Training Variety: Deadlift Edition

Photo credit goes to Isafmedia.

In my last few posts, I’ve been emphasizing the deadlift, and how it can help you reach your goals.

The deadlift is not a once size fits all type of exercise. Some people have leverages that make it tough for them to get into the proper position to deadlift with good technique.

This opens the question: should you deadlift?

The answer is a resounding YES.

Barring a serious injury, I think that some type of deadlift variation can benefit anyone’s training.

It’s all about finding what variation works for you.

The conventional deadlift is the toughest variation for most people because it requires large amounts of ankle, hips, and thoracic spine mobility to get into the optimal position; and it’s something that most people don’t have.

So what do you do?

Read on to find several variations of the deadlift that you can try out in order to find the one that best fits your body type.

Note: don’t try to fit square pegs into round holes. If a variation doesn’t feel right for you and you cannot get the technique down, try something else.

Attempting to force yourself through an exercise that you can’t perform properly is a recipe for disaster.

Keep that in mind.

Conventional Deadlift

Might as well start off with the most common variation; the conventional deadlift.

This is the variation you see most in commercial gyms, and it is often done incorrectly, which can lead to back injury.

If you have a history of back pain, I would be very careful with this variation because it puts a lot of shear force on the spine.

But, if you’re healthy, and have the mobility to get into the proper position, have at it.

Here’s the conventional deadlift:

*Thank you to Diesel Strength and Conditioning for the video.

The key is to push your hips back so that you feel tension in the glutes and hamstrings; it’s not a squat!

Also, think shoulders back and chest up. This will force that thoracic extension and enforce proper posture (check out this post about posture).

When you are close to lockout, think about squeezing your glutes as hard as possible. This will ensure that you are extending your hips to finish the lift (good) instead of extending your lower back (very bad).

Sumo Deadlift

Ahhh, the sumo deadlift.

This is one of my favorite deadlift variations; both because of its name and its mechanics.

I love the sumo deadlift because it does not place as much shear force (which occurs during forward lean) on the spine and you are still able to load the lower body heavily.

It’s really all about preference and body leverages.

Here’s a video by girl gone strong Nia Shanks explaining how to set up and execute the sumo deadlift:

Notice with the sumo variation, you don’t have to push your hips back as far as the conventional variation, which means less forward lean and less shear forces on the spine.

However, there is a lot of stress on the hips due to the wide stance. I would recommend taking a break from sumo deadlifting every few weeks, as you can start to develop some hip pain if you continue to pull sumo week after week.

Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

The RDL is essentially a shortened version of the conventional deadlift.

It is also a great way to learn the hip hinge pattern (see this post), while effectively training the glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors.

That being said, in my experience, I have a tough time programming RDL’s, simply due to the fact that I don’t want to have deadlifts and then RDL’s in the same week, as I feel it is a lot of stress on the spine.

So, if you want to do RDL’s, use them as the main exercise, not when the lower back is already exhausted.

Here it is:

*Thanks again to Smitty from Diesel Strength and Conditioning for the demonstration.

The key is, once again, to push your hips back while maintaining that neutral lower back.

Notice how he only lowers the bar to just below the knees, and then when he comes back up to finish the lift, his hips are locking it out.

Single Leg RDL

This is one of my favorite deadlift variations.

Because it is a single-leg exercise, there is much less load on the spine, which means decreased chance of injury.

It will also hammer the glutes and hamstrings, which is what the deadlift is supposed to do!

However, it is fairly difficult if balance is an issue. Obviously, if you cannot balance on one foot, you will have a tough time performing this movement.

But there is a way around it.

Here is a variation of the variation (geez):

*Thanks to Midland Fitness for the video.

You should focus on pushing the trailing leg back and extending the hip, while maintaining a neutral spinal position.

Once this variation becomes too easy, you can progress to the dumbbell single leg RDL.

*Thanks to 25TGS for the video.

This is a great exercise for those who have had back pain in the past, and are looking to train the glutes and hamstrings without any extra load on the spine.

Also, it’s great for those with knee pain because you maintain a vertical tibia on the working leg, which doesn’t put undue stress on the knee.

Rack Pull

The rack pull is an awesome variation for people who don’t have the mobility to pull deadlifts from the floor.

It’s pretty self-explanatory; the safety bars are set at a higher level than normal, therefore making the range of motion much shorter.

*Thanks to the Glute Guy Bret Contreras for the explanation and demonstration.

Focus on keeping the mechanics the same as the deadlift; you still want tension in the hamstrings and glutes while keeping that spine neutral.

How high or low you set the bar is very individual, and it will depend on how much mobility you have (or don’t have).

Snatch Grip Deadlift

I added this variation in because I think it’s great for those looking for some variety, but if you’re a beginner to deadlifting, stay away!

The snatch grip deadlift is a variation most often used by Olympic lifters because they want to get stronger at the beginning portion of the snatch.

It can also be used by regular trainees looking for some serious lat and upper back development.

The extremely wide grip will fry your lats, grip, and upper back, while also still loading the lower body.

Be careful though. Because of the grip position, it places a lot of strain on the biceps tendon.

So, if you’re going to test out this variation, make sure that your form is perfect and you start very light.

Here it is:

*Thanks to TrainBetterFitness for the video.

The focus is similar to the other variations, except you might have to start with your hips lower because of the extra range of motion using the wide grip.

Like the explanation in the video says, you will have to start with a much lighter weight than usual. Leave your ego at the door!

Wrap Up

Like I mentioned several times in the post, it’s all about finding what works for you, and what you feel comfortable with.

All of these variations are great in their own way. Always ensure that you’re using proper technique to avoid injury, and you’re going to be a great deadlifter in no time!

Feel free to drop a comment below if you have any questions, or simply send me an email via my contact page.

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter in the upper right hand corner to receive a free ebook on the 50 most common workout mistakes and how to avoid them.

Keep working hard.


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