Conventional Deadlift vs. Romanian Deadlift
Deadlifts are great for building mass, but which version is the king of mass builders?
By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS
Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
There are some good debates as to whether this deadlift is a compound or single-joint exercise, and both sides have reasonable arguments. It’s easy to see why some consider it a multijoint move since its dependent upon both the knee and hip joints for success. However, if you examine it carefully, no complete flexion or extension occurs at either joint, and for that reason, many call it an isolation move. Whichever camp you live in, it’s pretty clear the romanian deadlift should be a trusted go-to exercise on leg day. Make sure to keep the bar very close to your body while your knees are bent, back is flat and chest is up. Try and avoid the tendency to look up in the bent-over position.
The conventional dead ranks high on the list of total-body movements because it works virtually every fiber in your physique. Maybe that’s one reason it’s not as popular as it should be: It’s just plain tough. And although it’s simply a lift from the floor, it’s not simple to perform. There’s a lot going on: You have to think of it as if you’re leg pressing the floor, as opposed to “lifting” with your upper body. It actually works best if you lift the bar by pressing through the floor, extending your hips and knees to full extension. The two main keys? 1) Dragging the bar up your legs, and 2) Keeping your arms straight. You’ll be so much weaker if you bend and try to pull with your arms, or allow the bar to travel away from the body.
Advantage: Conventional Deadlift
For the hordes of bodybuilders at the gym who think they’re doing conventional deadlifts, we’ve got news for you: You’re doing romanians. While that’s not a bad thing per se, because the RDL style allows for increased tension on the glute-ham tie-in and probably has no equal in that regard, it isn’t the full-body exercise the conventional deadlift is. Moreover, you don’t begin each rep from a dead stop with the bar on the floor, but rather you begin each rep from a standing position. (Never let the bar touch the floor with RDLs.) The conventional deadlift starts and ends from the floor. And it takes every muscle in your legs and entire body to do so. For that reason, for overall as well as leg mass, the deadlift wins by a long shot. Requiring quads, hams and glutes, the deadlift will add thickness and size all over whereas the romanian, though highly effective, is much more localized. One way to tell if you’re doing it right: Are you just bending forward (RDL, a single-joint move) or are you squatting down to the floor to let the bar settle between reps (a multijoint move)? That’s key.