The deadlift is one of the strength exercises where you lift a weight off the ground (a dead stop) up to your hips. It can be added both in training plans focused on building strength or muscular hypertrophy. In its traditional form, deadlift uses a classic barbell which should be up to your mid-shinbone. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and your hands should be shoulder-width apart.
However, this is not the only possible version of the deadlift. You can adapt that exercise in multiple ways by changing your grip, the position of your legs, the position of the weights, the type of the weights or adding some extras (such as resistance bands). Regardless of the deadlift version you choose, you need to keep in mind certain universal rules that must be followed:
- Always keep your back stable in a neutral position.
- Draw your shoulder blades and your shoulders back.
- The abs should be tightened to stabilise your lower back.
- Align your head with your back (do not tilt it upward).
- While lifting the weights, keep them as closely to your body as possible (if you are using a barbell, it should touch your legs at all times).
- Exhale as you are lifting the weight and inhale as you are putting it down (if you are lifting very heavy weights, you inhale when the weight is at the dead stop).
The Sumo deadlift is one of the most popular variations of the deadlift. As the name implies, the sumo style has the feet in a very wide stance, similar to that of sumo wrestlers. The feet should be as wide apart as possible and the toes should be pointed outward. Consequently, the barbell should touch the inside of your shinbones. Your knees should be pointed outward (in the same direction as your toes) and your hands should be shoulder-width apart and placed on the barbell inside the knees.
Compared to the classic deadlift, the sumo deadlift asks more of your glutes, particularly your outer glutes.
Stiff-leg deadlift is also called Romanian deadlift. Despite the name, you don’t perform this deadlift on completely stiff legs. While you are moving, your knees should be just slightly bent, and the movement should be mostly at the hips. In this exercise, you push the hips back as much as possible while maintaining a flat back and nearly straight legs. The body weight should rest on your heels and the weight should be as close to your body as possible.
You can do this exercise using a classic barbell; however, many people prefer to use dumbbells in both hands, which they find more convenient. This exercise engages mainly the glues and the hamstrings.
If you don’t find the deadlift on both legs exciting enough, you can always do a single-leg deadlift. It will certainly be necessary to lower the weight considerably as compared with other (more stable) versions of the deadlift.
There are two versions of the single-leg deadlift:
- one of them is a deadlift on a (nearly) straight leg with the other leg up (the arabesque exercise),
- the other is leaving the other leg on the ground (on tippy toes, slightly back) for stability. In case of the second variation, make sure the entire body weight should be on the working leg and that you hinge from the working hip.
You can do the two-versions of the single-leg deadlifts with a barbell or with dumbbells – in one hand or in both hands. When doing the single-leg deadlift with one dumbbell, please make sure you keep your torso stable and do not rotate it.
Just like the deadlift on stiff legs, this exercise will mainly engage the glutes as well as the ischial- and shin muscles. As you work on one side, the deep muscles will be more engaged (to keep balance).
A trap bar is very characteristic – you need to stand in the middle of the hexagonal-shaped barbell and grip it using the hammer grip (which is impossible to do with a classic barbell). The grip is not the only thing that differs the trap-bar deadlift from the classic deadlift – the trap-bar deadlift is the only deadlift style where you do not lift the barbell close to the leg, so the body weight and the leverage differ than in the classic version.
This variation will mainly engage the back muscles.
Snatch grip deadlift
Snatch is one of two Olympic lifts, next to the clean and jerk. In the snatch, your hands are very widely apart as you lift the bar. You pull your body beneath the bar and enter into a squat position.
Snatch grip deadlift will be a kind of first element of snatching, meaning you lift the barbell off the ground and you lift it to your hips. This version of the deadlift is more difficult because the hands are very widely apart and the barbell needs to be lifted much higher; also, the starting position is much “lower” – it’s more like a squat. Initially, the weight in this deadlift version may need to be much lighter than in the classic deadlift.
Snatch grip deadlift will engage the full body; however, due to the wide stance of your hands, the arms will be more engaged than in the other alternatives.
You can use accessories to make each of the above deadlift variations more challenging. To make it more difficult for the stabilising muscles, you can put the resistance bands on the barbell, which will destabilise it and bring it down at the same time. You can also modify the position of the barbell – the lower the weight position, the greater the distance it will have to travel and the more difficult the exercise (e.g. the rack pull). You can also use exercise lifts to do deadlifts with lighter weights (such as dumbbells or kettlebells).