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What is the difference between a Conventional Deadlift and a RDL?

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

The deadlift is a compound exercise often found in client programs at Garage 1880. Although there are many forms of deadlifts such as conventional, sumo, RDLs, stiff-leg deadlifts, and single-leg variations. We’re going to break down the differences between conventional deadlifts and RDLs (Romanian deadlifts).


Conventional deadlifts involve multiple muscle groups including the glutes, hamstrings, low back, core, and lats.

Foot Placement: The feet are generally placed between shoulder- and hip-width apart. There isn’t one perfect foot placement across the board, but there is an optimal foot placement for you. When testing out foot placement, aim to stick with the one that makes you feel the most powerful in the leg drive. This is likely going to be a position where your knees are in line with the second and third toes to properly use the glutes. Remember that all three points of your foot (big toe pad, little toe pad, and heel) should be in contact with the ground throughout the movement.

The Movement: Deadlifts start with concentric movement, referring to the portion when the barbell is moved from the ground to your hips. The eccentric movement comes second in a deadlift when the weight is lowered back down to the ground. The barbell is pulled off the ground from about mid-shin. If it is lower than mid-shin due to the type of plates being used or using the barbell on its own, consider placing blocks or plates underneath the barbell or plates to raise it up to mid-shin.

Trainer Tips: Before pulling the weight off the ground, think about corkscrewing your feet into the ground. It is important to take the slack out of the bar first to allow your lats to stay engaged and to avoid any jerky movements when pulling the bar off the ground. Think about pushing the floor away from you as you pull the weight to your hips.

Throughout the movement, consider the following cues: keeping your lats engaged, keeping your core strong, and keeping the barbell in line with your mid-foot. In regards to keeping your core strong, or bracing your core rather, think about inhaling at the bottom of the movement, hold during the movement, exhale partially at the top, hold during the movement back down, and repeat.


RDLs also involve multiple muscle groups including the hamstrings, glutes, core, and lats.

Foot Placement: RDLs have a similar foot placement as deadlifts: aim for feet to be placed between shoulder- and hip-width apart. The foot placement is less about power and more about providing a stable base in this movement.

The Movement: In an RDL, the movement begins at and focuses on the eccentric portion of the lift. Eccentric movement is the hinge where the hamstrings are stretched. The concentric movement comes second when the hamstrings contract to get back to the starting position. Because RDLs start in an eccentric movement, the barbell starts at the hips. We recommend unracking the barbell from a squat rack or deadlifting the barbell off the ground first to allow you to safely get to the starting position.

Trainer Tips: When lowering into the RDL, key cues to remember are to keep your back flat with your shoulders back, keep the barbell in line with your mid-foot, and keep your core engaged.

The RDL range of motion is dependent on hamstring mobility. Some people may lower to above the knees, whereas some people may lower to mid-shin. Neither are wrong. It is important to only go down as far as your hamstring mobility allows without overstretching or compromising the back and shoulder position.

Similarly to deadlifts, bracing the core is an important part of the exercise. Inhale/exhale at the top and hold during the movement.

TLDR: Deadlifts and RDLs are similar in that they both work on the posterior chain including the glutes, hamstrings, back, and core. The main differences involve the range of motion and starting position. Deadlifts require a pull from the floor and focus on the concentric movement, whereas RDLs start from an upright position with a shortened range motion without the barbell touching the ground and focus on the eccentric movement. While deadlifts and RDLs have similar components, they are different. Garage 1880 encourages you to have variations of both in your program.


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