by: Jason Manenkoff
The Deadlift is the king of all exercises. It’s been called the “Deadlift” since Ancient Roman times, when low-ranking soldiers would be givne the task of removing fallen comrades from the battlefield, in effect, lifting a dead weight off the ground (that was in fact, a literally “dead” weight).
Aside from the Olympic lifts and their derivatives (Clean & Jerk, Snatch, Power Clean from the Hang Position etc.) there isn’t a single movement that could compete with it in terms of motor unit activation (amount of muscle fibers being stimulated). What this means for the development of your physique, which I discussed in a previous article is: stimulation of more muscle fibers=more muscles being worked=more muscle growth in less time. There are 5 variations of the deadlift that I will be discussing.
1) Deadlift (Conventional)
2) Deadlift (Sumo)
3) Romanian Deadlift
4) Stiff Legged Deadlift
5) Trap Bar Deadlift
Although the deadlift, compared to most other exercises will give you the most bang for your buck, there are slight differences in each variation which may lead you to choose one over the other depending on your goal.
The set and rep ranges used when pulling Conventional could vary greatly depending on individual objectives. If being used to improve Maximal Strength you should be looking at between 3-10 worksets (not including warmups below 80%) of anywhere from 1-5 repetitions. If being used for hypertrophy (muscle growth) you’d be better off sticking with 4-5 worksets of 5-10 repetitions. Keep in mind; typically, sets and reps will have an inverse relationship. (The less reps you do the more sets you do).
Stiff Legged Deadlift
The Stiff Legged Deadlift starts with the same grip and stance as a Conventional Deadlift with the only difference being the amount of knee bend before initiating the movement where in the case of the SLDL is decreased. This forces the lower back to do the majority of the work taking some of the work from the hips and quads. Stiff Legged Deads would also be used as a secondary or bodybuilding movement following the same set and rep guidelines as RDL’s.
Trap Bar Deadlift
The Trap Bar Deadlift is a hybrid of a Deadlift and Squat due to the position your body is in during the movement, which leads to a switch in the muscles being used. The Trap Bar Deadlift is done with a special bar called a Trap Bar Or Hex Bar that you stand inside of. Dissimilar to the other Deadlift variations I mentioned above your grip is now set with your hands at either side palms facing in. This allows you to have more of an upright position during the movement forcing the quads and hamstrings to do most of the work as opposed to the lower back. I find the trap bar deadlift to be a good place to teach beginners how to both squat and deadlift with proper technique and it reinforces good posture and is an easy way to teach proper breathing. Programming of the Trap Bar Deadlift is also goal dependent and would follow the same guidelines as the Conventional and Sumo Deadlift.
Regardless of which Deadlift variation you choose to add into your training, I could assure you there isn’t a single exercise out there that will stimulate your entire body to the same extent in the same amount of time as the deadlift will if executed correctly. As a side-note, if you were limited to only 3 exercises for the rest of your life I would suggest you 1)Deadlift 2)Pullup 3)Overhead Press or Bench Press. Those three will undoubtedly give you the most bang for your buck if train consistently.