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Ask The Trainer:"RDL vs Deadlift - What is the difference?"

Jun 17, 2019

Christian Agudelo, ACSM - CPT

Romanian Deadlifts or RDL and the Deadlift differ in slightly different ways. Mainly they differ in the way you start the movement. The RDL with a dumbbell or a barbell usually starts right below the waistline and ends at around shin level making sure your back is straight and torso is parallel to the floor. The Deadlift movement starts with the weight on the ground. So you begin in a hinge position and will generate the power in your glutes and hips to lift the weight up. The Deadlift will also activate the quads at the beginning of the movement because you will also be in a slight squat position at the beginning. The RDL will automatically activate the glutes and hamstrings at the beginning and end of the movement.

Nikki Davis, ACE- CPT

The most recognizable difference between an RDL and Deadlift is the starting position. RDL or Romanian deadlift starts with the dumbbell or barbell hanging slightly below the waist at your thighs and ending the movement at shin level or when the torso is parallel to the floor. The Deadlift the movement starts in a posterior hinge/ squat position picking the weight up from the ground, standing tall and returning the weight to the ground each repetition. Since the RDL requires a hip hinge and slight bend in the knees the muscle recruitment will be more posterior, engaging the hamstrings, glutes, and back muscles. Since the deadlift also requires a hip hinge but starts at a much lower level to the ground, you will first activate the quads and back before engaging the hamstrings and glutes.

Earvin Bahena, NSCA - CSCS

Romanian deadlifts and standard deadlifts are great hinge movement exercises. While you move in the same movement pattern, they differ in various ways. With a Romanian Deadlift (RDL) the starting position is focused on handling dumbbells or a barbell on the side of the thigh. The range of motion of the exercise is not down to the ground but to a position where the hamstrings are being activated but not where your chest is below your bottom. While doing an RDL you are targeting the similar muscles as a deadlift but with more emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings. The standard deadlift starts off from a dead stop position, from the ground or a step then you come up to a tall position and then go back down to the ground or your starting position. As you move through a deadlift, you are utilizing your quads, erectors, hamstrings, glutes and various other smaller muscles that help your body stabilize. In terms of progression, you will need to master an RDL before you attempt any sort of deadlift. Understanding how to hinge and properly engage the correct muscles is huge in both exercises.

Spencer O'Neil, NASM- CPT

When it comes to the RDLs and Deadlift the noticeable difference tends to be the muscles you feel working the most. When doing an RDL you will feel the majority of the work in the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back because of the hinging motion with straighter legs. Because of this the weight tends to be much more moderate compared to the traditional deadlift. The traditional deadlift tends to be more of a full body strength exercise by lifting weight from a dead stop and relying on much more quad activation. It differs from the majority of strength exercises because the weight starts at the bottom. Learning to hinge properly is a foundational movement pattern needed so getting a good mix of both exercises is crucial for any workout program


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