift the weight a few inches to get into the correct start position.

However, as the weight will be lighter than a standard deadlift, there is no problem if you have to perform one full and standard deadlift rep to move the weight into the starting position.

Another difference is the eccentric lowering phase of each movement.  With a stiff leg deadlift, you do a pull from the floor and once at the top, you will then do a controlled but fairly rapid drop back to the floor.

A Romanian deadlift uses the eccentric/loading portion to create a stretch reflex at the bottom of the movement.  You will slowly control the weight down which will lengthen the hamstrings, and once at the bottom, they will then contract as you explode back up to the top.


Let’s Talk Technique

In my opinion, when talking about technique, one of the most important parts of the Romanian deadlift and the stiff leg deadlift is the position of your knees.

To understand this more, it will help by quickly discussing the knee and arm position of a standard conventional deadlift.

Something I now observe every time with my own deadlifts and clients is the alignment between the arms and knees.  When starting a standard conventional deadlift, it’s really important to make sure your knees are positioned on the inside of your arms and the front of your knees should be flush with your arms.

If your knees poke out in front of your arms, then the chances are you have dropped your hips far too low.  If you have read my article.” how to deadlift Properly” you will know this means your hips will start to travel up first before your shoulders move.  This in effect makes the movement less efficient.

Now if your knees are too far behind your arms in the standard conventional deadlift, then the chances are your hips will be too high in the setup phase.  This now leads us perfectly onto the stiff leg deadlift.


Stiff Leg Deadlift Technique

At the start of a stiff leg deadlift, the knees should be behind the arms.  This will put your hips higher, legs straighter and shins closer to vertical when compared to a standard, conventional deadlift.

When walking up to the bar to perform stiff leg deadlift, think about the standard conventional deadlift set up, but without the shins needing to go close to the bar.

  • Find your stance,
  • Feet just slightly wider from hip width,
  • Bar near mid foot
  • Take your grip right outside your legs.
  • You will have a slight bend in your knees.
  • Now without dropping your hips and without bringing your hips forward, squeeze your chest out and up and your shoulders back.  This will put your spine in a neutral position.  You are now ready to pull.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top of each rep before lowering into the next one.

Romanian Deadlift Technique

Now the Romanian deadlift can start from one of two positions, you can pick the weight up from the floor like a standard conventional deadlift, or you can take the bar off the squat rack from a higher position.  The latter is my prefered method of getting into position.

I like to take the same stance width and toe angle as my normal deadlift and stiff leg deadlift.

  • Stand nice and tall.
  • Brace your abs.
  • Squeeze your shoulders back and chest up high.
  • Start the movement by pushing your hips back and letting the barbell slide down your thighs.  You will have a slight bend in your knees.
  • The angle at your knees should now change as you lower the weight.
  • Let the barbell pass your knees and continue to lower the weight until the barbell is at mid shin.
  • Just like in a stiff leg deadlift at this stage, your knees should stay behind your arms at the bottom.
  • Without pausing at the bottom, stand back up by dragging the barbell back up your legs.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement, before lowering into the next rep.

Quick Tip – If you find your back starting to round at the bottom of the movement it may be an indication of tight hamstrings, or you are lowering a bit too far.  To resolve this simply stop the movement at a slightly higher point of your shins.  As you adapt to the movement and your flexibility increases you will naturally be able to lower a bit further without your back rounding.


Which Movement Is Better?

A common question I am asked all the time.  My usual response is “better for what”.  It’s like asking which movement is better out of the sumo deadlift and squat.  Again “better for what”?

These are both fantastic exercises which I often incorporate into clients routines.  I personally like them both equally but for different reasons.

Stiff Leg Deadlift – The standard conventional deadlift is one of the main exercises most programs are built around.  So for this reason as a secondary movement in terms of complementing the conventional deadlift the closest, than the stiff leg deadlift wins.  Obviously, both the stiff leg and Romanian deadlift are both used to further isolate the hamstrings and glutes, but like the conventional deadlift, the stiff leg version is also done off the floor.  Also, like the conventional deadlift, this movement can be trained with much lower reps and higher weight.  Partly due to the reset portion of the movement at the bottom, meaning your forearms get that slight break.

Romanian Deadlift – Unlike the conventional and stiff leg deadlifts, the Romanian deadlift will be done with much lighter weights.  There is no rest point for the forearms as the full load remains in the hands until the set is complete.  Also, You will be doing a much slower eccentric phase of the movement, therefore keeping tension on the hamstrings, back and forearms for much longer than with the other two versions.  So why bother with Romanian deadlifts then?

  1. They work on the stretch reflex of the hamstrings, which you don’t get with the other two versions.
  2. They can really help develop flexibility as well as the strength of the hamstrings.
  3. They are a fantastic exercise for helping develop the technique for the conventional deadlift due to the more controlled eccentric phase, allowing you to concentrate on correct form.
  4. Due to the lighter loads, it will be easier to program into a beginners program as a second or third deadlift session.

Stiff Leg Deadlift vs Romanian Deadlift Key Takeaways

  1. There is two subtle difference between these two movements.  The start position and the eccentric (lowering)  portion.
  2. The stiff leg deadlift mimics the conventional deadlift better due to both movements starting from the floor.
  3. Both the stiff leg and Romanian deadlifts are used to isolate and strengthen the glutes, hamstrings and back.
  4. Heavier weights can be used with the stiff leg deadlift.
  5. The Romanian deadlift is an excellent exercise for improving the flexibility of the hamstrings.
  6. The Romanian deadlift will work on the stretch reflex of the hamstring.
  7. Both movements can and should be programmed in to complement and help improve your main deadlift.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article here at BFG Muscle.  What type of deadlift do you do the most? Do you have a favourite?  Any other questions? Please don’t hesitate to comment below.

stiff leg deadlifts vs Romanian deadlifts

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