Deadlifts are a good exercise for building strength in the lower back, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, triceps, biceps, adductor, and abductor muscles. In short, it can be viewed as a total body exercise and used as a means of both building strength and cardiovascular endurance (depending on tempo).
However, if done improperly, they can also lead to injury/discomfort.
For the purpose of this post, I’ll be focusing on the Romanian and the Stiff-Legged Deadlift. While both work essentially the same muscles, and appear to use the same movement, there are subtle differences between the two which need to be taken into account.
In the Stiff-Legged Deadlift, the legs are in a locked position, the hands are shoulder-width apart on the bar, usually with an overhand grip, and, as the barbell is lowered towards the floor, it remains within a few inches of the legs but not necessarily touching.
The Romanian Deadlift is executed in much the same way, except for two key exceptions: the barbell remains in contact with the legs at all times and the knees are not locked out.
While both exercises are excellent for the reasons mentioned at the outset, it’s important to pay attention to your body’s cues as you execute each movement—particularly in the case of the Stiff-Legged Deadlift where the locking of the knees means an excessive amount of strain can be placed on the hamstrings depending on the amount of weight being used.
If you are new to such exercises, I recommend starting with the “Good Morning Bow”, an exercise executed in much the same way as the aforementioned deadlifts, but which can be done with or without the use of weights. They can also act as a dynamic stretch for those who are looking to prepare the legs for an intense leg workout.
The main point here, though, is to never jump into a new exercise without first understanding its movement patterns and potential pitfalls; learn first, practice second, and then challenge yourself as you gain comfortability.