What's with all the different types of deadlift?

If you’ve spent time in a gym, you’ve probably seen people deadlifting. You’ve also probably seen quite a few different kinds. What’s the deal with all these different types? Why would someone choose one and not the other? Here I’ll breakdown some of the most common deadlift variations and some of the pros and cons of each.

Note: All of these variations are safe when performed properly, and just because I don’t recommend one for your advancement or body type doesn’t mean I think it will get you injured.

Conventional Deadlift

Purpose: Getting good at picking up things off the floor. If you plan on picking up something again after you drop it, you need to know how to deadlift

Good for: There are few better exercises for beginners to teach a flat back position, and how to hinge at the hips. This is a day 1 exercise for anyone looking to learn to lift weights

Not good for: People with larger bellies. Sometimes it can get in the way, and doesn’t allow the proper flat back position. This is rare, but if you find yourself having a hard time setting your brace and back position, you can try a variation like the Sumo DL to see if it feels better

Sumo Deadlift

Purpose: Deadlifting as much as possible, which helps build a strong body all over. Some people have wider hip sockets and this wide stance can actually feel more natural. If you were meant to use the Sumo DL as your main DL variation, you usually know it the first or second time you try it.

Good for: People looking to maximize their deadlift and for whom it feels more natural. Some competitions (like Strongman) do not allow a Sumo DL.

Not good for: Beginners who have not learned how to set a proper back position, or do not have the hip mobility. The wide stance is hard for some people and if you can’t get your knees on top of your feet (ie they are too far in) I wouldn’t use this variation

Hex Bar Deadlift

Purpose: Building the deadlift in a way that allows a more vertical back position and with less range of motion. Its usually easier for beginners to set a proper back position when they can be a little more upright. The hex bar doesn’t requite the hinge necessary for a proper set up on a conventional deadlift, or the hip mobility you need for a sumo

Good for: Beginners who have such the bar available, who have trouble setting their back with a straight bar

Not good for: Intermediate to advanced trainees who have no trouble with the straight-bar deadlift. Many hex bars simply lack the room to stack on enough plates, whereas straight bars never have this problem

Straight-Legged Deadlift or SLDL

Purpose: Working the posterior chain ie, hamstrings, glutes, lower and upper back usually with an emphasis on bringing this strength back to a full DL variation

Good for: Working on weak links after you are already spending a good bit of time deadlifting

Not good for: Folks who just need to spend time building up a standard DL variation. If you are not deadlifting 200lbs as a female or 300 lbs as a male, you probably don’t need this level of variation yet

Snatch- Grip Deadlift

Purpose: Building upper and mid-back strength

Good for: People who lose their upper back as the bar breaks the ground on a regular DL variation

Not good for: People who just need to be stronger. The 200/300lb example above is a good one here too. The best exercise to build strength is the one that uses the most weight (through a full range of motion of course). Don’t select an exercise where you use less weight until progress has stalled on your big exercises

Romanian Deadlift or RDL

Purpose: Working the posterior chain, and practicing keeping a proper back position

Good for: People needing to strength the hamstrings and glutes (like athletes), or beginners learning how to deadlift properly. Learning how to set the back and then not losing this position can be the hardest thing for new deadlifters. The RDL allows you to take the time to learn and feel this proper position

Not good for: People who just need to do more deadlifting. Have dinner before you have dessert.

Wrap Up

Hope that explanation helps a little to explain what each variation does. The most important aspect of any of these variations is the ability to PROGRESS. Add weight to the bar using just one of the above variations for as long as possible. If you are new, pick the Conventional or the Sumo. Once this progress dries up, try a DL variation with one of your weak points in mind, and see if it gets your Conventional or Sumo to start moving again