Deadlifts. What can I say about deadlifts? Well, I could say a lot of things, but I’ll sum it up into three main points:
1) Deadlifts are one of the best exercises you can do
2) Everyone should be doing some form of deadlifts
3) You can’t fudge a deadlift. It’s easy for people to say they squat 400 pounds when all they really do is a quarter squat. And a lot of guys claim to bench 300 pounds, but they neglect to mention that their friend is doing most of the work while screaming, “It’s all you, bro! It’s all you!” There’s no messing around with a deadlift – you either lift the barbell off the ground, or you don’t.
Before we move on, the “Super Deadlifts” title may look familiar to you. If you haven’t checked that out yet, I highly suggest you do so. This article is the second of the Super series, and there will be more in the future.
Now let’s get into several variations of the deadlift.
The Conventional Deadlift
This is first on the list for no other reason than it’s the most commonly know and performed version of the deadlift.
The Sumo Deadlift
The sumo deadlift works the hips to a greater extent than conventional deadlifts. Some people, myself included, can also pull more weight with this style; but that is definitely an individual thing. The sumo deadlift is a great variation to include in your training, even if it’s not your strongest variation.
The Trap Bar Deadlift
That video is Eric Cressey from Cressey Performance dominating 405 in the trap bar deadlift.
This is probably the easiest version for beginners to learn. The center of gravity is different because of the weight distribution, and the quads are involved to a greater extent than with conventional deadlfits. If you have never truly learned to deadlift, you may want to start with this version.
You just saw one of the guys from Jason Ferruggia’s Renegade Gym set a personal record with rack pulls.
While I generally recommend rack pulls for intermediate to advanced lifters, they can also be a great teaching exercise for beginners who don’t have the proper mechanics for pulling off the floor. If you want to pull some really heavy weight, then rack pulls are your solution.
You can pull from different heights, so the variations are practically endless.
The Conventional Deadlift from a Deficit
This version is one of my favorites. Because you’re pulling the bar off the ground from a deficit, you will work through a longer range of motion – this makes the exercise more difficult and works your hamstrings to a great extent. If you are weak off the floor when you deadlift, then try pulling from a deficit; it can really help your starting strength off the floor.
What You Need to Know about Deadlifting
The first thing you should know is this: if one of the previously mentioned deadlift variations is not in your current training program, you need to change your strength training program IMMEDIATELY. The deadlift is one of the very best exercises you can ever do, and you should always be performing some version of it.
Why is it so important to deadlift? Well there are a lot of reasons, but one very important reason is because the deadlift is a truly functional exercise; you deadlift every day of your life when you pick something off the ground.
Another reason: the deadlift works a ton of musculature in the body. Want to train your upper and lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and forearms all at once? The deadlift is your best friend. As far as a “bang for your buck” exercise goes, the deadlift is amazing.
And the last reason: the deadlift is very versatile. There are variations for everyone to use regardless of mobility, strength, training level, and coordination issues.
Is Deadlifting Bad for Your Back?
It sure is . . . if you perform a deadlift incorrectly. Deadlifts are only “bad for your back” if you don’t use proper lifting mechanics. Hell, any exercise can hurt you if it’s performed incorrectly; even a simple pushup can jack up your shoulders if you don’t perform it properly (but that’s another post).
Here are some of the most common mistakes when performing a deadlift:
- Lifting with a rounded upper and lower back – you should never lift with a rounded lower back, and your upper back shouldn’t round either. The only exception to a slight rounding of the upper back is if you’re pulling a max single. Push your chest out and keep a tight arch in your lower and upper back
- Starting the lift with the bar too far in front of you – a lot of people deadlift with the bar several inches in front of them. You want the bar to be as close as possible to your body throughout the entire lift. Make sure the bar is touching or almost touching your shins before you start the lift. (The exception to this rule is the trap bar deadlift). Keep the bar close to your body (grazing your shins, and the thighs) throughout the entire lift
- Not using the hips – to finish the lift, lock the weight out by pushing your hips forward and squeezing your glutes, do not just lean back
- Squatting the weight up – when you set up for the deadlift your hips should be higher than when you squat and you should be leaning forward a little more than when you squat. Some people turn a deadlift into a squat; that can get you hurt and it definitely won’t allow you to pull big weights. The squat and deadlift are two completely different animals; treat them that way
- Standing with feet too far apart (does not apply to sumo) – once again, people set up for the deadlift like they’re about to squat. Your feet should not be further than shoulder width and possibly even a little closer together than that
- Not having the right attitude – when you get ready to deadlift, you need to focus completely on what you are about to do. Make sure you set up properly – push your chest out, get close to the bar, set your feet properly, etc. Deadlifting not only tests you physically, but mental as well. Get ready for the battle ahead
Which Deadlift Variation Should I Use?
I would use them all, but not all at once. Here’s a good example using three of the variations listed above:
Month 1: Conventional deadlift
Month 2: Conventional deadlift from deficit
Month 3: Sumo deadlift
And then repeat that series for another three months and then switch one or moer of the variations for a different one. That is just one of numerous possibilities.