Whether you're training for bodybuilding, powerlifting, sports performance or fat loss, Romanian deadlifts and standard deadlifts are both challenging but effective lower-body exercises. Standard deadlifts are a competition powerlifting exercise, but Romanian deadlifts are an effective ancillary exercise for them, according Mike Robertson, owner of Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training. For optimal results, include both exercises in your program.
When performing standard deadlifts, each repetition must start from a dead-stop on the ground. Stand with the bar over the middle of your feet, and grasp it with a shoulder-width grip. Bend your knees until your shins touch the bar then drop your hips down, push your head and chest up and pull the bar forcefully from the floor. Lift it until you're standing upright, pause briefly, then lower the weight to the floor. Take a second or two to reset your starting position, then perform a second repetition. Romanian deadlifts are performed in exactly the same manner, except that constant tension is applied. Start with the bar in the top position while you are standing upright, so instead of lifting it off the floor, place the weight in the safety pins of a power rack, grasp the bar from that position and begin the exercise with the descent. Don't rest the bar on the floor between reps and keep your knees slightly straighter than on regular deadlifts.
All variations of the deadlift develop the group of muscles known as your posterior chain -- the glutes, hamstrings, lower back and calves, says Joe Meglio, trainer at the Underground Strength Gym in New Jersey. Romanian deadlifts focus on your core and lower back slightly more than standard deadlifts as there is constant tension during each set. Standard deadlifts engage your quadriceps a little more, however, as you have to exert more force to get the bar moving on each rep.
Benefits and Drawbacks
While both exercises will develop lower-body strength and power, there are small advantages and disadvantages to each. They're both compound movements, meaning they work multiple joints and muscle groups. Compound movements are superior for building muscle mass and burning fat, notes trainer Chad Waterbury, author of "Huge in a Hurry." Romanian deadlifts are more effective at improving lower back or core strength, and they also help improve your grip strength as you need to hold the bar for sustained periods. Standard deadlifts are more effective for increasing speed and power from the floor and focus specifically on aspects needed for competitive powerlifting.
You can either perform Romanian and standard deadlifts in the same training cycle, or split them up. To do both in the same cycle, perform one deadlift-focused session each week. Start with standard deadlifts for four to six sets of three to five repetitions, then move to Romanian deadlifts as an accessory exercise for three sets of eight to 12. Alternatively, use standard deadlifts as a main exercise for four to six weeks, aiming to increase the weight or reps every session, then switch to Romanian deadlifts for four to six weeks and do the same. Take a week off and repeat this sequence.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.