Several variations of the deadlift activate numerous muscle groups.
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The deadlift is a compound exercise that involves muscle and joint engagement throughout the body. The exercise helps athletes, powerlifters and bodybuilders improve their physical condition through an explosive two-stage movement. It can help develop useful strength and increase muscle volume, depending on how the exercise is used. Two versions of the deadlift, the Romanian and the stiff-leg, appear quite similar, but each is tailored to a specific type of training.
The Romanian deadlift is a version of the exercise designed for powerlifting and Olympic-style competition, requiring minimal movement from the knees. The form requires you to keep the barbell close to your body as you lift and lower, removing much of the resistance from your back. The close-in form allows you to lift heavy with the exercise, making it ideal for raw lifting competitions. The primary muscle groups activated during the Romanian deadlift include the hamstrings, gluteals, quadriceps and hip flexors.
The stiff-leg version is better suited for active sports, and to develop flexibility and strength along the posterior chain. The posterior chain is the group of muscles along your backside, from the neck all the way down to your feet. The stiff-leg version requires you to keep the barbell a few inches in front of your legs while you lift, which better distributes the resistance. The exercise incorporates the erector spinae along with the gluteals, hamstrings, calves and quadriceps.
Measuring the Difference
The primary differences between the two deadlifts are the width of your grip, foot placement and knee movement. The grip for a Romanian deadlift is wider than your shoulders, while the grip for the stiff-leg version is narrower than your shoulders. For the stiff-leg version, your feet should be at the width of your hips; for the Romanian deadlift they should be at shoulder width. During the Romanian deadlift, there will be some slight bending of the knees, while the stiff-leg version requires you to avoid knee movement entirely.
Tale of the Tape
While each deadlift version has subtle nuances that help certain styles of training, the exercises are similar enough that you shouldn't do both in the same workout. Romanian deadlifts can improve flexibility, range of motion and they more directly engage the quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. The stiff-leg deadlift actively engages the entire posterior chain along with the lower body's muscle system. For certain dynamic sports, the stiff-leg deadlift will help improve performance. If you want to build muscle mass exclusively in the lower body, the Romanian deadlift will serve you well.