Which Deadlift Is Best for Your Workouts

This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.

In the grand hierarchy of exercises, few are equal to the deadlift. The powerlifting staple is a key builder of muscles like your hams and glutes—but it also works your hips, traps, core, grip strength and (to a varying degree depending on the variation you perform) your quads, making it one of the most comprehensive compound movements you can do.

While the deadlift might often be categorized as a lower body lift, few would argue that it isn’t the epitome of a total-body exercise, one of the main reasons why some form of it deserves a permanent place in your workout program. But what many do argue about is which deadlift variation deserves the top spot in your exercise arsenal. At the center of that debate are two variations in particular: the standard deadlift and the Romanian deadlift (RDL).

The Standard Deadlift vs. The Romanian Deadlift

The primary difference between these two quintessential exercises is the placement of the load (barbell, dumbbells, etc.) at the start of each rep and the range of motion you'll work through. In the classic deadlift, you pull the bar off of the ground as you rise to a standing position.

For the RDL, the exercise really begins after you've picked up the bar, standing with the bar hip-level. Then, when you lower the load down, you'll stop around mid-shin height (depending on your mobility), never letting it touch the ground before returning to the starting (standing) position. Also, your hips remain higher and your knees remain straighter in the RDL, which is why it is also sometimes referred to as the straight-leg deadlift (although your legs are never completely straight).

Both deadlift variations engage all of the muscle groups mentioned above—but not equally. Because the classic deadlift drops the hips lower and involves more of a knee-bend than the RDL, it engages the quads to a greater degree. The RDL, meanwhile, hammers the hamstrings and glutes more for the very same reason. But no matter what variation you perform, you can be sure that you’re working almost your entire posterior chain, which is key for improving both power production and overall athletic performance.

Which Deadlift Variation Should You Do?

The short answer is both. So is the long answer. And don’t stop there.

Whether you’re using dumbbells or a barbell, kettlebells or resistance bands, the classic and Romanian deadlifts (and all of their countless variations) are excellent additions to any training program, whether you’re a seasoned lifter or just beginning your fitness journey.

The key is to sprinkle those variations across your weekly routine. Each one has its strengths, and rotating a few at a time through your program will help increase yours. When you want to push major weight and focus on full-body strength, the standard dead will be your best bet. When you want to focus in on glute-ham development and scale down the weight, the RDL will be the choice.

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