10 Deadlift Variations You Need to Try
The deadlift is one of the most fundamental exercises that every trainee should be performing. If you are not deadlifting you should re-evaluate your training program.
A big deadlift is one of the most impressive feats of strength a person can perform. It builds a vice like grip, traps that make your neck disappear, and a foundation for a back that has a wingspan that rivals a 747.
Related: Deadlift Every Day
A strong deadlift means a strong, athletic posterior chain that turns heads and gets nods in the gym however, you don’t have to perform the same version of deadlift week after week after week. In fact, rotating out the variations of your deadlift can be beneficial for getting stronger at the conventional deadlift as well as prevent muscle imbalances.
Another bonus of rotating out your deadlift variation is that it keeps things fresh and interesting in the gym. Here are ten variations that will build strength and athleticism while keeping things interesting in the gym.
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10 Deadlift Variations
#1 – Conventional Deadlift
The granddaddy of all deadlifts. When most gym rats thing of the deadlift this is the variation that they think of. There is nothing that displays jaw dropping strength than standing in front of a loaded barbell, reaching down and picking it up.
When you perform this variation stand with your feet under your hips and set up with the bar over your shoe laces, then reach down by hinging at the hips. Then brace your core and squeeze the bar and stand up. Simple to say but, tough to perform with a barbell over 300 pounds.
#2 – Sumo Deadlift
The second common style of pulling, the sumo deadlift is a great variation to rotate into your workout. The sumo deadlift is great for individuals with mobility restrictions and those just learning to deadlift because it allows for the lifter to keep a more neutral and upright torso while pulling.
To set up for a sumo pull stand with your feet outside of hip width and push your hips back while grasping the bar with the grip going between the legs, as opposed to outside the hips in a conventional deadlift. Initiate your pull by pushing the floor away from you. When you set up with a wider stance than a conventional stance you are able to shorten the distance to lockout which is one of the reasons that it is popular among powerlifters.
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#3 – Trap Bar Deadlift
The trap bar is a great tool for improving your deadlift and is a very user friendly version of the deadlift. When you perform a trap bar deadlift the load is more centered and evenly distributed throughout out your body which makes it a little easier to manage the load with proper form, this makes it awesome choice for higher rep deadlift sets.
To perform a trap bar deadlift you simply choose which handle to use (either the high or low handle), stand in the middle of the trap bar, hinge at the hips and stand up. Standing in the middle of the bar allows for more quad engagement and you will find that most of the time you are able to pull more with a trap bar than a regular straight bar.
#4 – Romanian Deadlift
A great exercise for emphasizing hamstring strength and development. What makes the Romanian deadlift unique from other deadlift variations is that you begin the exercise from the top position instead of pulling it off of the floor. What this means is that there is an eccentric portion of the lift for you to perform (i.e. you don’t just drop it) as opposed to other style pulls where you usually drop the bar in a controlled manner.
Some key points of performance with the RDL is to make sure that you start with the bar at the top position by performing a rack pull or pulling it off of the blocks and take a step back with it away from the rack and perform multiple reps by keeping your knees soft and hinging at the hips only. If you are performing this correctly, you will feel a stretch in your hamstrings as you are lowering the weight, if you don’t feel a stretch you are more than likely dropping your hips too low.
#5 – Deficit Deadlift
One of the easiest ways to make an exercise harder is to extend the range of motion of the exercise. This is precisely what you do when you perform a deficit deadlift. This is one of the best exercises for gym rats that have trouble initially breaking the bar from the floor. If you go to pull a max attempt and it seams like the bar is nailed to the floor, then building your leg drive by pulling from a deficit is the ticket to getting stronger at the beginning of the lift.
Perhaps the easiest way to create a deficit is to stand on one or two 45lb plates. If you are lucky your gym might have some extra rubber mats from flooring for you to incrementally increase or decrease your range of motion.
Technique is the same as a conventional deadlift. The only difference is that you have to reach down a bit lower. This means that if you have a mobility restriction you should address that first before deciding to pull from a deficit.
#6 – Single Leg Deadlift
The single leg deadlift (SLDL) is one of the best exercises for developing hamstring flexibility and balance. It is also a great way of targeting the glutes and all of the smaller muscles responsible for pelvic stability, these muscles tend to get missed in bilateral training and can cause dysfunction down the road that can lead to back pain eventually.
Reap the benefits of SLDLs by utilizing them every so often as your deadlift variation. To perform the SLDL plant one foot down firmly while reaching the heel of the other leg towards the wall behind you while you are hinging your hips as you reach for the bar.
Make sure that your pelvis stays level with your shoulders and the floor. Your pockets should be parallel to the floor and not shift towards the ceiling. Ensure you pull under control and keep your abs and lats braced during the whole movement or you will lose balance.
#7 – Snatch Grip Deadlift
The snatch grip deadlift is a variation that is challenging for your grip and upper back musculature. Not only does it challenge the grip and upper back it also extends the range of motion much like a deficit deadlift does without out having to stand on anything.
The key technical point for the snatch grip deadlift is to find the proper grip width for you to pull from. To find your grip take the empty bar and place it in the crease of your hips which you can find by simply bending forward.
Once you have the bar in the crease of your hips simply spread your arms as close to the ends of the barbell as possible, some taller individuals may have their hands all the way against the sleeves of the bar. After you have found the proper grip width pull with a neutral spine and strong leg drive and don’t let the bar pull you forward. You will have to use a significantly lighter weight but you will notice a profound difference in your upper back strength.
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#8 – Thick Bar Deadlift
One of the easiest ways to get stronger over all is to strengthen your grip. Manhandling a heavy thick bar deadlift is one of the best ways to forge an iron grip and make weight loaded on a normal diameter barbell seem like kid weight.
Most gyms won’t have a thick bar or axle that you can train with but, there are a number of awesome products out there that you can attach to a regular barbell that will allow for you to perform thick bar deadlifts. Throw one of these products, like Fat Gripz, on a standard barbell and perform a set of deadlifts like you normally would and curse all the times that you used straps while lifting.
#9 – Block or Rack Pull
Sometimes the best way to get better at pulling heavy weight is to get used to pulling heavier weights than you are used to. Block or rack pulls are a great way to get used to handling weights that are heavier than your max because they shorten the length of your pull.
You can progressively lower the height of the pins or blocks from week to week until you are pulling from the floor with a new max. Block pulls are also great for those individuals that lack the required mobility to pull from the floor.
If you have access to pulling blocks do your gym owner a favor and use those instead of the power rack so you don’t put a ton of wear and tear on the bar. A word of caution when pulling weights heavier than your 1RM, perform block pulls less often than other variations because they tend to do a number on your nervous system.
#10 – Suitcase Deadlift
One of the most common weak links in the deadlift is a weak core. Suitcase deadlifts are a great way to challenge the strength and stability of your core musculature and help push up your conventional deadlift numbers.
You can utilize a heavy dumbbell, kettlebell, or a barbell to perform a suitcase deadlift. When you set up the weight should be outside of your foot centered on the arch. Set up for your pull like you normally would a conventional deadlift and brace your abs and lats before you begin your pull. When you pull keep you shoulders and hips level and don’t let the weight pull you off balance.
There you have it 10 variations of deadlift to take your best pull to new heights and keep things fresh in the gym on leg or back day whenever you perform your deadlifts. If you are new to deadlifting rotate out your versions of deadlift every four weeks or so. If you are more advanced and specifically training to increase your deadlift numbers you can rotate your variations out every week.
Remember the deadlift is a foundational movement that should have a place in your training every week especially if you care about getting stronger and staying functional. Give these ten versions a try and you will not be disappointed with the results.