The deadlift is this incredibly functional lift that is excellent for building strength and improving body composition. When it comes to deadlifting, or any exercise in weight training for that matter, variety is necessary to drive adaptations, challenge the soul, and prevent injuries.
This article will give you five of the best deadlift variations in no particular order. You’ll also get a look at five deadlift mistakes to avoid.
A: The Hex Bar Deadlift
The hex bar deadlift is arguably the most important lift for the majority of people because it allows you to develop the core stabilization required to move heavy loads during more advanced ground-based lifts.
This variation is an easier motion for folks who lack mobility and it is also a useful exercise in the late stages of recovering from lower back pain because it evenly distributes the stress throughout the joints, with the quads performing a large percentage of the work.
The hex bar deadlift isn’t just for novices. It’s useful for athletes who need to train for power but haven’t developed proper technique in the Olympic lifts.
Performing the lift “as fast as possible” makes it possible to achieve a peak power output that is as high as has been previously recorded in the power clean (nearly 4,900 Watts). Use loads in the 30 to 40 percent of the 1RM range when training for power.
Hex Bar Mistake
Training strictly with the hex bar and never deadlifting with a straight barbell. Remember variety and changing your exercises is critical to avoid stagnation and promote balance.
B: Conventional Bent-Leg Deadlift
The conventional bent-leg or clean-style deadlift has the knees bent about 75 degrees in the bottom position and works both the lower and upper body musculature. The glutes, hamstrings, and quads are all prime movers, but the calves, and the upper and lower back make a big contribution as well.
To perform the conventional deadlift from the floor you need a large amount of flexibility in the hips and you must be able to maintain the natural curvature of the lower back throughout the motion.
If you don’t have adequate mobility, raise the starting position of the bar by placing it in a power rack or on blocks. Progressively lower your starting position over time until the bar (with proper-sized weight plates) is on the floor.
Bent-Leg Deadlift Mistakes
Rookie mistakes are rounding the back at any point during the lift or allowing the bar to drift away from the body. The bar should be touching the body throughout the motion.
Hyperextending the back at the top position by leaning back (often in an effort to “lock out” the motion) is another dangerous mistake that stresses the lower back and must be avoided.
C: Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian deadlift hits the posterior chain of the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back to a greater degree than the conventional deadlift because the knees are only bent about 20 degrees at the bottom position.
It can be easier for trainees to learn than the conventional deadlift but also provides a nice starting point from which to progress to full bent-leg deadlifts. In addition, in what is often a quad dominant world, targeting the posterior is important.
Romanian Deadlift Mistakes
Same as with the conventional deadlift, you must avoid flattening or rounding the lower back. Maintain the natural arch throughout the range of motion.
If you get to a point were your lower back flattens out or rounds, stop, and use a power rack or blocks to decrease the range-of-motion. A trick that can help as you lower the bar is to keep the head up, but neutral to the torso throughout the movement.
D: Eccentric Deadlifts
Eccentric-enhanced deadlifts will allow you to put on muscle and gain strength more quickly than ignoring the eccentric phase and haphazardly lifting the weight.
Novice trainees should start by extending the time spent on the lowering phase by using a 4-, 8-, or 10-second tempo to lengthen the time under tension and improve strength and stability.
Advanced lifters can do supramaximal deadlifts in which you load the bar into a power rack, pick it up, and lower it to the ground.
Eccentric Deadlift Mistakes
Not performing the eccentric phase and letting the bar drop to the ground. Concentric-only deads may have a time and place but strictly performing them to the exclusion of full-range training will only produce diminished returns.
E: Advanced Variations: Dead Stop, Chains & Snatch-Grip DLs on a Platform
If you’re weak off the floor, perform “dead stop” deadlifts in which you pause in between reps to eliminate the benefit you get from stored elastic energy on the descent. Stay honest with yourself and reset before each deadlift.
Training with chains attached to the bar, which can be done with the hex or straight bar, will challenge your natural strength curve. This technique isn’t intended to make you stronger off the floor, but it will train you to produce greater force during the latter stages of the concentric action.
Chain training can help you overcome a sticking point and gain strength where you are strongest at the top quarter of the deadlift. For building strength, use chains that add at least 15 percent of your 1RM to the deadlift. Lighter chains won’t provide an effective challenge to the human strength curve.
Snatch-grip deadlifts are an advanced variation that increases the range-of-motion and requires a greater contribution of the entire back. Doing them on a 4-inch platform takes it to another level, requiring just about the largest range-of-motion possible.
This makes it a superior lift for packing on muscle in the quads, hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, traps, lats, and forearms.
Not maintaining proper technique or going too heavy. Weaknesses will be exposed with these advanced variations, so if you don’t have a balanced body or a high degree of overall strength and mobility, they’re not for you.