Romanian Versus Stiff Legged Deadlifts

Posted on 12 Dec 2008 17:23

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By Eric Troy, Ground Up Strength

This "article" was originally an informal forum post that has been published here for ease of reading.

These two exercises, stiff legged deads and Romanian deads, I think have sort of been wrapped around each other in myth and shadows.

Everybody seems to have a different take.

Not to mention that some people teach the conventional deadlift based on its difference from these other two. So you get this kind of thing like "conventional deadlifts are more like a squat than the stiff or Romanians".

I actually do think that the stiff legged deadlfit has basically had elements of the Romanian deadlift molded into it in "recent" years and so that has really created some confusion. Ian King, oh he of the spinal flexion addiction, says it was the influence of later Europeans teaching a flat back and the popularity of the Romanian deadlift that did this. I think he is probably right on that. But I think, of course, that he is WRONG, that the Europeans were wrong about flat back (naturally arched) being more healthy and superior. Of course they were right. But that is a different story.

The stiff legged deadlift actually has the bar traveling out from the body and there is no 'butt back" in it. Originally it WAS done with spinal flexion. I think most people doing stiff-legged these days are doing a sort of morphed version of a Romanian and the original stiff-legged. So people seek to explain it by the degree of knee flexion allowed in the two movements.

The original Romanian deadlift was basically a deadlift done from the hang position with the knees and hips always in slight flexion (you never lock out) and lowered to just under the knees or a little lower depending on mobility and hamstring flexibility.

If you know much about deadlfting it will look like the lowering portion of a good deadlift and then you will also see that no knee flexion is required of most (provided they aren't very inflexible) to get to this position. You just keep the back set, flex the hips by moving the butt back, and lower the bar down to just below the knees or a little lower. Only if you sought to lower the bar more than this would you need more knee flexion. And if you artificially sought to produce more knee flexion, which I have seen, then you are doing a very unnatural thing.

Lots of people pretty much explain a stiff-legged deadlift as the same thing as that. It's not. The bar does not hug the body and it probably was most likely done originally with completely straight legs and rounded back. If only slightly rounded back. You are basically bending over with the bar and picking it back up in the same way.

There are some die-hards who still do that. And many others who call what they are doing stiff legged deads but are doing a version of a Romanian. The semi stiff leggeds ARE done to place more STRESS on the lumbar erectors. Whether rounded or not, moving the bar away from the shins is going to do this. While Romanians will train the heck out of lumbar endurance (and overall back endurance) while targeting the glutes and hamstrings greatly.

So What is the Main Difference Between the SLDL and the Romanian Deadlift?

The distance of the bar from the body. In the Romanian, the bar stays close to the body, as in the conventional deadlift. This decrease in the moment arm puts much less compressive and shear stress on the spine. In the SLDL the bar is not kept in close to the body as the hips are not brought back. This places much more emphasis on the lower back..and much more stress on the spine

I have to choose who I believe when it comes to the origins of the Romanian. The problem that there are a lot of people who claim to have seen this movement performed for years before it was ever dubbed Romanians. Jim Shmytz claimed to have named it at his workout center in 1990 after seeing a Romanian lifter do it. Others have also claimed to have seen it years before and some of them named it too.

From what I can gather one big thing is you never fully straighten you knees. They stay flexed at around 15 or a little more degrees. They don't flex anymore or less at any point in the movement. A lot of people will do simultaneous knee and hip extension at the top of the ascent but it is supposed to be a hip thrust alone. The thing in question is if it was ever "locked out" at the hips or it the torso was always slightly forward.

I actually do both versions, locking out and not locking out. Not locking out slows the movement down but it focus a lot of back endurance and endurance overall. Locking out allows me to do it a little bit more on the strength-speed end of things because I am not slowing down the bar as much. This is just my personal take. In general I would remind people to always fully lock out their deadlifts!

This video is actually a comparison of the barbell trajectory of Romanians versus Powercleans but the Romanian part is the "classic" Romanian at least as far as I've been able to tease out what classic is. It's really quick but if you watch real close you will see how it matches with the description I gave above and notice particularly that knee flexion does not change throughout.

I do want to note that if you try to mimic his depth and you don't have the ROM your lower back will round out and you will no longer be doing a Romanian, or anything good, in my opinion. It doesn't matter if you stop just below your knees or lower or even if you can reach the floor as much as it matters that you do it right. ROM can be improved but an injured back is much harder to fix.

I've been on a search for the version the way it seems to be most often taught these days. Here is a good one…pretty much. The thing about this is there is nothing "wrong" with it.

In watching this a couple times some things I don't like the way he is looking up with his head instead of his eyes. He really should have his chin tucked a bit. I know people are taught to do this as well…look up. Bad mojo. To tell the truth his arch is probably excessive. You want a slight natural arch not an exaggerated one. I wonder whether the head up posture promotes excessive lumbar arching. In both videos they are doing this.. Not excessive but I advise to use your eyes not your head to look slightly up. If you try to tuck your chin while looking up I find that it cancels out the tendency to extend the neck and helps produce a neutral neck.

The next video is a comparison of the conventional, Romanian, and stiff legged deadlift by Shaf.

Conventional, Romanian and Stiff Legged Deadlift Comparison


I'd like to point out one technical miscue that is often given before I end this decidedly non-technical discussion. Many people believe that the Romanian should always be lowered until the back is parallel to the floor. There is no such rule nor advantage to this. Many people will end up flexing at the lumbar unless they bent their knees more, which would take the bang off the hamstrings. A basic rule of thumb is to lower until you feel a good stretch in the hamstrings and then ascend. In case you still have a hard time knowing when your are in lumbar flexion you may want to get an idea of your depth before hand:

Trying this broomstick test could be a very clever way to get a round-about idea of your depth for Romanians and it would be a good stretch. But not before you lift. The idea is that the stick remains in contact with your upper back and butt at all times and when it lifts off your butt…you've gone too far for your Romanian depth. Then if you practice it as a stretch the idea would be to get lower by stretching the hams but without allowing the stick to lift off the butt. But again, no static stretching BEFORE you lift.

Now that you've learned the difference between the Romanian and the Stiff-Legged, you may want more in-depth information on Romanian Deadlifts and how to train them.

This page created 12 Dec 2008 17:23
Last updated 18 Jul 2016 00:27

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