I started to do some Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs) in the gym yesterday when a guy came and said to me, "man, you are doing the stiff-legged deadlift wrong".

Apparently those are two similar exercises, so my question is how to perform both of them with proper form, and what are the main differences between them in terms of muscles reached?

2 Answers 2


Main difference is how deep you go. Stiff Leg Deadlift you allow your back to round a bit at the bottom, might even stand on a platform to really emphasize this. Romanian Deadlift is more of a hamstring exercise where you're emphasis is keeping your back straight and forcing your butt backwards.

Ideally SLDL is completely straight though not locked out - never lock out that would just cause injury. RDL the knee bends to allow your butt to go backwards.

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Image from: Romanian Deadlift vs. Stiff Legged Deadlift

Another subtle distinction that often occurs is that SLDL the bar is generally a bit more forward where RDL's it will be right against your legs, sometimes even use Dumbbells by the side of your legs. Can see that too in the above depiction where the bar is above her toes on the SLDL but closer to her ankle in the RDL.

Personally, I never ever do Stiff Legged Deadlifts. Romanians however are my go-to hamstring and glute exercise.

  • Indeed, the pictures make all the difference!
    – joao
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 21:02

The differences are really subtle, and they can be fairly exchangeable as far as training purposes go:

  • RDL starts from a standing position (bar rests on J-hooks in between sets)
  • Stiff Leg DL starts at the bottom position (bar rests on ground in between sets)
  • RDL allows more bend at the knee
  • RDL is more like a hip-hinge exercise
  • Stiff Leg DL hits the hamstrings a little more directly (i.e. more stretch on the hamstrings)

The emphasis of hips or hamstrings is also fairly minor.

  • Never heard of starting position having any role in the nomenclature. I also don't really agree SLDL hits hamstrings more, if anything I think it hits lower back more while RDL hits the hamstrings more.
    – Ryan
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 15:45
  • @Ryan as mentioned in the article you linked, I think it depends on the anthropometry of the lifter (arm length, hamstring flexibility, etc) on how well one or the other hits the hamstrings. For instance, I don't feel RDL's in my hamstrings at all and can maintain a neutral spine with SLDL's while even pulling from a slight deficit.
    – Alex L
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 18:14

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