8 Effective Deadlift Variations and How to Do Them
by Evelyn Valdez·
If you’re looking to get serious with your strength training and develop those big muscles that you’ve been dreaming of, then you definitely need to incorporate a deadlift workout into your routine!
Deadlifts are known for being a killer compound exercise that gives both your upper and lower body muscle groups a tough challenge, from your upper back down to your legs, all while developing better grip strength. It’s not the easiest weightlifting exercise, but it’s absolutely one of the most rewarding, and one of the best things about it is how many variations there are.
Whether you change a small detail or your whole lifting setup, you can still give your muscles a complete workout with deadlifts by just trying different approaches. We have a list of some of the best variations, from simpler ones that beginners can easily follow to more advanced variations for those who are looking for a tougher challenge!
When talking about different deadlift variations, the Romanian deadlift (also known simply as RDL) takes the cake. It’s one of the most popular variations because of how effective it is, allowing you to focus more on your hamstrings and glutes and improve your hip mobility.
How to do it:
- Stand in front of the loaded barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly narrower. Bend down to grab the barbell with an overhand grip at a shoulder-width distance and bring it to a standing position.
- Keeping a neutral spine, begin lowering the bar by hinging at the hips until it passes your knees, and slightly bend your knees during the movement to allow the bar to reach the bottom. Make sure that the path of the bar relies mostly on the forward hip flexion and not so much on the knee flexion.
- With your knees still slightly bent, slowly extend your hips while you pull the bar back up, and repeat.
This variation is perfect if you’re looking to reduce the load on your back and instead place it on your legs. Because of its wider stance, the sumo deadlift allows you to get closer to the ground during the bottom part of the movement, giving your quads, glutes, and hamstrings a good burn.
How to do it:
- Place a barbell in front of you and stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing slightly outward, similar to a sumo wrestler. Bend your hips and knees to reach for the barbell with a slightly narrow overhand grip.
- Begin by driving yourself up through your legs while lifting the bar, keeping your back straight and your shoulders down, and feeling the burn on your leg muscles.
- When the bar is past your knees and you’re back to a standing position, squeeze your leg muscles, then slowly lower the barbell and repeat.
This variation is a simplified version of the conventional deadlift, and it’s perfect for beginners as well as those with back problems. It’s a great way to get used to the hinging motion of the hips without putting too much stress on your spine, as opposed to other deadlift variations.
How to do it:
- Load one side of a bar and secure the bottom end against a rack or a corner. Hinge at the hips and knees to grab the loaded end of the bar with both hands, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart.
- With your back straight, begin lifting the landmine by driving your upper body upward through your heels while you push the weight up and forward. Be careful not to let the bar slip, and keep the movement controlled throughout the complete range of motion.
- At the top of the movement, your arms should still be pointing down while holding the weight. Pause for a second, then lower the landmine and repeat.
A deficit deadlift will challenge you even more by placing you on a plate or another slightly elevated surface. This will increase the range of motion and make picking up the barbell much more difficult, but it’s a great variation to try if you’re looking to truly develop your lifting power and strength!
How to do it:
- Place a plate or a low step on the floor and stand on top of it with your feet hip-width apart and a loaded barbell in front of you. Hinge at the hips and knees to reach for the bar while keeping your back straight, grabbing it with a shoulder-width overhand grip.
- Begin the movement by lifting the barbell, straightening your legs and your torso while slowly driving the bar upward. Keep the movement controlled and balanced so that you don’t tip forward while lifting the weight.
- Once you’re back to an upright standing position, hold for a second, then bring the bar back down and repeat.
The difference between this variation and the standard deadlift is the position of your hands on the bar. The snatch-grip deadlift has a much wider grip, allowing you to work your upper back muscles extra hard, particularly the traps, which is why it’s often considered an advanced deadlift variation.
How to do it:
- Stand in front of the barbell with your feet hip-width apart and your toes slightly pointing outward. Bend down at the hips to grab the bar with an overhand grip that’s wider than shoulder-width.
- Begin the movement by pushing through your heels to pull the barbell to a standing position, making sure that you’re engaging your upper back and feeling the tension of those muscles.
- Pause for a second at the top of the movement, then slowly lower the barbell back down and repeat.
Trap bar deadlift
This is another beginner variation that those new to deadlifting can try to get used to the lifting motion without placing too much tension on their joints. The trap bar is designed to align the weight with your center of gravity by placing you in the middle of the load instead of behind it, with the bar going around you, “trapping” you.
How to do it:
- Place the trap bar on the floor and get in the center of it, so that you’re surrounded by the bars and you have the weighted plates on each side. Hinge at the hips and knees and reach for the bar handles on both sides of the trap bar with a neutral grip.
- Begin by slowly lifting the bar off the ground, keeping your back straight and your head up. Make sure that your feet are centered inside of the bar so that you don’t accidentally clash with it while going up.
- At the top part of the movement, squeeze your working muscles, then lower the bar to the starting position and repeat.
Barbells aren’t the only free weight that you can use for your deadlifts! The single-leg deadlift, in particular, can be done either with a dumbbell or a kettlebell because it’s a unilateral movement that will challenge your balance by having you standing on one leg, which is why core activation is crucial throughout the full range of movement.
How to do it:
- Stand straight with your feet close together in a narrow stance while holding a dumbbell or a kettlebell in your right hand.
- Begin the movement by shifting the weight to your left leg without locking it, and slowly lower your upper body while driving your right foot back. Your right arm should be always pointing down with the weight, and your left arm can be up in the air or on your hip for stability.
- When your torso and your right leg form a straight line parallel to the floor and the weight is all the way down, pause for a second, then slowly go back up while lowering your right leg and repeat. Finish your reps and switch to the other leg.
If you’re not ready for a full single-leg deadlift yet, a staggered deadlift can be your first step toward achieving it. It doesn’t require you to raise one of your legs, but you still place your weight mostly on one leg while the other helps with balance, making it a great beginner variation that still counts as unilateral training.
How to do it:
- Stand straight with a dumbbell in each hand and your feet shoulder-width apart. Take a step forward with your right foot to assume a staggered position.
- Begin the deadlift by shifting your weight to your right leg and hinging at the hips, lowering your upper body toward the floor. Your knees should be flexed while your back leg helps maintain your stability, and your arms should be pointing down with the weights at all times.
- Stop when your torso and your right leg form a straight line parallel to the floor. Pause for a second while you squeeze the weights, then go back up and repeat. Finish your reps and switch to the other leg.
And there you go! Remember, when doing deadlifts, safety is the most important thing because you’re often dealing with a lot of weight. We highly suggest using a pair of lifting straps to help reduce grip fatigue on your heavier lifts so you can safely hit PRs. And always make sure that you’re loading the bar with the appropriate weight for your fitness level, and practice proper deadlifting form before trying more advanced exercises!
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