3 DEADLIFT VARIATIONS AND WHY YOU SHOULD DO THEM ALL
- STANDARD DEADLIFT
- STIFF LEG DEADLIFT
- SUMO DEADLIFT
In my opinion the deadlift is the king of all lifts for the following reasons:
- It’s about as full body as any one lift can be.
- Weight is not loaded on top of your vertebral column.
- You can lift to fatigue without a spotter.
- It’s easy to modify for individual biomechanical differences.
- You don’t need a squat rack, just the bar and weights.
Deadlifts are a great way to increase core strength and stability as well as improve your posture. Most of the muscles in the legs are activated, as well as lower back, lats and core. These are all muscles responsible for posture, which will help keep your shoulders, spine, and hips aligned.
The deadlift is a lot more technical than it might first appear. A considerable amount of mind-muscle connection is required to activate all the muscles involved in the correct order. For beginners, it’s important to be coached thoroughly in the proper form before progressing to heavy weights.
The deadlift is a full-body movement, but if you are performing it correctly, you should feel it mostly in the target group of muscles called “the posterior chain.” This consists of your hamstrings, glutes, the erector muscles along your spine, and your back muscles.
Keep your abdominals engaged throughout the entire lift to maintain an arched lower back. It’s a great exercise that simultaneously works most of the muscles in your body, elicits a positive hormonal response, and has applications to real-world movement patterns (lifting heavy items from the floor).
To start, here’s an overview of the basic movement. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, grasp the bar with your hands just outside your legs. Lift the bar by driving your hips forwards, keeping a flat back. Lower the bar under control. Once you progress to really heavy weights, it’s OK to drop it on your final rep.
Place your thumbs against the outer part of your thigh, and run both hands down until they touch the bar. This is your ideal hand position.
You have two choices for grip: a double overhand grip or a mixed grip. A mixed grip is when one hand grips the bar overhand and the other underhand. The mixed grip will allow you to lift heavier, but make sure you switch hands regularly to prevent developing any muscular imbalances.
If you don’t like the mixed grip, I would recommend Versagripps or lifting straps to avoid failure due to grip or forearm fatigue. There is a place for suffering through the forearm burn in order to increase grip endurance. Using straps can really help you to accelerate your actual deadlift strength.
Keep your neck in a neutral position throughout the lift. This is achieved by looking forwards with your eyes fixed to a spot on the ground about two to three meters ahead of your feet. Keep your chin up to keep your head in the best position for lifting.
Maintain abdominal tension as you squat down to grip the bar. When the bar passes mid-thigh level, retract your shoulder blades to keep your torso strong.
STIFF LEG DEADLIFT
The stiff-leg deadlift primarily targets your hamstrings. This exercise differs from the leg curl machine. With leg curls, you work the lower and mid hamstrings especially. But, with the stiff leg deadlift, you focus on the upper part of your legs.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart holding a barbell in an overhand grip (palms facing you) or a mixed grip. Keep your knees slightly bent, with a small degree of flexion maintained throughout the movement.
Bend at your hips and lower the barbell, keeping your back straight. Lower until you feel the stretch in your hamstrings and glutes, and then slowly straighten back up. Keep the bar close to your body throughout and avoid jerky movements – keep it slow and controlled.
Due to the foot placement and hip/knee angles in the setup, the sumo deadlift targets mostly the glutes (due to hip external rotation) and vastus medialis (inner quads) to a greater extent than a conventional deadlift.
Many find the exercise more comfortable compared to a conventional deadlift.
The sumo deadlift variation emphasizes more use of your legs to squat the weight up rather than your hips and back. This decreased back stress allows sumo deadlifters to typically handle more overall work with deadlifts, as recovery will be easier.
A sumo deadlift is any deadlift in which the feet are placed wider than the conventional deadlift, allowing a narrow grip, with hands placed inside of the legs and feet. Wide feet and a narrow grip result in a shorter vertical range of motion for the lift and less movement around the hip and knee joints. Less work against gravity requires less overall energy output to complete the lift.
Viewed from the side, the sumo setup brings the lifter’s hips closer to the barbell at the start of the movement. This shifts much of the work of the sumo deadlift away from the hamstrings and places it on the quadriceps, the adductors, and the glutes.
You might think that less muscle mass activated in the lift should make the lift more difficult, resulting in less weight lifted, but the shorter ROM means less movement around the joints. The different mechanics involved can be advantageous for some lifters, especially taller people with proportionally longer legs.
Why include all three types in your program?
Each emphasizes different muscles. For comprehensive muscle development of the posterior chain, it would definitely pay off to include them all.
Some people like to perform standard deadlifts on a back day.
Stiff leg deadlifts would be a great compound lift placed in a hamstring-focused workout.
A sumo deadlift is suitable for your leg day when focused on quads and glutes.
All three lifts are demanding; therefore, it is important to allow for at least 48 hours of recovery before targeting similar muscle groups, especially when working the lower back. Stretch thoroughly after heavy workouts and on the recovery days to maintain flexibility in your hamstrings, hip-flexors, glutes and lower back.