Is there any difference between a stiff legged deadlift and a Romanian deadlift? Some articles I have read say these terms are interchangeable for the same exercise, whereas others state there is a difference.
Great question. There is a lot of misinterpretation of the weight training terms used by strength and conditioning coaches. In order to answer your question, let's take a look at some of the variations of this awesome exercise. The use of the deadlift (DL) and its variations for strength training is widely accepted as a means of strengthening leg, hip, back and torso muscles. However, Piper & Walker suggest that explanation of the different styles used in exercise program prescription is often overlooked. This in turn could add to the confusion surrounding terminology. The DL is typically associated with the conventional and sumo styles, commonly used by powerlifters. These two styles are the basis of all other DLs including the Stiff-leg DL (SLDL) and Romanian DL (RDL) (see Table 1).
Adapted from Piper, T J. & Waller, M.A. 2001, Variations of the Deadlift. Strength and Conditioning Journal. pp. 72.
|Table 1: Variations of the Deadlift
||Major Muscles Stressed
||Gluteus, quadriceps, hip adductors
||Decreased lumbar stress, total-body exercise
||Wrestling, linebackers, landscaping
||Gluteus, quadriceps, spinal erectors
||Volleyball, sailing, construction worker
||Hamstrings, spinal erectors
||Beneficial for low back rehabilitation
||Diving, equestrian, cycling
||Erector spinae, hamstrings
||Learning movements for other exercises
||Weight throwing, hiking, hockey
Stiff-leg Deadlift (SLDL)
The SLDL is used for specific strengthening of the lower back and hamstring muscles.
- Setup: Stand with feet shoulder width apart and an overhand grip just outside the thighs. The scapula should be retracted and the head in a neutral position.
- Execution: Begin the exercise with hip flexion allowing the hips to move posteriorly. The knees remain straight, but not locked out at full extension, throughout the movement. The spine maintains its natural s-shaped curvature as the bar descends. The path of the bar has a slight arc moving away from the legs as the hips are progressively flexed. The bar ends directly below the shoulders. Downward movement ceases when a stretch occurs in the hamstring muscles. The lifter then reverses motion. The completion of the lift is when hip and back extension raises the trunk to an erect standing position with the scapulae retracted. Relatively inflexible individuals may not be able to go down very far before hamstring muscles begin to stretch. It is important to stop the exercise at that point rather than lose the arch in the lower back in an attempt to descend further.
The bar may descend to the floor, or having the lifter stand on a box may increase the range of motion of the exercise. Even with proper form this is a high-risk exercise that should only be attempted if the individual has no back restrictions, history of injuries, and has demonstrated adequate hamstring/low back flexibility. Even then great caution should be taken. Round back lifting, known as kyphotic lifting posture during this or other lifts should be avoided for prevention of injury, along with excessive back and hip extension when standing erect. An advanced client under supervision, with an established base of strength may undertake this lifting posture to emphasize the spinal erectors. However, it is not recommended for beginners or unsupervised trainees. This is a very common type of DL observed in many weight rooms but is commonly a contraindicated exercise because of the potential risk to the intervertebral discs. Other common technical errors in the SLDL include hip flexion beyond a person's ability, hyperextension of the knees, rapid execution of the exercise, and attempting to pull more weight than the muscles have been trained to accommodate.
Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
The Romanian DL (RDL) is primarily used for the strengthening of the lower back, gluteus and hamstring muscles with decreased low back stress than the SLDL because of the technique.
- Setup: The stance is similar to that of a conventional DL with an overhand grip or alternating grip. The spine is fixed in a naturally arched position both at the beginning and throughout the entire lift.
- Execution: The RDL is similar to the SLDL, with the exception of the 15 degrees of knee flexion that is employed. All movement is achieved via rotation at the hip joint. The bar descends slowly and closely to the thighs instead of being directly underneath the shoulders. This reduces the torque on the upper body by placing the load closer to axis of rotation and over the base of support. The bar descends until it is inferior to the knee joint the lifter feels the need to round the back, he/she has the urge to further bend the knees, or they have reached their maximal range of motion without compromising lifting posture. The key is to focus on rotation about the hip joint as you push your gluteus back, while holding the knees at about 15° of flexion. When ascending, hip and knee extension should occur simultaneously while maintaining some shoulder retraction and the spine's natural curvature.
Common mistakes during the RDL are not flexing the knees or extending the knees prior to hip extension during the ascent. Many of our athletes and clients actually comment that they can feel stress is placed higher in the hamstrings if the knees are kept flexed to 15 degrees, whereas they feel more stress at the hamstring insertion if the knees are straightened during the lift. Other errors include allowing the lower back to round, kyphosis to occur, pulling the bar against the thighs, and excessive extension of the back when completing the lift.
Research on the RDL
Researchers in Greenwich, Connecticut recently tested 11 athletes to determine whether the Romanian deadlift or leg curl is more effective for strengthening the hamstrings. According to EMG activity (a measure of muscle activation), the Romanian deadlift showed the strongest activation of the biceps femoris, the largest hamstring muscle. One explanation for the greater activation of fibers is that the angle of the torso with respect to the legs enables more weight to be used in this lift as opposed to leg curls. Overload is the key to activating the most muscle fibers. Also, since the hamstrings are biarticular muscles (spanning two joints), they receive a greater stretch during this exercise, compared to other hamstring exercises when you bend forward.
- Squat down with hips lower than shoulders, grasp bar with closed alternated grip
- Hands placed slightly wider than shoulders outside the knees, elbows fully extended
- Feet flat on floor with the bar close to the shins and over the balls of the feet
- Lift the bar of the floor by extending the hips and knees
- At full knee and hip extension, establish an erect body position
- Allow the hips and knees to flex to slowly lower the bar to the floor
- Critical element. Maintain flat-back body position, do not flex the torso forward
Adapted from Earle, R.W. & Baechle, T.R. 2000, Resistance Training and Spotting Techniques. In: Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 2nd edn, ed. T.R. Baechle & R.W. Earle. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. pp. 374-375.
- Earle, R.W. & Baechle, T.R. 2000, Resistance Training and Spotting Techniques. In: Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 2nd edn, ed. T.R. Baechle & R.W. Earle. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. pp. 374-375.
- Farley, K. 1995, Analysis of the conventional deadlift. Strength and Conditioning. 17(6), pp. 55-57.
- Gardner, P. J. & Cole, D.1999, The stiff-legged deadlift. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 21(5), pp. 7-14.
- McGuigan, M.R.M. & Wilson, B.D. 1996: Biomechanical analysis of the deadlift. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 10(4), pp. 250-255.
- Piper, T J. & Waller, M.A. 2001, Variations of the deadlift. Strength and Conditioning Journal: 23(3), pp. 66-73.
- Swain, M.A. Colker, C.M. Kalman, D.S. & Maharam, L.G. 2000, Electromyographic analysis comparing Romanian deadlift vs. leg curl in activating muscle fibers of the long head of the biceps femoris. Med. Sci. Sport Exerc. 32(5), pp. S55.