Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Romanian vs. Sumo Deadlifts: Which Targets the Glutes Best?

A man performing Romanian deadlifts to engage his glutes in a gym.
Read Time: 7 minutes

Table of Contents

Deadlifts are, without a doubt, one of the most celebrated compound exercises in the weightlifting universe. They’ve earned their rightful place in the hall of fame, with countless fitness enthusiasts swearing by their efficiency in building both strength and muscle. Yet, as you delve deeper into the realm of deadlifting, you’ll stumble upon two variations that have long been the subjects of debate – the Romanian Deadlift and the Sumo Deadlift. Which one is the ultimate glute activator? Let’s dive in.

The Basics

Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

The RDL primarily targets the hamstrings and glutes. It starts with the bar at hip level and focuses on the hinge movement from the hips. Unlike the conventional deadlift, the Romanian variant doesn’t touch the ground until the set is complete.

Sumo Deadlift

Characterized by a wider stance, the Sumo Deadlift changes the dynamic of the pull, engaging the glutes and inner thighs more directly. With feet set wide apart and hands inside the knees, this form reduces the distance the bar travels.

Mechanics and Glute Activation

In the RDL, the movement is more hip-dominant. As you push your hips back, maintaining a slight knee bend, the tension builds in the hamstrings and glutes. You place a substantial load on the posterior chain by keeping the bar close to your body and your spine neutral.

In contrast, the Sumo Deadlift is more about the legs. The wider stance forces the thighs to work harder, and as they externally rotate, the glutes get heavily involved.

For those especially keen on firing up their glutes, understanding the subtleties of each form is crucial. Both styles, when done correctly, can be exceptional for glute development. However, the Sumo might have a slight edge due to its stance and leg-driven nature.

Pros and Cons for Glute Development

Romanian Deadlifts:

  • Pros:
    • Direct targeting of the posterior chain, with the hamstrings and glutes in the spotlight.
    • The range of motion is primarily in the hip hinge, allowing for more controlled tension in the glutes.
    • Can be integrated seamlessly with other leg routines for a comprehensive workout.
  • Cons:
    • Requires a strong awareness of form to prevent lumbar strain.
    • Might not be suitable for those with lower back issues.
    • Doesn’t engage the thighs as much, which means less indirect activation for the glutes.

Sumo Deadlifts:

  • Pros:
    • The wider stance gives direct emphasis to the glutes and adductors.
    • Lower stress on the lumbar spine, making it a safer option for many.
    • The reduced range the bar has to travel can allow for lifting heavier weights, leading to potential greater muscle hypertrophy.
  • Cons:
    • Might be challenging for those with hip mobility issues.
    • The wider stance requires a good deal of ankle flexibility and stability.
    • Not as hamstring-dominant as the Romanian variant.
A woman engaging in strength training by lifting a barbell in a gym.

The Role of Personal Anatomy and Biomechanics

Everyone has a unique structure, which greatly influences how they perform and respond to different exercises. The angles of your hip sockets, the length of your limbs, and your general flexibility can all play a role in determining which deadlift variant feels more natural and effective.

For the Romanian Deadlift: If you have longer legs relative to your torso, you might find the RDL more challenging. The extended length of the femur can sometimes cause a forward lean, putting undue stress on the lower back. However, those with a shorter leg-to-torso ratio might find the Romanian Deadlift incredibly effective, feeling a significant glute and hamstring burn with each rep.

For the Sumo Deadlift: Those with broader hips or a more significant Q-angle (the angle between the quad muscle and the patellar tendon) might find the Sumo Deadlift more comfortable. The wider stance complements their anatomy, allowing them to lift heavier without compromising on form. Conversely, individuals with narrower hips might struggle with the wider stance, feeling strain rather than strength.

Perfecting Your Form for Optimal Glute Activation

Whichever deadlift style you lean towards, form is paramount. A slight misalignment can shift the load from the glutes to other muscles, or worse, cause injury.

Tips for the RDL:

  • Keep the bar close to the body throughout the movement.
  • Maintain a neutral spine – no rounding or arching.
  • Engage the core and think about pushing the hips backward while hinging.

Tips for the Sumo:

  • Point your toes slightly outward to match the direction of your knees.
  • Drop your hips low to start, keeping your chest up.
  • As you lift, focus on spreading the floor apart with your feet to engage the glutes and inner thighs.

Remember, the goal isn’t to hoist the most weight off the ground, but to engage and challenge the target muscles – in this case, the glutes.

A man is performing concentrated loading exercises with a barbell in a gym.

Which Should You Choose?

The answer isn’t a straightforward one. If you already have a robust hamstring routine and are looking to dial up the glute intensity, Sumo Deadlifts may be your ticket. The very positioning of the Sumo – wide stance and upright torso – ensures that your glutes are thoroughly engaged throughout the motion.

On the other hand, if you’re seeking a more balanced posterior chain workout that does justice to both the hamstrings and the glutes, the Romanian Deadlift is an unbeatable choice. Plus, its integration into various routines makes it versatile and dynamic.

Incorporating Both Deadlifts Into Your Routine

While it might seem like a competition between the two deadlift variants, they can coexist harmoniously in a well-structured workout routine. Here’s why it might be beneficial to include both:

  1. Balanced Development: By alternating between RDLs and Sumo Deadlifts, you provide balanced stimulation to all areas of the posterior chain. While RDLs emphasize the hamstrings a bit more, Sumo Deadlifts offer more direct glute engagement.
  2. Preventing Plateaus: Our bodies adapt quickly to routine. Alternating between these two exercises can prevent the body from getting too accustomed to one movement, leading to stagnant results.
  3. Reducing Risk of Injury: Diversifying your movements and ensuring all muscle groups are well-trained can improve overall stability and strength, reducing the risk of injury.


The Romanian vs. Sumo Deadlift debate isn’t about determining a clear winner. Both variants offer unique advantages and can be monumental in shaping and strengthening the glutes. What’s vital is understanding your body, perfecting your form, and consistently challenging your muscles for the best results. With dedication and a bit of sweat, a stronger, more toned posterior chain is well within reach.


1. How often should I incorporate these deadlift variations into my routine?

For strength and muscle-building, aim to include them 1-2 times a week, ensuring you have adequate rest in between.

2. Can I do both deadlift variations in one session?

Yes, but prioritize form and avoid overloading the muscles. Consider performing one variant as your primary lift and the other as an accessory with lighter weights.

3. I’m a beginner. Which deadlift should I start with?

Beginners often find the Sumo Deadlift more approachable due to the reduced stress on the lower back. However, always start light and focus on mastering form.

4. What other exercises complement these deadlifts for glute activation?

Hip thrusts, glute bridges, and Bulgarian split squats are excellent additions to a comprehensive glute workout.

5. Can I deadlift without any weights to practice form?

Absolutely! Practicing with just your body weight or a broomstick can help you grasp the movement pattern and hone your technique.

Editor’s note: The content on Base Strength is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns. Please also see our disclaimers.

Trending Topics

Shopping cart
Sign in

No account yet?

Start typing to see posts you are looking for.