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.

Deadlift (Conventional)

The word “Conventional” when referring to the Deadlift, is what most people first think of when visualizing this exercise being performed. Beginning with the bar on the floor, you take a no wider than shoulder width stance with your shins against the bar. You then bend down gripping the bar with your hands just outside of your legs. Eyes forward, head neutral, back arched, chest up with most of your weight on your heels you stand up holding onto loaded bar before putting it back down to its starting position in he same manner which you picked it up. This is great for the total body musculature development. Aside from the Trap Bar variation, this will allow you to lift the most weight.

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).

Sumo Deadlift

Deadlifting Sumo, refers to deadlifting with the bar starting on the floor, in the same position as you would conventionally set it up, only now you are taking a stance similar to a Sumo Wrestler preparing for combat hence the word “Sumo”. For those of you unfamiliar with this ancient Japanese martial art, this means that your feet will be set much wider than before with your toes pointed out (in line with your knee caps) with your grip just inside of shoulder width. Deadlifting with a Sumo stance is less demanding on the lower back and shifts more of the work to your hips and hamstrings. Many athletes use this style in completion because it shortens the distance the bar has to travel to lockout. Do realize that if done correctly there is very little eccentric component in both the Conventional and Sumo Deadlift which leads me to the next variation which I personally find superior to adding muscle to the entire posterior chain (back of body). The set and rep ranges when pulling Sumo would follow the same guidelines as pulling Conventional.

Romanian Deadlift

It’s easy to figure out where the Romanian deadlift originated…. Rome of course!!! Just kidding, but glad I was able to get your attention. The Romanian Deadlift, unlike “pulling” Conventional or Sumo starts at the top with the lifter standing erect holding the bar. Keeping your shoulder blades pinches together, chest out and back lower back arched you drop the hips back while slightly bending your knees (less than 10 degrees) lowering the bar to mid shin level. You then reverse the movement by driving the shoulders back and squeezing the glutes as hard as you can to the top of the movement. Dissimilar to the Deadlift done Conventionally, the Romanian Deadlift has a huge eccentric component, which will cause a lot of microtrauma equaling soreness in the lower back, hams, glutes along with the upper back. Your grip along with your abs and upper back has to stabilize the weight the entire time, which makes it even more demanding. The Romanian Deadlift is considered an “assistance” or secondary movement either to build the deadlift for competition or to increase hypertrophy (muscle size). With that being said RDL’s are typically done using a higher rep range. 4-5 work sets of 6-12 reps would work best.

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s